Considering the constraints (some of them self-imposed, admittedly), it’s kind of amazing how often the A’s can reinvent themselves and put together a window of contention. The problem is those windows don’t tend to lead anywhere.
Everyone remembers the beginning of the century, the original Moneyball team, except they didn’t win a playoff series. It was only a few years later that after the breakup of that team, the A’s were back with the Barry Zito/Nick Swisher/Frank Thomas team that did actually win a playoff series. Except they forgot to win a game after that and were swept in the ALCS. It would be another five years before the Josh Donaldson/Yoenis Céspedes/Josh Reddick edition would make the playoffs three straight years, and kept getting domed by Justin Verlander. A gap of three years, and then this Matt Chapman/Matt Olson variety made the playoffs three straight years.
As you well know by now, the A’s don’t do it through free-agent signings, because they have no money (or so they say). They don’t even do it through their own prospects much either. Only Olson and Chapman are A’s draft picks among the lineup or rotation. They’re just really good at trading for players from other teams’ systems that flower for them, such as Mark Cahna, Frankie Montas, Sean Manea, or Roman Laureano (before his suspension).
It might be time for that again. The A’s lost their third-straight at home to the Mariners, which leaves them 3.5 games back of the final wild-card spot with three teams to leap over to get there. They do have four games left with the Mariners, but six with the Astros as well. With the Yankees and Red Sox playing each other this weekend — they won’t be gaining ground on anyone — and basically have to hope for a Red Sox sweep, while they also sweep the Astros to stay on the wild-card scene.
Looking into the offseason, both Chapman and Olson have two years left of team control, which is when their trade value will be the highest and when the A’s have tended to move guys along to restock for later. Same goes for Montas, and Manea has one year of control left. Neither are as young as you’d think, 29 and 28, respectively. Canha is a free agent after this season, and the A’s tend not to sign their own free agents. The new CBA will have some sway on this, obviously.
The minor league system doesn’t look to be providing much for next year either, with Nick Allen’s .227 slugging probably keeping him in Triple-A in 2022 for a bit. Everyone else is years away, which might tempt the A’s to restock through trades even more.
It’s an accomplishment that Oakland can keep getting itself into the conversation as hamstrung as it is. But the whole century will basically show a book, a Brad Pitt movie, one ALCS appearance, and a whole lot of highlights where they’re the supporting player for someone else’s accomplishment. And hanging over all of it now is the fight over their new stadium they don’t want to pay for, but want to make the city foot the bill instead.
It may even be that A’s fans have given up. Only 4,000 of them showed up for the game last night, and that’s been about the number this whole series. There are many factors mentioned in that Mercury News article — pandemic, perks for season ticket holders, rising prices, insane parking rates — but the malaise from the stadium debate and the overhanging threats of the team moving probably have an effect, too.
The sad part is the next reinvention of the A’s might not even come in Oakland. It feels like a whole lot is coming to an end on the east side of the Bay this week. Which is just the Athletics’ way.