The A's season, as short and impressive as it was, is now over.
The Houston Astros' relentless hitting finished off Oakland Thursday in Game 4 best-of-five American League Division Series.
And typically at the end of the season, I'm keen to write a "they'll get 'em next year" column – an ode to a brighter future.
But I can't write something like that for the A's, because year-over-year continuity is not a thing that Oakland does under team owner John Fisher.
And that's what makes this playoff loss in 2020 so disappointing, so heartbreaking, so unfair.
This was supposed to be the A's season. This was the campaign the team had been building towards for half a decade. The 2020 A's were supposed to be the exact right blend of young and old, experience and upside. And when they went out and absolutely dominated the American League West this year, they hinted that things were, in fact, different with this team.
All that hope got A's fans were a few extra playoff games. They didn't even come close to sniffing the World Series. And adding salt to this fresh wound, their loss to the arch-rival Astros – who outscored Oakland by 12 runs over four games – was comprehensive. The A's weren't done in by bad luck or a few fleeting missed opportunities. No, they were simply smacked around by a team that consistently contends for championships.
A team, it should be noted, that paid three players – including their Game 4 starter Zack Greinke – roughly the same amount as the A's paid everyone on their entire roster.
If these A's could run this roster back in 2021, they'd again be expected to make the playoffs and perhaps even take a step forward in their quest to win the World Series for the first time since 1989. The talent is there to expect further improvement – maybe even a big jump.
But even with young, cheap, and downright outstanding players on the books, the A's are not a team that "runs it back." Yes, they'll have stars in third baseman Matt Chapman, first baseman Matt Olson, and starting pitcher Jesus Luzardo on next year's team, but you need other good, reliable everyday players around those tentpole stars to win it all.
And those are exactly the kind of players the A's could lose this offseason.
Two starting infielders – including the third-place finisher for American League MVP in 2019 – will be free agents at the end of this year. Arguably their best offensive player this season will join them there. Two starting pitchers and three relievers – including perhaps the best closer in baseball – are now out of contract as well with the season ending.
And while, in theory, the A's could re-sign and retain all of this talent, anyone who still has the character to follow this team knows that will not happen. The truth is that the A's will be lucky to keep a few of their pending free-agent players in green and gold for another year.
Does Fisher have the money to sign Marcus Semien, Liam Hendriks, Robbie Grossman, or even Tommy La Stella – or at the least sign players of a similar price?
Probably, even with no fans in the stands this season and the collapse of his family company, The Gap. It's hidden away, somewhere. Check the couch cushions – there's probably enough money in there to keep a player or two around.
But will he spend that kind of money necessary to give this team at least one more try at winning a title?
There's simply no reason to believe that the A's ownership won't play it cheap again – for the umpteenth time in a row – this offseason.
If Semien and Hendriks and Grossman – all top-25 free agents this upcoming offseason – leave for bigger paydays, the A's front office, led by Billy Beane, will do its best to try to replace that talent by tapping into their farm system and bargain-hunting expertise. But no one could reasonably expect those players to be better than the ones the A's are losing. There are only a few teams in baseball that could argue that they do more with less than Oakland, but this is probably a bridge too far.
Yes, this season ending prematurely is disappointing, but A's fans deserved the opportunity to be optimistic about this team going into next season – to at least trick themselves into thinking that the progression towards a title will continue in 2021.
Instead, they'll have to wonder if this season was as good as it will get, knowing that it was nowhere near good enough.
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