First of all, I'm not suggesting the A's will be highly competitive in 2016. Nor am I offering any assurances that they will be competitive in 2013-15. In fact, I don't even claim to know what the roster will look like in most of these years and I'll be happy if I can just find my pants by Tuesday.
I am, however, here to talk about the future because like Mark McGwire, I'm not here to talk about the past. And I'll leave it to the famous Blue Ribbon Committee to talk about the Pabst. Lately I've seen repeated references to the A's contention window as being "the next 3 years," i.e., 2013-15. It makes sense, but I'm not convinced it's at all that clear or simple.
The notion behind the "3 more years" contention window revolves largely around Yoenis Cespedes, under contract through 2015, and to some extent Brett Anderson, whose club options also can allow the team to keep his services through 2015.
However two factors could easily render the A's contention window longer or shorter than "3 years". On the down side is the possibility that the same magic sand castle the A's built in 2012 could just as easily come crashing down as fast as one big tidal wave.
We have seen what it looks like when Brandon Moss, Chris Carter, and Josh Donaldson can't handle the big leagues, and Oakland is only a couple injuries away from having little depth in their rotation -- right down to single-A. It's not that hard to envision a scenario where the magic has turned to dust and the next rebuild is needed faster than the A's can advance their best prospects, most of whom are currently not allowed to purchase alcohol.
But the main point of this post is the more optimistic scenario, one in which the contention window is continued rather than restarted. Yes, it is almost certain that the A's will lose Cespedes after 2015 as he will have one shot at big money and it's unlikely Oakland will be that biggest suitor as Yoenis turns 30. It's also likely that Anderson will leave, after 2015 or before, as the A's have a pretty consistent history of enjoying their starting pitchers when they're youngest and cheapest and then "reloading" rather than "paying for past production".
Yet even anticipating those two rather significant departures, let's not overlook what could remain come 2016. Josh Reddick projects to be in the last year of his contract, while Donaldson, Greeksmore (thank you, Alex Hall, for the awesome name for the triumvirate of Grant Green, Jemile Weeks, and Scott Sizemore), Carter, and Derek Norris will also still be under contract control. Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily? Still around, along with possible additions Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray. That's a lot of talent to be able to project on your roster 4 years from now -- with plenty of time to add pieces through the draft, free agency, or a shrewd trade.
And that's not even all. When you look at the most exciting players the A's have in their minor league system, they are guys who if they make at all they will likely be ready to make an impact right around 2016. Of course Addison Russell tops this list, but Daniel Robertson, Matt Olson, Vicmal De La Cruz, and Renato Nuñez, along with the slightly older (early 20s) group of Bruce Maxwell, Nolan Sanburn, Max Stassi, Michael Choice and Miles Head, are all young to very young prospects with a chance to make it. As unlikely as it is that several of them will succeed, it's also likely that a couple will thrive and that 2016 times perfectly with their capacity to make a very positive impact.
Remember that when Jason Giambi departed after the 2001 season, many believed he was too good a player to lose and not have a drop off in success. Cespedes, as talented as he is and as important as he is to the A's success, is also one player.
The point is, Oakland's window of contention is not 3 years. Their window of contending with Cespedes and Anderson may well be, but with the current roster stacked with good players who are under contract control beyond 2015, and with the low minors stacked with legitimate prospects who could emerge at just the right time, it's possible we might not be looking at a "window of contention" so much as we are looking at a "steady wave of contention".
You see, the image of the magic sand castle and the tidal wave was accurate -- it's just that the A's are endeavoring not to be the castle, but rather to be the wave.