OAKLAND -- Despite their absence from postseason play for the first time since 2017, the A’s do not believe their window of World Series aspirations has closed just yet.
It is reasonable to feel like these A’s are not too far off from a postseason run. Though they ended up third in the American League West, they remained close contenders in the Wild Card race up until the final three days of the regular season. Finishing 86-76, 2021 was the first season in which the A’s posted a winning record and did not reach the playoffs since 2005.
Regardless of how many wins short the A’s were, though, there was one word manager Bob Melvin, general manager David Forst and executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane used when summarizing the 2021 season: Disappointing.
“Any time you don’t go to the postseason and think you have a team that’s close, you’re disappointed,” Beane said. “Particularly the way it ended. It was a tough month of September. There were some good things. But in the end, I think we’re all disappointed.”
The A’s now shift their focus toward recapturing the AL West crown in 2022. But first come some obstacles they’ll have to address this offseason. Here are five key questions:
1. Will the two Matts (Chapman and Olson) stay put?
We’ve seen the beginning of this movie before. An Oakland player emerges as a star, starts to get expensive in arbitration and eventually gets moved to another club for a package of prospects. The most recent example came in the 2014 offseason, when Josh Donaldson was traded to the Blue Jays and won the AL MVP Award the following season.
A similar situation appears to be brewing with the dynamic duo Matt Chapman and Matt Olson. Though both are under team control until 2024, both are also in line for a major salary raise as they enter their second year of arbitration. With the A's constantly hampered by lack of payroll flexibility, the two Matts are likely to see their names thrown around in trade speculation as the Hot Stove gets underway over the winter.
2. Is Billy Beane New York-bound?
Beane finding himself in the mix of candidates for high-profile front office openings around baseball has become an annual occurrence over the years. This offseason, it’s the Mets he’s being linked to as a possible fit for their open executive position.
Asked about the Mets rumors during an end-of-year session with media earlier this week, Beane downplayed the seriousness of those reports.
“This has happened through my career,” Beane said. “It’s a credit to the organization and a reflection of the success. It’s all speculation. Normally, the process would involve them calling the owner, which has happened in the past. For me to be worried about this is really to lend credibility to it. It’s all just press reports.”
3. Which free agents will come back?
Similar to last year, Oakland enters the offseason with several key contributors set to hit free agency. Electric midseason acquisition Starling Marte tops the list of 10 impending free agents for the club. That list also includes Mark Canha, Josh Harrison, Yan Gomes, Yusmeiro Petit and Jed Lowrie.
The A’s allowed most of their free agents to walk after the 2020 season. No departures were felt harder than those of Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks, who both went on to have stellar All-Star campaigns this season with the Blue Jays and White Sox.
4. Who’s the closer?
The signing of Trevor Rosenthal just before the start of Spring Training backfired as the veteran right-hander was injured and never appeared in a regular-season game for Oakland. That loss left a residual impact on the A’s bullpen, with players having to unexpectedly elevate their roles. Lou Trivino started off well in that spot, but his struggles over the final two months of the season and the lack of other options at both the Major and Minor League levels make it clear that Oakland will be in the market for a closer-type reliever, whether it be through free agency or trade.
5. Where will the A’s be playing baseball in the long term?
As much as the Athletics try to separate their on-field happenings from their pursuit of a new ballpark, it’s hard not to see the two intertwining. The decades-long saga that is their search for a new stadium added a wrinkle this year when the team announced that in addition to ongoing negotiations with the city of Oakland to secure a new waterfront ballpark near Howard Terminal, it would also be exploring Las Vegas as an option for relocation under the guidance of MLB.
Whether the club is staying in Oakland -- obviously the preferred choice for fans -- or moving to Nevada, the A’s need some sort of resolution to this situation. It’s reached the point that the uncertainty of where the A’s might call home after the next few years is preventing the front office from any serious attempts at re-signing players to a long term deal.
“To be totally honest, we’ve always felt like, to really make big investments long term, we’re gonna have to have the answer to our venue,” Beane said. “We just don’t have one. What we do know is that we will continue to be in Oakland for [a few years]. Do we see a significant announcement in terms of a [contract] extension, I would say that’s probably unlikely right now because of the [stadium] uncertainty.”