The cost of losing Liam Hendriks and Marcus Semien

The A’s season isn’t over yet, technically, but it sure felt like a graveyard Tuesday night at the Coliseum.

The past four games have resulted in four losses for the stumbling A’s, who are seven games out of first place in American League West and 3.5 games back of the Boston Red Sox for the second Wild Card spot. Oakland (74-64) is also trying to play catch-up with the Toronto Blue Jays and … cough, Seattle Mariners, cough … in the Wild Card race as they sit in third place in the division.

The current four-game skid has been bookended by a couple of cruel performances by Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks.

Semien authored a dramatic end to a Shakespearean loss on Friday, when he blasted a walk-off three-run dinger to cap a nine-run comeback in an 11-10 Blue Jays victory.

Hendriks recorded a crisp 11-pitch, 1-2-3 inning to cap Tuesday’s 6-3 victory for the White Sox.

Even when the A’s scored a couple of runs in the bottom of the eighth to make it something of a game Tuesday, the crowd’s excitement just didn’t feel the same. It felt like a spring training game — the crowd wanted to cheer on the good guys, but does this really matter any more?

At one point, while the A’s fell into a five-run hole, the most entertaining part of the contest were the chanting fans behind the first-base dugout. To the same cadence of the classic soccer chant “Ole Ole,” they started off by saying “Joseeeee, Jose, Jose, Joseeee, Joseeee, Joseeee” for Jose Abreu, then it went to “Yan Goooomes, Yan Gomes, Yan Gomes, Yan Goooomes, Yan Gomes, Yan Gomes” to “Martaayyyyy, Martay, Martay, Martaaaay, Martayyy, Martayyy” for Starling Marte.

Again, it just didn’t feel like there was anything of consequence about to happen on that field. It was only Sept. 7 but it seemed like Sept. 27 and everyone was there to enjoy a ballgame on a smooth summer Oakland night before offseason baseball FOMO.

The A’s knew they would be run through the gauntlet with tough opponents the past few weeks and I think they’ve been exposed as a good, but not great, team. In this year’s stacked American League, no one is going to sneak into the playoffs.

Oakland’s front office deserves credit for the impact of the trade deadline acquisitions — Marte, Gomes, Josh Harrison and Andrew Chafin. Without those guys, the flickering flame of the A’s season probably would have been extinguished long ago. Still, the A’s simply don’t seem to have the roster depth to compete with the firepower of the New York Yankees, Houston Astros, Boston Red Sox, White Sox or Blue Jays. And, it’s worth repeating, the A’s are still looking up at the Mariners in the standings.

What separates the A’s from that next echelon? How about $36 million on the 2021 payroll — the cost it would require to have kept Semien and Hendriks around at market value.

According to Spotrac, Oakland’s salary is at $89.2 million this season, which ranks 21st out of 30 MLB teams and roughly $41 million away from the league average of $130 million. Playing devil’s advocate here, but if the A’s kept some form of their current roster while retaining Semien and Hendriks, it would push the team salary to about $125 million. I realize the A’s and heavy-hitters like Yankees aren’t in the same financial stratosphere, but that hypothetical payroll would still be about $5 million under the league average.

Semien inked a one-year, $18 million deal with the Blue Jays and looks set for a fat payday after the ridiculous season he’s had in Toronto — .270/.338/.548 with 38 homers, 88 RBI, 98 runs scored and 14 steals — which is comparable to his 2019 campaign with Oakland when he finished third in the MVP voting.

Elvis Andrus has been serviceable as the A’s shortstop and recovered nicely after a miserable start to the year, but can you imagine how much more teeth Oakland’s lineup would have with Semien anchoring it?

With the offseason signing of would-be closer Trevor Rosenthal, the A’s made a good effort to shore up the loss of Hendriks. But Rosenthal never threw a pitch for Oakland after Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery and the bullpen has cracked under the weight of a six-month season.

Chafin has been pretty lights out since joining the A’s bullpen, but they’re still an arm away from having the whole situation stabilized and not in flux: A veteran arm like Hendriks, who signed a three-year, $54 million deal this past offseason and has a league-leading 33 saves with a 2.95 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 96-to-7 K-to-BB ratio.

Those are the kind of numbers the A’s need from their players to hang with the big boys in the AL in 2021. The A’s are looking like Elvis Andrus and Lou Trivino, not Marcus Semien and Liam Hendriks.

That’s not to say the season’s over.

When it comes to crunch time and A’s playoff chances, I always harken back to the 2012 season, when Oakland was five games out of the AL West with nine games to play and still took the division crown from the Texas Rangers. 

It’s getting grimmer and dimmer at the Coliseum, though. The post-game vibe in the men’s room just isn’t the same when it’s quiet and everyone’s at the trough, no “Celebration” playing in the speakers.

It felt like a wake for the A’s season on Tuesday after a familiar path to demise — due to an offense in a malaise and a bullpen who can’t keep a lid on the game. Then there was Hendriks, who closed the door on the A’s while pitching in Oakland for the first time since clinching last year’s Wild Card series against the White Sox. Cruel.

The A’s front office has made a real effort this season to better the team where possible, but I think the financial handcuffs from ownership will ultimately hamstring the team from competing for a World Series in October.