It sure looks funny when the MLBPA claims that the establishment of a draft lottery is something of a win in the new CBA, in a bid to prevent tanking from teams, and on the very first day they can do so, the Oakland Athletics trade their best pitcher (Chris Bassitt) for one prospect and one minor league wanderer at 27. Their next two best pitchers could be on the move (Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas), and their two best hitters (Matt Chapman and Matt Olson) are almost certainly going to be gone before Opening Day hits as well.
Update: Olson is indeed headed to Atlanta, according to Jeff Passan:
This may look like the normal cycle for the A’s. We’ve seen it for 20 years now. They produce one very good team, one that caps out at losing in the division series, they get a couple whacks at it, and then as soon as anyone is due to be paid more than a couple pastries and a bagel they ship them out to start the cycle all over again. All the while, the A’s claim this is the only way they can do it, even though MLB removed them from their small-market status in revenue sharing (though they’re back on it in the new deal).
Meanwhile, attendance continues to wane as A’s fans grow more and more weary of seeing their favorite players guaranteed to be flogged off at the first opportunity and the Colosseum continues to be more of a feces-ridden blister on the scene. Even Mt. Davis, which ruined almost all of its aesthetic pleasure, served a football team that is no longer there. Everything about the Oakland sports scene now is about what used to be there, it seems.
But as the A’s move along to trading Chapman, Olson, possibly Manaea and Montas too, there is something more sinister about this teardown. Because at the moment, the A’s are closer to a new stadium in Oakland than they’ve ever been. But there is something cynical, and something weird, about stripping a team down to the studs while also being on the verge of securing its future for the long-term. The optics are certainly off, and one wonders what the play is here.
The A’s have been in a protracted slog with the city of Oakland and county of Alameda to build a new stadium at Howard Terminal. The project took a big step just a couple weeks ago as the Oakland City Council voted to certify the environmental impact report. But there are still the financials to figure out. Which is always the biggest hurdle. But the EIR actually being certified is farther than any other proposed park for the A’s, and there have been more than a few, have gotten. Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf said that the city is very close to getting the $350 million in off-site infrastructure costs for which they’re on the hook, and that sum doesn’t involve raising taxes for once. And that $350 million was originally supposed to be fronted by the A’s and paid back by the city, which Oakland simply took off the A’s hands. It feels like the two sides are only some details away from keeping the A’s in Oakland.
And yet there are some shadows lurking. The A’s have made an offer on an unspecified plot of land in Vegas. They’ve been pretty public about their trips to and tours around Sin City. It’s certainly being dangled as leverage, and even in a piece that’s downplaying the chances of the A’s moving to Nevada, A’s president David Kaval was still beating the drum of urgency.
“Time is of the essence,” Kaval said. “We’re already in a situation where we’re probably past time where it needs to be decided and we can’t afford to have any additional delays. And that’s why it’s so important that we have established an effort in Southern Nevada and in Las Vegas to determine if we could actually have a real option there and a site and a partnership with the community to bring Major League Baseball there.”
It’s certainly a look for a team that’s trying to get a new stadium in either place to put out the worst possible product imaginable. And when it’s combined with the A’s raising ticket prices last year, getting rid of some popular flexible ticket plans as well, it felt like the A’s were actively trying to keep people from the park. And then they could argue that Oakland isn’t a viable market anymore, or that they lost out on the money they needed to pay for their portion of the new stadium, and terms need to be renegotiated or they’ll fuck off to a city that will pay for everything.
It could just be that this is the normal A’s cycle. Or maybe it’s going to be used as proof of how badly they need the new stadium, to promise if they get it they’ll never have to do this again (yeah huh).
But something smells about desperately clawing for every penny for a new stadium in two cities, and yet putting out a team that very few if any would want to watch. And it’s not like the A’s are spending serious money now ($80 million payroll) or are due to. Chapman, Montas and Olson are still another year away from free agency. Bassitt is going to hit it after this season, as will Manaea. And yet the A’s won’t spend on any of it. What is it they’re trying to pretend they’re going to put in this new stadium?
By the time they get an agreement in either Oakland or Vegas, all those players will be gone and the A’s will be plummeting to the basement of the AL West. Again. And A’s fans will be years from another team worth their time. They might have a new stadium to look forward to as well when those things line up, but why do both have to come from a giant pile of toxic dirt?