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A Brief 2021 Oakland A's Season Overview & What Comes Next

The 2021 Oakland A's were a strange team, stranger than any other in my subjective and biased memory, with the possible exception of the 2020 Oakland A's, though certainly more disappointing. Cursed would actually be a good way to describe them, with the interminable number of 1 run losses and blown saves throughout the season, so many that I don't wish to sort through them and find interesting statistics about how historically bad the 2021 Oakland A's were at holding leads, though those who enjoy such things are free to present said statistics.

Including the bullpen, much of what plagued the A's in 2021 can be attributed to the budget of John Fisher that was tighter than (insert creative metaphor here, I would rather not get banned, especially not from this). The effects of that budget have been well-documented, and again, I won't go over it here - enough words have been said about it by enough people. End result is, is that John Fisher = Bad, and Dave Kaval = Benedict Arnold.

Nevertheless, not all about the 2021 season was bad for the A's; Zombie Jed Lowrie did turn out to be real, Matt Olson had a resurgence, Tony Kemp took a step forward, and Starling Marte became the closest thing that anyone has seen to Rickey Henderson since Rickey Henderson, among other things, but even all that wasn't enough to overcome the cursedness of the 2021 Oakland A's, both on and off the field.

What's Next?

Let's get real here - realistically, there is no chance that the A's are going to be competing for a championship next year - 2021 broke their backs, and broken backs don't get fixed overnight. While in theory they could retool, sign Semien to a long term deal and make all the moves they could make to be contenders for this upcoming season, they would be moves that the A's could've/should've/would've made last offseason, not this offseason, where their window of contention has shut so hard it broke all of their fingers. Trying to open a window with zero working hands is an exercise in futility, so the A's attempting to set themselves up to be contenders this upcoming season would, in all likelihood, be ill-advised to the ninth degree.

The result of that, then, is that a rebuild is likely to come - not necessarily a tank job (which I wouldn't mind personally, but am perfectly fine without), as the A's historically are averse to tanking, and might actually bankrupt themselves if they try. After all, a 20-win A's team in this day and age could very well have games with less than 1,000 fans in attendance, as sad as that might be to hear (still would be more than the 6 fans that attended a Worcester Worcesters game on September 28th, 1886, though perhaps a 10-win A's team could achieve fewer than that).

Consequently then, I will go through each position group of A's players and provide vague predictions as to what fate will befall them this offseason. Nothing specific yet, as I would rather like for this article to be relevant for at least a few days, long enough to get a feel for how things are actually going to go as opposed to my intuition, which is largely what this is going to be.

Starting Pitchers (SP)

As of right now:

Chris Bassitt

Sean Manaea

Frankie Montas

James Kaprielian

Cole Irvin

Daulton Jefferies

Paul Blackburn

First, I expect the A's to trade at least one of Bassitt/Manaea by the time that the 2022 season starts. Deciding between them is a tough decision however (if I were to pick, it would be to keep Bassitt, but it is quite close), so if the A's wish to maximize value, then they should probably trade the both of them. An unpopular decision, but if the A's were interested in fan service, then they would have kept Semien and actually invested into the roster when they could have. Might as well go the Rays route if the A's are unwilling to pay their own free agents. Montas becomes the ace, Kaprielian, Jefferies, and Irvin are still around, the A's will probably acquire a pre-arbitration SP via trade, Howard and Holmes should compete for a SP spot (Dunshee got TJS early last season), and the A's will almost certainly sign a few minor league free-agent pitchers (Fiers and Mengden are a few of many options) - Blackburn is probably gone.

Relief Pitchers (RP)

As of right now:

A flaming pile of excrement

In all seriousness, the 2022 A's bullpen is going to look very different, so no need to record it here. Anyone who isn't a free agent is going to get traded for what ever value can arise, except for Trivino (someone needs to fill the closer role, even on a bad team), Acevedo, and Guerra, perhaps. Maybe Moll will return. If the A's are wise this offseason, they will bring in a lot of bullpen pieces, mainly on minor league deals. Doesn't mean that they will be good pieces, but better to have a Trivino and a couple dozen Nik Turleys than just Trivino, Diekman, Romo, and Petit, which is what the A's were left with after those four got burned out by overusing them in the early months of the season and not having acquired enough bullpen depth pieces capable of contributing. Take notes, Mr. Forst.

Catcher (C)

As of right now:

Sean Murphy

Yan Gomes

An underrated position for the A's, especially with Gomes, who is now a free agent that will likely be too expensive for the A's. I suspect, then, that the A's will either trade for a young catcher capable of being a solid running mate to Murphy in the future (read: Jonah Heim) or a veteran catcher, along with bringing up Austin Allen, who is still a bat-first player. Garcia hasn't shown enough to factor into the equation as of right now.

