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A's Sunday Summary

A’s Rotation Taking Shape

The A’s made their 5th – FIFTH! – free agent addition of the off-season this past week by announcing the signing of Japanese pitcher Shintaro Fujinami.

He was a heralded pitching prospect out of high school whose electric talent – 98 MPH fastball, wipe-out splitter and decent slider – has never quite come together due to control issues. He improved that part of his game in 2022 and the Hanshin Tigers honoured his wish to be made available to MLB teams this off-season.

Fujinami is no sure thing to be successful in the Majors, especially as a starting pitcher, but the old saying rings true: that’s why he’s joined the A’s!

Oakland were prepared to give him assurances that he will begin the season in the starting rotation, rather than the bullpen as some other MLB teams were offering, and signed him to a one-year, $3.25M contract with no additional option years attached to it.

For Fujinami, the ideal scenario will be to prove his worth as a viable starting pitcher and then sign a multi-year deal in twelve months’ time.

For the A’s, he’s precisely the sort of low-risk, good reward signing they should be using a roster spot on in 2023. If it doesn’t pan out then it’s no real loss. If we get a good half-season from him and trade him for a prospect then it will be $3.25M (plus $650k posting fee to Hanshin) well spent.

The unknowns with Fujinami also mean us fans can dream that we might have just signed someone a little bit special to get excited about. The A’s are even holding a press conference on Tuesday to announce his arrival, which doesn’t happen all that often.

We hear that our friends at the Oakland 68s may be getting their drums out to give him a welcome too.

It’s not quite the glitz and the glamour of signing someone to a $300M contract, but something’s better than nothing when nothing is all we got last year.

Options Aplenty in the Rotation

Fitness depending, Fujinami will join our other starting pitcher free agent Drew Rucinski in the starting rotation alongside Cole Irvin and Paul Blackburn, provided the latter is back healthy after the finger injury that ended his break-out 2022 campaign early.

That leaves us with a gaggle of arms to compete for the fifth spot and other starting opportunities as the season progresses. Currently they shape up as follows:

Late Starter?

James Kaprielian – his timetable from shoulder surgery in early December is still a little unclear. Mark Kotsay said at the Winter Meetings that he hoped Kap would be good to go for Spring Training, although given that we have other options, don’t be surprised if the A’s take a conservative approach with his recovery.

Likely Bullpen arms

A.J. Puk – A’s GM David Forst stated at the start of the off-season that Puk would come to Spring Training camp as a potential starting pitcher. I would love to see it work out for Puk; however my hunch is that he’ll be our set-up man again this season.

Adam Oller – 2022 didn’t go well, so he may be better suited to a long-relief role. If not, he’s the type of player who will be Designated For Assignment to make space for younger talent on the 40-man roster.

The Next Generation

Ken Waldichuk and JP Sears – both showed promise at the end of last season and really have nothing left to prove at Triple-A level. Regardless of their Opening Day roster assignment, they’ll get plenty of starts in the Green and Gold in 2023.

Adrián Martínez – Although his 2022 didn’t go to plan, there were moments when his fastball and outstanding change-up made him look like an intriguing prospect. It’s worth giving him another go at Triple-A as a starting pitcher before considering switching him to be a potentially excellent reliever.

Kyle Muller and Freddy Tarnok – Both made their MLB debuts with the Braves last season and, like Waldichuk and Sears, will have made plenty of starts for the A’s by the end of the season.

Arbitration Deals Agreed

In other roster news, the A’s announced that they had agreed terms with Paul Blackburn, Tony Kemp and Ramón Laureano on contracts for 2023.

Blackburn ($1.9M salary for 2023) and Laureano ($3.55M) will both be hoping to have healthy and productive seasons to build on previous success, whilst Kemp ($3.725M) is in his final year before becoming a free agent.

As always, successful starts to the 2023 season for them will probably mean other teams will be paying part of that salary once we get to August and September.

Oakland goes 1-1 in funding agreements

Off the field, the Howard Terminal development plans have taken a blow with the provisional awards from the Federal MEGA grant program ruling that Oakland City Council’s bid for $182M was unsuccessful.

Whilst the naysayers are jumping on this as pushing the A’s one step closer to Vegas, the impact of the disappointing news shouldn’t be overstated. The City Council applied to that funding plot knowing they were extremely unlikely to get the full amount and that it was always possible they would get nothing giving how competitive the bidding process was.

In more positive news, the California Transportation Commission has approved $175 million of funding for the Port Of Oakland’s 7th Street Grade Separation Project, first announced back in December. The project obviously is much wider than just relating to Howard Terminal, but it’s part of the overall mission.

Spirit Week Announced

The A’s finally answered the question of whether they would be holding a FanFest this year by announcing a Spirit Week event.

It will begin on Monday January 23rd with various give-aways and ticket deals before culminating on Friday with an open ‘happy hour’ event.

