The "same old story" mantra seems to apply to the A's on two fronts right now, after having lost in again in the postseason. Not only is it an exit much sooner than anyone affiliated with the club would have hoped, but now the offseason is likely to take a familiar shape as well.
Though the Oakland Athletics advanced past a round in the playoffs this season -- a best-of-three wild card -- the sour-note ending has become all-too-familiar. With their exit in the divisional round in four games against a team that had a losing record in the regular season, this marks:
- 30 years since the A's have won the AL pennant (12 playoff trips)
- 14 years since the A's have been to the ALCS (six playoff trips)
- 28 years since the A's won an ALCS game (11 playoff trips; they were swept in the 2006 ALCS)
And, of course, the big one for a franchise that has won nine World Championships: The A's have not won the World Series title since 1989.
Especially given market constraints, the Oakland franchise is generally one of the most successful in regular-season play this millennium. And yet, playoff success remains elusive.
Regardless, there's only so long club president Billy Beane can sit around and sulk over this one. There's work to be done. We know that Beane has been a master at turning over his club when needed to fit the desires of ownership, and there's a big task this coming offseason. It is perhaps a path that will lead to more cycles of contention, as seems to have become the custom. Consider the cycles of contention with the Beane A's:
- Playoff berths in five out of seven years through 2006
- Zero playoff berths from 2007-11
- Trips to the playoffs in the next three years (2012-14)
- Three years missing the postseason (2015-17)
- And now three straight trips to the postseason
Is another crossroads with three years out of the playoffs on the way?
We've seen such things happen like trading mid-prime Josh Donaldson before he got too expensive and even dealing prime Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester in the middle of a pennant race, only to see Lester walk (as they knew he would) in free agency. Several other key components over the years were shipped out to reload for a down-the-road team or simply allowed to head elsewhere once they hit free agency.
We bring this up because it's possible there will be some key personnel on the move this offseason.
Marcus Semien is now headed to free agency. It's unclear if Semien is actually more the player he's been every year other than 2019, or if last season (when he finished third in AL MVP voting) truly unlocked something and the funkiness/small-sample nature of 2020 was his issue this year. What is clear is that if a large-market team wants to make Semien a highly paid franchise centerpiece, the A's will move on.
Liam Hendriks is also a free agent and is far and away the best reliever out there. This one will hurt, but the A's fans might want to make peace with him being gone. Though easily the most important one, Hendriks is not the only reliever hitting free agency. Three other major bullpen pieces for the A's in Joakim Soria, Yusmeiro Petit and Jake Diekman are also on the market once free agency starts in November. They had arguably the best bullpen in baseball down the stretch and it's about to get blown out, in all likelihood.
Matt Chapman and Matt Olson look to be hitting arbitration for the first time, which means their salaries are about to skyrocket. Nothing outrageous, especially compared to the ability both have as productive baseball players, but it might move the needle in Oakland. Think it's too early to think about this? Think again. Donaldson was traded after the 2014 season, or immediately before his first year of arbitration. He had just come off a season in which he made $500,000 and finished eighth in MVP voting. It doesn't mean it'll absolutely happen again, but I'm saying it would be foolish to discount the possibility of a Chapman trade.
Ramon Laureano looks like someone to build around, but he's only one year away from hitting arbitration. I'm not suggesting he'll be traded, but I am suggesting it's another consideration with how the A's might proceed forward this coming offseason. Everything is built in when it comes to decision-making with this franchise. There are near-term concerns balanced heavily with longer-term decision making.
Now, obviously the A's don't have to get rid of the players listed above who are still under team control. Far from it. It's possible they hold onto every single one of them, in fact. It's just that knowing the constraints usually handed to Beane via ownership and coming off the fan-less and pandemic-shortened season, it's awfully tough to see things being handled with both the free agents and the expensive arbitration guys in a manner that has the 2021 A's strongly resembling the 2020 A's.
At the very least, looking at the central core of the team from these last few years, we can likely make our peace with Semien and Hendriks signing elsewhere, and it's possible either Chapman or Olson are traded in similar fashion to how Donaldson was. The best guess is a majority of the other free agents we mentioned are gone, too. I'd love to see them try to run it back with this group, obviously with the normal offseason tweaks, but it just doesn't seem to be the way this club operates.
The bottom line is a mostly successful regular season has been followed with a disappointing early exit from the playoffs, which means now the A's trudge forward with the immediate future in flux. Rinse, repeat.