Oakland Athletics

Athletics have bright future despite more postseason heartbreak

The Oakland Athletics are headed home early yet again but have a roster capable of getting back to the playoffs for years to come

Instead of a long playoff run, the Oakland Athletics only have another offseason of wondering what might have been ahead of them.

For the second straight year, Oakland is heading home after losing in the AL Wild Card game, this time a 5-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday. The Athletics, despite making the playoffs 10 times in the 21st century, have won only one playoff series in that span and have now lost their last nine winner-take-all games in October.

The Athletics under manager Bob Melvin somehow manage to defy all expectations. They had the sixth-lowest payroll in baseball this season at $92 million; that was actually an increase of $12 million from last season. But they still managed to equal last year’s total of 97 wins and get into the postseason yet again.

Their run, moreover, may not end anytime soon. Oakland is well set up to compete in the American League for years to come, thanks in large part to a young core of talented players who remain under team control for several years.

The Athletics had seven players hit 20 or more home runs this season, the most in franchise history. Of those seven—Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, Khris Davis and Jurickson Profar—only Davis is older than 30. All of them, barring an offseason trade, will be back in Oakland in 2020.

Semien, 29, led the team with 92 RBI while hitting a career-high 33 home runs. His contract doesn’t run out for another season. Chapman, arguably the best defensive third baseman in the AL who also led the club with 36 home runs, is under contract for another four years. So is Olson, who tied Chapman with 36 homers. Chapman will be 26 at the start of next year, while Olson doesn’t turn 26 until three days after the season opener.

Only two players who were key contributors to the Athletics this year, Homer Bailey and Tanner Roark, become free agents after this season. Both of them spent a little more than two months in an Athletics uniform after July trades.

Acquiring players via trade has become a specialty of vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and general manager David Forst. Of the players who appeared in Wednesday’s Wild Card game, only two—Chapman and Olson—were drafted by Oakland. Reliever Yusmeiro Petit was signed as a free agent. The rest were acquired in trades that Oakland usually gets the better of.

Semien was acquired from the White Sox in 2014 in a deal for Jeff Samardzija, who had a losing record in Chicago. For strong-armed center fielder Laureano, Oakland gave up a minor leaguer who has yet to play in the majors. The same is true of Canha and his 26 home runs.

The pitching staff will also benefit in 2020 from a full season by Sean Manaea. The talented left-hander missed most of this season after shoulder surgery, only making his debut on Sept. 1. He made five starts during the regular season, during which he went 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA. Jesus Luzardo, the 18th-ranked prospect in baseball, showed off his stuff in six appearances this season and gave up just two runs in 12 innings; he threw three scoreless innings against Tampa Bay on Wednesday. Frankie Montas was having the best year of any Athletics starter before a PED suspension cost him 80 games; he’ll be back for a full season, too.

The disappointment of another frustrating playoff defeat is still fresh in the Athletics clubhouse, but when that starts to fade, they’ll come to realize they might be even better in 2020 and beyond.

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