Assessing 2023 MLB front offices: Oakland A's come in at the bottom of the list

The Oakland A's did little in 2023 except seemingly move another step closer to relocating to Las Vegas.
Oakland Athletics general manager David Forst
Oakland Athletics general manager David Forst / D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

David Forst 2023 Oakland A's front office short-term impact: -15.1 games. Rank in MLB: 30. Rank in division: 5.

It’s no surprise that Oakland GM David Forst ran baseball’s least productive front office in 2023. The A’s, after all, lost 112 games.

But the Forst operation doesn’t rank last because his team was a consistent loser. It ranks last because Forst oversaw a talent drain while giving every indication of prioritizing a move to Las Vegas ahead of on-field success.

There’s no question that Forst lacked payroll. At $56.9 million, the A’s spent less on talent than any other MLB team last season.

But that’s the excuse, not the reason, for bad performance. The Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins and Cincinnati Reds all did substantially better in the standings with not much more payroll.

Those four low-revenue teams succeeded because they emphasized system development and production as the keys to winning while keeping costs down. Forst’s A’s, meanwhile, had the fourth-least productive farm system in baseball in 2023, statistically better only than the New York Mets, Chicago White Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Forst’s system produced 10 first-year hands to the A’s major league cause, and one turned out to be a budding gem. Second baseman Zac Gelof, called up in July, hit .267 with 14-home run power and an .840 OPS, all of that translating to 1.7 WAA (Wins Above Average) in what amounted to less than half-season.

Extend that over a full season and Gelof looks like a 3.0 or better WAA player, which would be Ozzie Albies territory.

The problem is that Gelof was the only harvesting success off Oakland’s farm. The other nine members of the first-year crop generated a combined -6.9 WAA in value.

WAA is used in this series of front office evaluations because it is a zero-based version of WAR, therefore enabling valid approximations of impact against wins and losses.

Since the conclusion of the 2022 postseason, Forst and his leadership team (which included senior advisor Billy Beane) made 54 personnel moves affecting a major league roster. Only 14 of those moves worked to the benefit of the A’s, while 36 produced a negative impact (four had neutral value). The sum total of that short-term impact on A’s 2023 fortunes works out to minus-15.1 games.

Meanwhile, the long-term impact of Forst’s decisions — that’s the impact of decisions made prior to the end of the 2022 postseason — amounted to another minus-13.3 games of damage as measured by WAA.

This is Forst’s second consecutive season propping up the nether region of the front office rating. Last year, his moves cost the A’s minus-23.8 games as measured by WAA, so I suppose in a sense you could argue that progress is being made. Just don’t argue that point too loud.

Here’s the full short-term and long-term statistical profile on Forst’s 2023 performance as A’s general manager. Again, all figures reflect group Wins Above Average.

Acquired by trade, waiver claim or purchase

  • Since October 2022: 17 players, minus-6.5 net impact
  • Prior to October 2023:  14 players, minus-5.5 net impact

Signed as a free agent or extended for multiple seasons

  • Since October 2022: 13 players, minus-8.7 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022: 3 players, +0.7 net impact

System products

  • Since October 2022: 10 players, minus-5.2 net impact
  • Prior to October 2022: 2 players, minus-1.6 net impact

Traded away, waived, sold, released or lost to free agency

  • Since October 2022: 15 players, minus-2.7 net impact to Oakland
  • Prior to October 2022: 25 players, minus-6.9 net impact to Oakland

It’s worth noting the extremely high number of former Oakland A’s players (40 of them) playing and producing well somewhere else in 2023. That list includes such notables as Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Lou Trivino, and Sean Murphy.

What useful and more affordable pieces did Forst get in return for the jettisoning of that talent?

For Olson, he got Shea Langeliers, Cristian Pache, Joey Estes and minor leaguer Ryan Cusick. In the two seasons since that deal, those four players have generated minus-3.6 WAA to the A’s cause, and Pache has been traded. Considering that Olson has been a +6.4 player for Atlanta, that’s a net 10-game swing against Oakland.

Chapman, like Olson, was dealt for prospects. Those prospects were Gunnar Hoglund, Zach Logue, Kevin Smith and Kirby Snead. To date they have produced a combined minus-3.7 WAA to the A’s cause. Chapman has been a +4.0 player for Toronto, a 7.7 WAA swing against Oakland.

If you are going to trade away top talent for budgetary reasons, you have to get something of value back. Except, it appears, in Oakland.