With the World Series wrapped up, one of the A's most intriguing offseasons in quite some time is just around the corner.
From several key players set for free agency to the potential departure of executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane, the makeup of the A’s could drastically change as the winter goes along.
Here’s a look at some questions entering the offseason:
How are things going to be different in the front office this coming year without Beane? Is David Forst’s role staying the same or will he have more responsibility?
It’s important to note that while there are strong indications that Beane could leave the A’s for a business merger with Red Sox owner John Henry, there is still no official deal in place.
If Beane were to leave, I wouldn’t expect things to change much within the front office in terms of overall philosophy. Many key figures of Oakland’s front office have been working with Beane for well over a decade now, including Forst and assistant general manager Billy Owens. Assuming most of them stick around, expect the A’s to continue their "Moneyball" ways.
Forst is already heavily involved in the day-to-day operations as the club’s GM, so I wouldn’t say his role will change much, though he could be elevated to Beane’s title of executive VP while an assistant GM like Owens or Dan Feinstein slots in at GM.
How painful is free agency going to be?
There are decisions aplenty for the A’s this offseason, with 10 players from the 2020 40-man roster entering free agency. For a club that seldom hands out pricey free-agent contracts, the prospect of bringing back star players like Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks, as well as key contributors like Tommy La Stella, Robbie Grossman, Yusmeiro Petit and Mike Fiers, seems unlikely.
A’s fans are justified in their worries about how many players the club might lose in 2021. It’s rare for any club to keep the exact same personnel from one year to the other, and with Semien and Hendriks among the top players available and expected to garner plenty of lucrative offers, just getting one of those two back is probably the best-case scenario for the A’s.
In the past, the A’s have relied on former seventh- and eighth-inning guys stepping up to fill the closer role (i.e. Sean Doolittle, Hendriks, Grant Balfour, etc.). Who do you think, in the current bullpen, could take over those high-leverage innings should Liam leave?
I look to the guys with the nastiest stuff in the bullpen like Lou Trivino and Jordan Weems. Trivino has always seemed to have the repertoire that screams “closer,” with a filthy cutter to go with a high-velocity fastball and curveball that adds variation in pitch speeds. He’s had his inconsistencies over the past couple of years, but I would expect him to be in the conversation for ninth-inning duties come Spring Training.
Weems brings an explosive four-seam fastball that ranked among the top 20 MLB pitchers in rise. Add that to his dominant splitter and you get the makings of a closer. Of course, Weems does not have much experience pitching at the Major League level, so it’s unclear if the A’s would be willing to roll with him as their closer right away in a potential post-Hendriks era.
One dark-horse candidate could be No. 1 prospect A.J. Puk. Though Forst indicated at the end of the season that the club still views Puk as a starter, I wonder if the left-hander might be better suited for a relief role given his recent injury history. Puk is electric, and I could see him morphing into Oakland’s version of Josh Hader if the A’s decided to give him a shot at closing games.
Can we expect a new stadium before 2030?
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly did not help things, as several key meetings between the A’s and the city and port of Oakland regarding the new stadium had to be pushed back. Right now, the next step is for the club to receive the environmental impact report, which likely won’t happen until 2021. It’s hard to see that hopeful timeline of a '23 opening for a new ballpark happening. Even '24 seems unreasonable at this point.
A new stadium by 2030? I’ll say yes, though nothing is certain in these times.
Bob Melvin is coming back, right?
The A's manager is under contract through 2021, with a club option for '22. If another club wants his services, it would have to get permission from A’s owner John Fisher -- and it’s hard to see why he would give it unless the three-time Manager of the Year Award winner expresses an interest in leaving Oakland.
I think I know the answer to this, but here it goes: Is there any chance the A's re-sign Semien?
There’s certainly a chance. I can’t imagine the A’s will just let their team leader walk without putting up a fight.
This is going to come down to how other clubs value the shortstop. Semien followed up an MVP-caliber 2019 campaign by struggling for most of the '20 regular season as he dealt with a rib injury -- though he turned it on during the playoffs and was Oakland’s top hitter, with a team-leading .407 batting average and 1.151 OPS over seven games.
At the very least, I would think the A’s will extend Semien a qualifying offer, which is valued at $18.9 million for 2021. That type of money for one year would go against the spending norm for the A’s, but Semien is a special case given what he brings both on and off the field. The qualifying offer would also guarantee the A’s Draft pick compensation were he to decline it and sign elsewhere.
I think the A’s will try hard for a one- or two-year deal with Semien. If another club comes in with more years, you might see a new shortstop in Oakland next season.
If you were a betting man, who would you bet on the A's keeping among Hendriks, Semien, Grossman and La Stella?
La Stella is the most likely of this group. The A’s don’t have a ton of depth at second base, and La Stella falls right in line with the type of player the A’s truly value due to his ability to get on base. He also would cost much less than what Semien and Hendriks will likely command in free agency.
Grossman improved greatly at the plate in 2020, enough to earn a solid contract. At times throughout the regular season, he was Oakland's best hitter. But with plenty of outfield depth throughout the organization, it seems likely that Grossman will get that deal from another club.