After a season that could have been special, the Oakland A's will be hard-pressed to post the second-best record in the American League once again in 2021.
The A's are still in position to contend, even with two of their main guys, shortstop Marcus Semien and closer Liam Hendriks, elsewhere after a disappointing team stumble in the ALDS against the Astros, and with other holes for the team to fill. In the past, roster renovations like the ones that Oakland is undergoing would have meant a fallback to mediocrity for the A's. The club's overall depth, however, remains at a high level. The A's rightfully see themselves in contention for a fourth consecutive postseason berth.
Despite having major gaps to fill, Oakland didn't take a deep plunge into free agency. The low-budget A's don't go there much. Still, Oakland enters 2021 with four solid starting pitchers in Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, Jesus Luzardo, and Frankie Montas. That number could rise to five if righty Mike Fiers keeps things rolling or if lefty A.J. Puk can stay healthy for once.
The Oakland offense was uniformly brutal in the COVID-crushed 60-game season, but in 2021 the A's should have a bunch of hitters at or near their prime. That includes corner infielders Matt Chapman (3B) and Matt Olson (1B), left fielder Mark Canha, center fielder Ramon Laureano and right fielder Stephen Piscotty, all of whom had off years in 2020. The promise that catcher Sean Murphy showed in his rookie season, both in terms of clutch offense and throwing out baserunners, gives the A's hope, too.
Opposing Scouts Size Up the A's
"They'll be good again — the same old story, good enough to fall just short. They build their team to what they have, which is great defense that allows them to get away with some pitch-to-contact guys in the rotation. Chris Bassitt is like that; he doesn't strike everyone out, but he keeps the ball in the park, and he's got a good pitch mix to keep guys off-balance. A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo are guys you can still dream on, and they've got a bunch of big arms in the bullpen. Jake Diekman's a tough-minded guy with elite stuff, and I'd love to see him get a chance to close. Matt Chapman was never right, and you really hope that the hip surgery doesn't take away from his athleticism and agility in the field because he's so important to what they do. Mark Canha and Tony Kemp are tremendous team guys; smart, no-drama grinders who'll play wherever Bob Melvin wants and always give professional at-bats."
Beyond the Box Score
Good eats Mark Canha has a passion that has nothing to do with baseball, although playing the sport has enabled him to expand his visions. Canha is a foodie, interested in eating, creating, talking, and writing about food. He has an Instagram page, @bigleaguefoodie, devoted to his takes on taste. He does get into baseball on the page, but mostly in terms of where to eat when on a road trip — Mexican food in Chicago, Thai in Arizona, that sort of thing.
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Missing the monsters
The restructuring of the minor leagues during the offseason led to the dissolution of the ties between the A's and the Vermont Lake Monsters, their Low-A affiliate for the last decade. Among those on the 2021 roster who have played with the Monsters are Matt Olson, A.J. Puk, Sean Murphy, Chad Pinder, and Lou Trivino. "It ended up being a great relationship," GM David Forst says. "Burlington is a fantastic city, and it is one of my favorite trips every summer to make."
Beane ball Executive vice president Billy Beane, the co-chair of RedBall Acquisition Corp., is waiting to see if RedBall is successfully merged with Fenway Sports Group. If that happens, Beane likely would have to leave the Oakland organization because Fenway Sports Group's links to the Red Sox would create a conflict of interest. Beane likely would leave MLB altogether and join in some European football ventures. Beane is already a minority owner of a couple of European clubs.
Vandy Boys Tony Kemp of the A's and Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski were named the 2020 winners of the Bill Rigney Good Guy Award for Oakland and San Francisco, respectively. The two were college roommates at Vanderbilt. Yastrzemski was one of the groomsmen when Kemp and his wife, Michelle, married. The Rigney awards go to players whose interactions with the media have been exceptional.
Giving back Former A's manager Art Howe came down with COVID-19 in June, spent a week in the hospital but came out of it healthy and with a respect for what COVID patients around the world were going through. So much so that a month later, Howe, who turned 74 in December, returned to the hospital to help the research going into the developing of the vaccine designed to combat the virus. "I want to see if I can donate some blood for people who are getting this thing," Howe said. "I mean, every little bit helps, and then I'm hoping that somewhere along the way there's got to be a way to beat this thing."
CF Ramon Laureano (R)
RF Stephen Piscotty (R)
3B Matt Chapman (R)
1B Matt Olson (L)
LF Mark Canha (R)
C Sean Murphy (R)
DH Mitch Moreland (L)
SS Elvis Andrus (R)
2B Tony Kemp (L)
C Austin Allen (L)
OF Seth Brown (L)
INF Vimael Machin (R)
UT Chad Pinder (R)
RHP Chris Bassitt
LHP Sean Manaea
RHP Frankie Montas
LHP Jesus Luzardo
RHP Mike Fiers
RHP Trevor Rosenthal (C)
LHP Jake Diekman
RHP Sergio Romo
RHP Yusmeiro Petit
LHP Adam Kolarek
RHP J.B. Wendelken
RHP Lou Trivino
RHP James Kaprielian
2021 Prediction: 2nd in AL West
(Chris Bassitt photo courtesy of @Athletics)