There Will Be Baseball

The pain is over. Let the misery begin!

Okay, I’m going to leave the Chris Bassitt trade to another blog later today and instead focus on the overwhelmingly positive news that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was announced on Thursday.

Today we will be able to see photos and videos of players in Spring Training camp at last, with the Cactus League opening on Friday 18th and the A’s regular season starting on Friday 8th April, one day after the official MLB Opening Day. Considering that just one week ago we were staring at the grim prospect of a long delay, having baseball back in our lives so soon is a gift we should all be grateful for.

The CBA covers a vast array of topics, and some of the finer points are still to be made public, but here are five key points that we know about so far and how they will affect our A’s.

1. Starting on the East coast

The timing of the agreement has meant that only the first week of the original schedule has had to be rearranged. It’s still a shame, as that means it will be even longer before fans in Oakland will be able to see the team at the Coliseum, but at least the games will be rescheduled so that there will be 81 home games to enjoy.

The new schedule will see the A’s getting going on Friday 8th April for the first of 10 games on the road against East Division teams.

All three games from the opening series against the Phillies are being played during the day, with three of the following seven games also being afternoon affairs, so those of us battling the time difference will be able to watch the games live at a convenient time.

The only oddity with east coast games is that those starting at 1pm local time, in this case the final game of all three opening series, are unusually early to the point where it feels a bit strange to have the game finished before we’ve started to feel tired! As they are 10am starts in Oakland, we can at least share the “it’s a bit too early” experience together.

It’s an exciting start against three teams who all will expect to be in the hunt for a play-off spot this season.

The one thing to be aware of is that there is still some uncertainty over how Canada’s Covid vaccination policy (i.e. no vaccine, no entry) will be taken into account in terms of roster rules when teams head to Toronto. Mark Kotsay stated on Friday that all of the coaching staff are vaccinated but that he didn’t yet know the full picture on the players’ side. Of course, there’s a fair chance the roster will look quite different in a few weeks’ time anyway, so it’s perhaps not something for them to worry about too much at this point.

BST start times for the first three series

2. Can’t Hit, Won’t Hit

The opening series in Philadelphia will mark the first A’s interleague series in a National League ballpark when the universal DH rules will take effect.

It’s been coming for a long time and the initial impact will be felt more keenly by the NL teams, who will now have a DH spot to play with, than for us AL teams that have been used to it since 1973.

Whilst I usually recoil a bit at the U.S. desire to have specialist roles in sports, hitting in the Majors is incredibly difficult and especially so for players who stopped developing that skill at the end of high school. Pitchers don’t hit in college (other than exceptional cases) or in the Minor Leagues, so it’s become an almost impossible task even for NL pitchers who at least have a couple of at-bats every five days.

For AL pitchers, it’s the equivalent of a striker having to go in goal in football. The occasional sight of it is amusing, of course, and I will miss the joy the starting pitchers found in their fellow rotation-mates being made to look foolish, but it’s a total mis-match and something that we likely won’t miss.

3. Every team, every season

The two leagues playing by different rules wasn’t such an issue when the AL and NL distinctions actually meant something. Now, the constant of interleague play made it increasingly hard to justify.

That’s going to become even more pronounced next season when a new schedule format will be introduced that will mean we’ll play at least three games against every team every season. The full details are still being worked through, but the general plan will look like this for the A’s:

AL West – We’ll play each of the other four teams in our division 14 times, down from the current 19. I’m fine with that: 19 games against the same opponent always felt a bit much, but this format will still mean we’ll face our division rivals by far the most.

The rest of the AL – We’ll play six games (three at home, three on the road) against each of the other 10 teams. That’s not too different to the existing situation, albeit to make the numbers work currently you have to play some teams six times, other teams seven.

The 15 teams in the NL – This is where those 20 ‘lost’ games from division rivals are allocated. We’ll play four games, rather than the current six, against the San Francisco Giants as our nominated interleague rival. Honestly, it’s a shame to lose two of those games per season, but I guess that just raises the Battle of the Bay stakes even further! We’ll then play a three-game series against every other team in the NL and the location will alternate year-to-year. So, for example, if we host the New York Mets in 2023, we’d play them at Citi Field in 2024, then back at the Coliseum in 2025 etc.

Traditionalists won’t be so keen, but personally I like the thought of watching the A’s taking on every other team in at least one series every season. More than anything, it makes planning trips to watch the A’s play in other ballparks much easier, as we’ll no longer be in the potential situation of waiting six years for the next time we play at a particular NL ballpark.

4. Good riddance to the Wild Card game!

Ensuring every team has as close to the same schedule as possible is more important now than ever with the play-offs expanding from 10 to 12 teams.

In different years, different divisions can be stronger than others and that is a problem when the rotating interleague division match-ups come into play. A close Wild Card race can be decided by luck of the draw with one team having to face a harder schedule than another. That could still be the case this season, with the new schedule format only starting in 2023, but it will soon be a thing of the past.

Each league will produce three wild card teams alongside the three division winners. The two division winners with the best win-loss records will go straight through to the second round. The other division winner will face the third-placed Wild Card, with first and second facing each other, in a best-of-three game series.

You may feel that the play-off format won’t be a big topic for the A’s this season, and you might be right, but no team has felt the pain of the one-game Wild Card ‘play-in’ contest quite like us since it was introduced. Our 0-3 record can be consigned to the history books and whilst a three-game series still is relatively short, it does seem more in line with how we experience baseball the rest of the season.

5. Revenue Sharing Rules

It was reported a few weeks ago that the A’s would become recipients of revenue sharing once again under the new CBA. That has now been confirmed, as has the reason why the team was stripped of that funding in the previous agreement.

The new CBA will see the A’s receive revenue-sharing money, intended for ‘small market’ teams, on a phased basis with us getting 25% of the usual share this year (probably something in the $7m-10m region). However, Ken Rosenthal has confirmed at The Athletic that the continued receipt of this money is dependent on the A’s getting a binding agreement for a new ballpark by 15 January 2024.

It had long been thought that stripping the A’s of this money was a direct punch on the nose from the other owners who were fed up with Fisher and Co.’s inability to get a new ballpark sorted.

Directly linking the money to a ballpark deal proves that to be the case, as well as confirming that the A’s are almost certainly going to have to sort out their future one way or another very soon.

Oh, and yes the player market is now open again

Waking up to the news that Chris Bassitt has been traded to the New York Mets shows that, to the surprise of no one, John Fisher hasn’t found a conscience during the course of the lock-out.

No doubt there will be more moves coming in the very near future and we’ll have to trust the Front Office’s judgement on making the best of the situation they’ve been put in once again.

We at least have the benefit of experience here and that feels all the more meaningful now after the past three months. Whoever’s on the roster, and whatever the season may bring in terms of the win-loss column, we will get to spend the next six months or so following our team through the highs and lows together.

And, I’m sure like you all, I cannot wait to get it started.

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