OAKLAND, Calif. — Khris Davis' powerful bat provided so many much-needed highlights for the Athletics in another last-place season — and there were many others by young prospects whom manager Bob Melvin and the front office are counting on to carry the club into 2018.
There is major optimism in Oakland, and serious talk of signing core players to long-term contracts as the franchise builds for a new ballpark.
The A's won 17 of their final 24 games after trading away more stars so the youth movement could continue.
"It just feels like a really good Oakland vibe right now and I think the performance on top of it with the younger guys at the end kind of accentuates that," Melvin said. "I said at the beginning of the season I thought this was a transition year where we would head in the right direction and I think in the second half that was definitely the case."
Davis is just one slugging centerpiece.
He hit a career-best 43 home runs, connecting on the season's final day in a win at Texas for his second straight 40-home run year.
"I think consistency is the key," he said. "The main thing for me is making my good stretches last longer than the bad ones, so as long as I do that then I'll be pretty happy with my ABs."
Plagued by more injuries and an ever-changing roster, Oakland (75-87) wound up last in the AL West for the third consecutive season. The A's won six more games than last season.
Davis has set an example for young sluggers such as rookies Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, who hit 24 and 14 home runs, respectively. The veteran takes pride in doing so.
"Absolutely," he said. "I feel like I'm starting to be one of the older guys, so the main thing is just to have fun and play relaxed, play the game the right way."
Davis hit 42 home runs last year and is the only A's player aside from Jimmie Foxx (1932-34) with consecutive 40-homer seasons.
Some other things of note from the A's in 2017:
TAKING A KNEE: Rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major leaguer to kneel for the national anthem last month, following the lead of Colin Kaepernick and NFL players supporting his cause to protest racial injustice.
Maxwell is the projected No. 1 catcher going into 2018. The A's parted ways with popular Stephen Vogt, claimed off waivers by the Brewers in late June.
"Bruce is a really unique kid," said Billy Beane, A's vice-president of baseball operations. "Among challenges, he was starting catcher (after) we trade a very popular guy, performed great on the field. And again, for him to take that on, we respect that."
STARTING PITCHING: After sending Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline, the A's lacked a veteran presence in the rotation. The inconsistency of the starters is among the biggest disappointments from 2017.
The A's will look for a top-tier starter though doing so in free agency would be a tough task.
Centre FIELD: Dustin Fowler came in the Gray trade from New York right after a devastating season-ending right knee injury in his major league debut.
He never even got a big league at-bat after getting hurt in the bottom of the first inning June 29 in a road game at the White Sox. Fowler had been on deck when the top of the first inning ended.
Running at full speed, the right fielder crashed into the low corner wall at Guaranteed Rate Field chasing Jose Abreu's two-out foul. He suffered an open rupture of the patellar tendon in his knee when it hit a metal box used for Wi-Fi and he was carted off for immediate surgery to repair the damage and close the wound.
His rehab is on schedule and Fowler will soon begin a running program with the hopes he will compete for the starting job in centre come spring training.
STADIUM PLANS TAKE SHAPE: The A's chose land near the Lake Merritt neighbourhood for their new privately funded ballpark. While still six years away, the franchise focused on its "Rooted In Oakland" theme under new team President Dave Kaval.
Beane is approaching the situation as if the ballpark will get done
"When you're talking about building a club for a stadium that's six years off, and if you're talking about locking them up, then you're looking to have to lock them up for a long time," he said. "So that's sort of the trick and the balance that we have to address this off-season, if we're going to embark on that."
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