Is an Expos-Like Future Awaiting the A's?

The 1994 Expos were loaded and a World Series contender when a strike ended the season. Montreal never made it to the Series. The A's are loaded in 2020, but there is no baseball now. And the possibility that there won't be a season means a World Series chance could elude the Athletics the way it did the Expos.
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You can’t read much about baseball these days that doesn’t talk about what a stunted, abbreviated, truncated season might look like in this COVID-19 violated 2020 season.

Less talked about is the opposite. What happens if baseball doesn’t play at all.

It’s got to be considered. The pandemic looks as if it might be peaking or close to it in some areas, but in many others the worst is yet to come. Florida, Missouri and Texas, home to two MLB teams each, waited until the first week of April to put stay-at-home orders in effect. The risk there, according to the medical community, is that those states are among the most likely to have prolonged pandemic issues.

If baseball can’t get it together to play games in Arizona as one plan suggests, playing games in places like Florida, Missouri and Texas might be off the table.

And while a writing off of the 2020 season would slap all franchises hard, it arguably would slap the Oakland A’s as hard as any.

The A’s aren’t exactly in position to become the 1994 Montreal Expos, but they are going to take a big hit if this season isn’t played. 2020 is a do-or-die year, much as the Expos were in 1995. Montreal was 74-40 that season and owner of the best record in baseball when baseball went on strike.

When baseball resumed in 1995, the roster was trashed. Gone were outfielder Larry Walker, outfielder Marquis Grissom, closer John Wetteland and starter Ken Hill. Gone were World Series dreams. And gone, eventually, were the Expos, moved to Washington and resuscitated as the Washington Nationals, who finally brought home a World Series title last year.

Oakland has won 97 games the last two years while dealing with a bunch of injuries. They are healthy now, and they are in a division that is more winnable than ever now that starter Gerrit Cole is no longer pitching for the defending American League West champion Astros.

And it’s probably a make or break year. Shortstop Marcus Semien finished third in the AL MVP voting last year, will be a free agent for the first time after 2020.

All-Star closer Liam Hendriks is in the final year of his deal and will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end.

Probable opening day starter Mike Fiers would be able to take flight, too, when his two-year deal with the A’s concludes in 2020.

Two of the top three right-handers in the bullpen, Yusmeiro Petit and Joakim Soria, will be free agents, too.

Will any of them be back? Maybe. But Oakland’s history of paying big money to keep players around isn’t good. This is a franchise that could have been a monster throughout the first decade of this century. Instead, MVPs Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada and Cy Young award winner Barry Zito were allowed to leave as free agents. Pitchers Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, who combined with Zito to comprise the Big Three, were traded within two days of each other in December, 2004 when both would have been free agents following the 2005 season.

Executive vice president Billy Beane and general manager David Forst talk in general about having an increased payroll once the club moves into a new stadium, but the first shovelful of dirt has yet to be turned at Howard Terminal, and who knows when that will happen for a stadium currently scheduled to be up and running in 2023.

If baseball is played in some form in 2020, no franchise will be happier than the A’s. If it’s not, a dynamic roster may see itself dismantled.