First Base (1B)

As of right now:

Matt Olson

Mitch Moreland (currently injured)

Another position where the A's had surprisingly good depth at for the last 2 years, with Moreland (former GG winner), Canha, and Brown all being able to fill in. Olson's good health over the last two years (thankfully), however, meant that this depth hasn't been seriously tested since Olson went down in early 2019 and the A's inexplicably signed the corpse of Kendrys Morales as a stand-in. Don't expect Moreland to be back, and as much as it is painful, don't expect Canha to be back either (with our luck, he'll sign a long-term deal with the Giants and hit 1000 home runs next season), and if it is even possible, expect even more pain from the likely exit of Olson via trade, as his value is extremely high right now. As I said before, if the A's are interested in fan service, they would have resigned Semien last year, and they didn't. All they can do now is maximize value in trades to prepare for the next contention cycle. If the A's are smart, they will avoid making the same mistake with Olson as they did with Donaldson, and it will result in a good trade.

Second Base (2B)

As of right now:

Josh Harrison

Tony Kemp

Jed Lowrie (currently injured)

Pete Kozma

Tony Kemp will probably be the starting second baseman next year, and that's perfectly acceptable, given his good performance this season - hopefully that will continue. Jed Lowrie I don't expect back (though I would be fine if he was) - the Mets will likely pick him up, and he will almost inevitably strain his hamstring doing jumping jacks before missing the entire season with that, and then the next with a sore knee and then becoming an All-Star for the A's in 2024. You know how it works. Josh Harrison I would hope the A's bring back on a 1-year deal, though as more of a SS. As for Pete Kozma, he is too powerful to grace the A's with his presence, unless he figures out how to use less than 2% of his power on an everyday basis.

Shortstop (SS)

As of right now:

Elvis Andrus (currently injured)

Josh Harrison

Hopefully the A's can resign Harrison to a 1-year to deal to help hold down the fort for Nick Allen (Harrison can move to a different position mid-season, or, if he plays at least half-decently, get traded for prospects). If not, and if the A's don't want to play Andrus much, they should probably sign a Trevor Plouffe type player to hold down the fort (Eric Sogard reunion? Can't see Lowrie playing SS in this day and age, unless he can really turn back time).

Third Base (3B)

As of right now:

Matt Chapman

Josh Harrison

Chad Pinder

Though his value is still relatively low, the A's might want to trade both the Matts in the same offseason for continuity sake, especially with Chapman being a Boras client.. Painful, but perhaps necessary. If the A's resign Harrison, he could be the starting 3B, though I suspect he would be the starting SS in that scenario. Chad Pinder could get the opportunity to see if he can be an everyday player, after all the years of being a breakout candidate.

Designated Hitter (DH)

As of right now:

Khris Davis

Mitch Moreland

Mark Canha

The A's could always resign Khris Davis on a minor league deal to see if he still has anything left in the tank. Cespedes is also an option, among other aging sluggers. Or, the A's could get creative with the position, like they have in the past, rotating players through the position, and keeping someone there if they find anyone exceptionally good at that position during the season.

Left Field (LF)

As of right now:

Mark Cahna

Tony Kemp

Chad Pinder

Luis Barrera

As everyone above him on this list will likely either be playing a different position or leave, Luis Barrera might just get the chance to start, assuming the A's don't sign an outfielder, which they conceivably could do (Matt Joyce is still around). Cody Thomas and Buddy Reed could possibly factor in here.

Center Field (CF)

As of right now:

Starling Marte

Mark Canha

Skye Bolt

Luis Barrera

Starling Marte won't be back next season. Ramon Laureano will be back next season, and although the A's could trade him, I suspect that they will keep him, at least for now, to provide leadership in the clubhouse, and to regain some value, hopefully. His backup (and the player who will start until Laureano can return) will probably be Skye Bolt, who might actually be decent. You never know.

Right Field (RF)

As of right now:

Seth Brown

Stephen Piscotty

Tony Kemp

Luis Barrera

Seth Brown will probably platoon with Piscotty this next season - despite well-documented shortcomings from both of them, a platoon of them could be decent. Luis Barrera provides a fine backup in case of injury or bad performance on either of their parts.

Conclusion:

In the end, no one right now really knows what the 2022 Oakland A's will look like, and any prediction, including mine, is bound to be inaccurate in one way or another, for better or worse. Regardless, it's here, and hopefully the A's do as good as I predict here (really not a high bar, with a roster that will surely be in the cellar of the AL West, at least) if not better. If you're still upset about any of the on or off-the-field occurrences this season, I don't blame you. It's enough to get anyone down - even for me, it was a difficult season. To provide some hope, however, the A's are historically good at trades and getting good value for their players, and they should be more entertaining for the next few seasons without the high expectations of the last few years. After all, although baseball is a business, at it's core, it's a game played for the entertainment of the fans, and we would do well to appreciate that in times of hardship.