The Athletics played their final regular-season game of the 2021 season on Sunday, in a season where they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017. They fell to the Houston Astros, 7-6 at Minute Maid Park.
We have an idea as to what went wrong this season, but it’s never too early to turn over the page on what the team needs to improve on this offseason.
Bullpen, Bullpen, Bullpen
Perhaps the most important issue for the team began before the regular season had even started.
Liam Hendriks made it clear he wanted to return to Oakland the last offseason, but he never received any formal offers. Combined across the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Hendriks boasted a 1.79 ERA with 161 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings.
Trevor Rosenthal was signed to a unique deal to come on the squad, and his 1.90 ERA between the Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres in 2020 showed he could slightly make up for Hendriks’ absence, but was riddled with injury and missed the entirety of the regular season.
Relatedly, the A’s totaled 28 blown saves on the season, tied for fourth-most in the league, and a 4.18 ERA, which stands about halfway across the league.
Lou Trivino struggled during the season and we didn’t see what we were used to from Yusmeiro Petit. That also could be the unexpected workload he received before the team brought in Andrew Chafin at the trade deadline.
Need more consistent bats
With the exception of Matt Olson and Starling Marte, the A’s bats struggled with consistency. A collective .238 average, which included an uncharacteristic Matt Chapman season.
Chapman hit with a .210 average and wished he could have done more for the team.
“I know I’m capable of more, and I know that,” Chapman said on Wednesday. “It just hurts when I feel like I could have done more to help this team and when I am playing at the level that I usually do, I feel like I can help this team win more baseball games. So really, just hit them separately with me, you know -- finishing the season so poorly, unfortunately. So I’m just going to use it as motivation to get, get to work in the offseason.”
Get Ramón Laureano back
Outfielder Ramón Laureano was suspended for 80 games back in August after violating MLB’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He’s scheduled to return after serving the remaining 27 games in the 2022 season, and his return is more important than ever.
While the A’s were able to take over center field responsibilities with Marte, Laureano was happy to shift to right field, and had 84 hits in 88 games before his absence took place.
“He wants to be there, he’s disappointed like we all are,” Melvin said on Friday. “Everybody has a sense of accountability that we’re not going to the postseason this year.”
He’s been watching from home and sharing the A’s frustrations as their season ended earlier than they wanted, so one could imagine he will return with fury.
The good news is, the main starters this season -- James Kaprielian, Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt and Cole Irvin -- all are under contract for next year.
Bassitt will be back to full health after getting hit in the face with a line drive on Aug. 17 and will maintain his consistency on the mound. Montas and Manaea showed huge strides this season, but their improvement ultimately will come down to going further in games.
Even if the A’s bring on decent bullpen arms during the offseason (which might be difficult with that market), each pitcher’s goal is to stay healthy and go longer in games. Bassitt threw a shutout this season and Manaea had two of his own -- those show signs of promise.
“It’s not the results that I was looking for, but I’d say one thing I’m extremely proud of is just making every start, you know,” Manaea said after Friday’s game. “Taking the ball every five days and yeah, I think that’s, you know, such a cool thing.”
Re-sign trade deadline guys
Marte’s 47 stolen bases were the most in MLB this season, and his .308/.381/.456 line with 144 hits in 526 plate appearances was one of the best seasons of his career. He remained the best player on the team the moment he put on the A’s uniform.
Josh Harrison’s versatility made him an important asset to the team that was riddled with injuries. Especially with shortstop Elvis Andrus’ left leg surgery on Wednesday. Harrison was able to play anywhere the team needed.
Veteran catcher Yan Gomes was a dream acquisition for Bob Melvin, who always loves having a veteran backup catcher on the squad.
Gomes’ presence was felt immediately as he’s caught in a World Series before and knows just about every batter in the league.