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A’s had a contending offseason after all entering 2021

They just waited until February and did the whole thing in 2 weeks

Division Series - Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros - Game Four
These stars finally got some help
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It was OK to worry.

For months, the Oakland A’s did nothing. They were coming off a division title, and saying goodbye to 10 free agents, including a star closer, star shortstop, three more starting-level players, and two more setup relievers. But they still had a great core to build around, and all they needed to do was not sit completely idle.

When February rolled around and they hadn’t shelled out a single penny, the questions mounted about whether they were going to capitalize on their contention window or let a prime opportunity pass for financial reasons. The A’s maintained that they planned to wait out the market and make some late moves, and their rejected offer to Marcus Semien was for more than zero dollars, so apparently they were always holding something back throughout their quiet winter. But it was getting hard to see how they were going to salvage this with late bargain moves.

And then, in the blink of an eye, they came through.

In the span of less than two weeks, beginning Feb. 6 and extending into the start of spring training, the A’s pulled off seven MLB transactions, plus another for a headline minor league contract. They waited out the market and it worked like a charm.

First they traded for a new starting shortstop, in a deal that dumped their biggest albatross salary, slashed a couple million off the payroll, and netted them a stack of cash in return. They used that cash to help sign a veteran starting pitcher, two setup men, and a new lefty DH. Two of those free agents were their own being re-signed, and on top of that group they took a free dice-roll on another old fan favorite on a minors pact. They also traded prospects for a minimum-salary stud lefty reliever. And then to top it all off, they signed one of the best closers in the sport to an eight-figure salary, and got him on a one-year commitment when he’d been looking for four.

Here’s the full list, in chronological order (click links on each name for more info):

The exact payroll numbers are still up in the air, depending how much of the money from the Andrus trade is allotted to this season, and how much of Rosenthal’s salary is upfront. But one way or other, they accomplished that entire list while probably adding just a seven-figure amount to their 2021 budget, at the noticeable but affordable cost of catcher Jonah Heim, infielder Sheldon Neuse, two low-level pitching prospects, and one year of slumping DH Khris Davis. They’ll also still need to cut three more players from the current 40-man roster to make room for all the new additions.

The resulting squad isn’t perfect, but no A’s offseason ends with zero question marks. The 2021 team now has a rotation with the same five strong starters and lots of depth, a bullpen that might even be superior to last year’s MLB-best unit, the top infield corners in the game, a playable middle infield, three quality outfielders with a logjam of prospect depth behind them, and a solid veteran lefty DH coming off a career year.

Is the team better than it was last year, without Semien and Liam Hendriks? Only time will tell, but the lineup looks a lot more exciting than it did last month:

  • C: Murphy
  • 1B: Olson
  • 2B: “Kempindachin”
  • SS: Andrus
  • 3B: Chapman
  • LF: Canha
  • CF: Laureano
  • RF: Piscotty
  • DH: Moreland
  • SP: Luzardo, Bassitt, Manaea, Montas, Fiers, (Irvin, Jefferies, etc.)
  • RP: Rosenthal, Diekman, Romo, Petit, Kolarek, Turley, Wendelken, Trivino, Puk, etc.

The exact details might change, and there will be platoons, and a couple injuries along the way, and maybe a spring prospect breakout. But that’s a sample of the kind of names that are now available on the depth chart.

Oakland entered the offseason needing to address their middle infield, revamp their bullpen, bolster their rotation depth, and develop a better plan at DH. The middle infield is still a weakness but no longer a hole, the bullpen managed to upgrade somehow, the rotation got help, and they found a lefty bat to DH instead of relying solely on lotto tickets to do the job. And they did it all without needing to dump Mark Canha’s salary or part with any of their top five prospects. Boxes checked, and reasonably well.

Not long ago I complained that the A’s were punting the offseason, especially after they passed on the chance for Semien on a one-year deal. But they most definitely did not punt. They went for it as strongly as we hoped they would, spending on a different star instead and working their characteristically creative maneuverings to fill the rest of their needs on a budget. They even took on future salary commitments to help maximize their resources in the present. They just waited until the last minute more than ever before.

It was OK to worry, but there’s no need to any longer. Despite biding their time until February for their moment to pounce all at once, the A’s front office had a legit offseason after all, and one that puts the 2021 club right back in the thick of contention.