Athletics eliminated from postseason contention as club enters a potentially franchise-altering offseason


Wednesday night, the postseason race officially came to an end for the Oakland Athletics. Only the Dodgers went to the postseason more times from 2012-20 than the A’s, but 12 straight losses to the Mariners and 15 losses in 27 September games knocked Oakland out of postseason contention. This is their first time missing the postseason since 2017.

“It’s a massive disappointment,” A’s starter Chris Bassitt told reporters, including MLB.com’s Martín Gallegos, after being eliminated from the race Wednesday (SEA 4, OAK 2). “No doubt about it. We expected to compete for a World Series and we fell way short.”  

In most offseasons, the A’s pick up the pieces and go about improving their roster on the cheap. Last winter they stuck with the cheap part, but didn’t do much to improve the roster. Most notably, they made Marcus Semien an insulting offer — they reportedly offered one year and $12 million with $10 million deferred over 10 years — and replaced him with the ineffective Elvis Andrus.

This offseason brings the potential for sea change to the organization. The A’s could open next season with new faces on the roster, in the dugout, and in the front office. They won’t be in a new ballpark, we know that much, but those wheels are in motion too. Here are three major A’s storylines heading into the 2021-22 offseason.

What’s the ballpark situation?

The A’s are seeking a new ballpark and aren’t being subtle about the possibility of relocation. Team president Dave Kaval made trips to Portland and Las Vegas earlier this year and publicized them on social media, a move clearly intended to put pressure on the Oakland City Council to approve a new ballpark deal.

In July, the Oakland City Council voted to approve a non-binding term sheet for the team’s ballpark project in Howard Terminal. Kaval said the team would not accept the term sheet as presented, paving the way for the A’s to leave Oakland. The club is seeking more than $800 million in public funds for the project, which the Oakland City Council finds untenable.

Thirteen times in their final 19 home games the A’s drew fewer than 10,000 fans, including fewer than 5,000 fans seven times. Even during a pandemic, that is embarrassing for a major league franchise. And yet, last week the A’s announced an increase in ticket prices for next season, including some sections with prices that nearly double.

This is all straight out of the new ballpark leverage playbook. Tank attendance and say you can’t possibly stay in town without a new ballpark, and if you don’t get it, it helps justify relocation. Let’s be clear: the A’s need a new ballpark. How they’re going about getting that ballpark is aggressively fan unfriendly. The team president is teasing relocation on social media, ticket prices are going up, etc.

The A’s lease at RingCentral Coliseum runs through 2024, and it seems the state of the team will not improve until the ballpark situation is resolved. Does A’s leadership want to stay in the Bay Area, or do they want to relocate? The answer is they’ll go wherever the money takes them.

The future of Beane and Melvin

Every year around this time we hear longtime front office head Billy Beane could leave the A’s in the offseason. For a job with another team, for a job in soccer, for something else entirely. It has not yet come to pass, obviously, but the same rumblings are already popping up this year. Earlier this month The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal implored the Mets to hire Beane, for example.

This offseason, expect to hear similar rumblings about longtime A’s manager Bob Melvin. Other clubs have tried to hire Melvin away from Oakland in recent years — the Yankees were declined permission to interview him four years ago — though now he has some leverage. The ballpark situation is a mess and he has just one year remaining on his contract. He’s close to free agency.

Either as a package deal (Mets?) or separately, this could be the winter Beane and Melvin leave the A’s. GM David Forst has been groomed as Beane’s replacement for years, and replacing Beane with a younger manager would save the club money. Cutting costs is an obvious priority for ownership (I again refer you to that ridiculous Semien offer for evidence).

The A’s have been a model of stability under Beane and Melvin, and losing both (or just one) would mark the end of one era and the start of a new era in Oakland. What would that new era look like? Unclear. It depends on ownership more than anything. Chatter that Beane could leave is nothing new. Perhaps now those rumors have a little more teeth to them given the team’s current state.

The future of Chapman and Olson

The Athletics have a long history of trading their best players once they get expensive through arbitration and approach free agency. Semien is the most notable recent exception. Others like Josh Donaldson, Sonny Gray, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder were all traded in the years leading up to free agency. It’s how the A’s restock the cupboard and remain competitive. 

First baseman Matt Olson and third baseman Matt Chapman are now reaching the point where the A’s tend to trade away their best players. They are both two years away from free agency and they made a combined $11.49 million this season. Next year their salaries could climb to a combined $18 million or so. That’s nearly 25 percent the team’s payroll the last few years.

Olson has had an incredible season. He’ll get MVP votes. Chapman had a down year by his standards but is still an elite defensive third baseman with power. Put them on the market and both will generate plenty of trade interest. So too will Bassitt (free agent after 2022), Ramón Laureano (2024), Sean Manaea (2022), Frankie Montas (2023), and Chad Pinder (2022).

Mark Canha and Starling Marte will be free agents this winter and everyone in the Bassitt, Chapman, Laureano, Manaea, Montas, Olson, and Pinder group should be considered a trade candidate. That’s just how the A’s operate. Heck, don’t be surprised if they listen to offers for catcher Sean Murphy, who is four years away from free agency. That’s when Donaldson was traded.

This could be an offseason of significant change for the A’s. The roster could turnover tremendously, Beane and Melvin could head elsewhere, and the ballpark situation looms over everything. Nothing has changed yet, but it is starting to feel like the end of an era in Oakland. The A’s could look very, very different when everyone reports to spring training in February.





Source link