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Hindsight Is 2021

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MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at St. Louis Cardinals
This season could have gone so, so Wong.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The year is now 2021, in hindsight is so 20/20, but today we take a look at the potentially championship-caliber team the A’s could have put together still on a relatively modest payroll.

I don’t think A’s fans are frustrated because Oakland didn’t land Trevor Bauer. We know that the team operates on a modest payroll, that revenues are way down, and that the beauty of this organization is its ability to seek out and identify value without paying top dollar.

But this off-season, where are the deals for a hidden star like Ramon Laureano, the moderate commitments to sneaky good relievers like Yusmeiro Petit (which my speech-to-text program mistakes for “use metal petite”), and so on? So much absolutely nothing this off-season so far, with a middle infield and bullpen that needs some serious additions.

And then perhaps most aggravating is to see some players signing deals the A’s absolutely could have matched, if only they were willing to have a modest payroll, instead of the shoestring remnant of one, despite coming three straight 97 win seasons (prorating may apply) and being in the middle of a strong contention window.

As an example, the A’s could have bolstered their current $72M payroll with a handful of key affordable free agent additions whose price tags are now known, and called it a successful off-season.

Imagine that Oakland had committed $10.5M to Andrelton Simmons for one year, and $9M to Kolten Wong for 2-3 years, after adding non-tendered relievers Keynan Middleton, Matt Wisler, and AJ Cole, for a total of $3M.

Granted, Wong and Simmons are not heavy hitters but their presence in between the two Matts would have given the A’s one of the best defensive infields in, quite literally, history, while adding a couple strong contact hitters to a lineup with plenty of power, and too much swing-and-miss, in it.

Middleton, Wisler, and Cole represented opportunities to add appreciable bullpen talent at barely league minimum prices. These are the kinds of deals Oakland is supposed jump at. And while nothing is certain in the world of relievers, that trio, joining Jake Diekman, J.B. Wendelken, Lou Trivino, Nik Turley, plus depth of Jordon Weems, Burch Smith, Daulton Jefferies, and James Kaprelian, suddenly offers the strong chance to find a core of 8 solid relievers with enough depth to navigate a full season.

Just those moves would have greatly solidified the team for 2021, and solved second base for at least 2022, without hamstringing the organization on any long or unduly expensive contracts. And it would have brought payroll to all of about $93M, still comfortably under $100M but with many strengths, no holes, and a realistic path deep into the postseason.

Now the quickest rebuttal to this kind of analysis is that Oakland simply does not have $93M to work with for 2021, period, end of story. And that becomes less of a financial question than a philosophical one around how much of a 1-year loss is a strong long term investment.

And it’s not as if Simmons, Wong, Middleton, Wisler, or Cole represent star power. But they have ample talent, at positions of need for the A’s, and their asking prices were utterly reasonable both for AAV and length. There were also other cheaper options, including the trade market, thus far still unexplored by the usually creative Oakland front office.

“Kozma to Kemp for one, relay to 1B on a couple of hops...” Sigh.