Bernstein: Can Oakland A’s keep promising roster and contend by the time new park opens?

Oakland A’s executives have claimed they will try to keep the team intact until their planned stadium opens at Howard Terminal in five years, and there’s even a “World Series 2023” banner emblazoned on the digital renderings of what the park might look like.

It’s a wise PR effort by the franchise best known for letting its best and brightest young stars go once they can no longer be cost-controlled team-owned assets. Third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson have already helped turn the A’s into postseason contenders, and there’s a sense the best has yet to come.

“There’s only one way to open a stadium successfully, and that’s with a good, young team,” Beane said in 2017. “Really what’s been missing the last 20 years is keeping these players. … We need to change that narrative by creating a good team and ultimately committing to keep them around.”

But is that objective realistic? Given the inherent chaos of major league rosters and Oakland’s own history, it seems unlikely the A’s will resemble their current formation when they move into their new home.

Keep in mind that five years ago, in 2013, a 28-year-old Allen Craig hit .315 and drove in 97 runs for the Cardinals. A 25-year-old Dominic Brown smashed 27 home runs during an All-Star campaign with the Phillies. Jose Fernandez, Matt Harvey, Shelby Miller, Andrew Cashner, Kris Medlen and Mat Latos were among the top-15 ERA leaders for pitchers under 28.

None of the above players are still with the same team, and all have either lost most of their value or left the sport entirely. Fernandez died in a boating accident in 2016. And while so much changes over five seasons for any MLB franchise in any market, when it comes to Oakland, the shifts are often seismic.

Oakland’s current 40-man roster features no players from 2013. Several A’s players from five years ago — such as catcher Derek Norris and starting pitcher Brett Anderson — have had their initial trade returns traded away. In fact, one of Anderson’s trade returns, Drew Pomeranz, had his trade return, Yonder Alonso, traded away.

By 2023, shortstop Marcus Semien, outfielder Mark Canha, designated hitter Khris Davis and closer Blake Treinen will no longer be under their current A’s contracts. Chapman, Olson, utility man Chad Pinder and right fielder Stephen Piscotty will be free agents by 2024, likely prompting difficult front-office decisions and potentially setting off another wave of trades. Chapman could demand a particularly significant payday if he blossoms into a consistent MVP-caliber player.

Maybe this A’s team is different. Maybe the affirmations from leadership are genuine and maybe the franchise will indeed do everything in its power to keep most of its talented young players together. Perhaps it will supplement cuts to the fringes of its roster with exciting new additions.

“We anticipate the payroll going up,” Beane said on Oct. 30. “It will certainly go up, and it will go up continually, year after year after year. We’ve already had that discussion. … We may want to look at a pool-type situation, X-amount of dollars over a five-year period, but those are all things that we’re talking with John Fisher about.”

Even if that commitment does come, though, it’s difficult to predict how Oakland’s core might develop moving forward. There’s an inevitable attrition tax on any MLB roster over a five-year period, usually taking the harshest toll on pitching staffs. As is, the A’s don’t have a very stable set of starters, with every member of the 2018 Opening Day rotation spending time on the disabled list.

You can’t predict baseball, and you certainly can’t convince legions of fans who’ve been hurt before that this promising young roster will remain intact (and productive) when a new stadium opens in 2023.

Change is not always a bad thing, and it’s often been necessary to Oakland’s survival in a league of big spenders. But if the A’s do win the World Series five years from now, it’ll probably be because of players you haven’t heard of yet.

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