Around the Majors

First – The Carlos Correa saga was brought to a close by the Minnesota Twins re-signing the shortstop to a contract that guarantees him 6-years, $200M and then has another four option years that could add $70M to it. Credit to the Twins for sticking with it after the provisional deals with the Giants and Mets gave them plenty of reasons to move on.

Second – Just after the Boston Red Sox’s 10-year, $313.5M contract extension with Rafael Devers somewhat appeased the Fenway Faithful, the despondency has built again after the news that Trevor Story has undergone elbow surgery that could put him out for the entire season. It only adds to the anger among Red Sox fans that the team signed Story to a six-year, $140M contract last off-season whilst offering low-ball contract extensions to Xander Bogaerts, who subsequently signed an 11-year, $280M contract with the Padres in December.

Third – There may be similar buyer’s remorse – albeit at a substantially lower financial level – for the New York Yankees when it comes to their mid-season trade with the A’s for Frankie Montas. He struggled down the stretch after being acquired at the trade deadline and the Yankees announced yesterday that Montas’s shoulder soreness has returned. He’s reportedly 8-10 weeks behind his off-season schedule and the fact that his shoulder has been a recurring problem makes this all the more concerning. It’s rough news for Frankie, although from the A’s perspective it shows that the Front Office did the right thing in getting a very solid prospect return for him and Lou Trivino when they did.

Home – And finally, fans of the similarly pathetically-owned Pittsburgh Pirates received a much-deserved bit of good news on Friday with the announcement that Andrew McCutchen has signed a one-year deal to return to the team. He reportedly turned down better financial offers from other teams as he wanted to go back to where his career began and to help their rebuild.

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A's Sunday Summary

Draft Lottery Losers

The Winter Meetings in San Diego this past week were very eventful. Even our Oakland A’s got in on the act with a couple of reported free agent signings.

However, the most significant news for the Green and Gold was another disappointment for us to cope with.

Down to Sixth

The first ever MLB Draft Lottery took place on Tuesday and the A’s were the biggest losers coming out of it. Previously a second-worst win-loss record would have meant picking second in the following year’s amateur player draft. Adding the lottery element to it has resulted in the A’s dropping down to sixth.

Although there can be a drop-off from the players available at the very top of the draft, the significance is more in the financial implications and the A’s ability to add more talent to the rebuilding effort via next year’s draft.

Every single pick in the draft is given a guide value. The combined total of the pick values that an individual team has allocated to them defines their overall draft bonus pool budget. The individual signing bonuses are still subject to negotiation, so you can strike a deal at higher or lower than the guide value for that specific pick; however, the total value of all of your deals has to be within your overall bonus pool budget.

The guide values for the 2023 draft are still to be published, but for 2022 the difference between the second overall pick ($8,189,400) and the sixth overall pick ($6,037,500) was $2.1M. That’s not a lot when it comes to the MLB Free Agency market, but it is in the context of the bonus pools, such as the A’s overall budget of $8.3M for the 2022 draft.

First Round Fails

The A’s Front Office will have to get creative once again, not least because their disappointing record with First Round draft picks in recent years has been a factor in the team going into a full-scale rebuild.

After taking A.J. Puk with the sixth overall pick in 2016, they once again picked at six in 2017 and used that to select Austin Beck. Sadly for the A’s, Beck has never shown a consistent ability to make contact across four and a bit Minor League seasons. He split time in High-A and Double-A during 2022 and, although he displayed some power in Lansing (8 HR in 43 games), it’s still questionable if he will make it to the Majors at all, let alone be productive at that level.

The swing-and-a-miss on Beck in 2017, as well as late First Round pick Kevin Merrell, was compounded by the Kyler Murray debacle in 2018.

The A’s used their ninth overall spot to select University of Oklahoma’s two-sport star, came to terms on a $4.6M signing bonus and then allowed him to continue his college football season. He subsequently won the Heisman Trophy as the outstanding college football player of that season, was selected first overall in the NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals and in July this year he signed a five-year contract extension that guarantees him $160M and could be worth up to $230.5M.

It worked nicely for Murray, but the only thing the A’s got out of it was most of their bonus money back. It left a hole in the farm system and that’s one that the 2019 First Round pick hasn’t filled.

College shortstop Logan Davidson was selected with the 29th pick and signed to a $2.4M bonus. As with so many other prospects of that year, Davidson’s development was hindered by the cancelled 2020 Minor League season. The A’s decided to send him to Double-A Midland in 2021 and his struggles there (batting .212/.307/.313) resulted in him being given a repeat assignment at that level this year. The results were better second time around (.252/.337/.406 with 14 HR in 111 games), but still not clearly indicative of someone who will develop into a Big Leaguer of any note.

The A’s left him off their 40-man roster this off-season, exposing him to the other 29 teams in the Rule 5 Draft this week, but nobody claimed him. There’s still a chance he could play for the A’s; however he’s unlikely to push on much further.

The disappointment with Davidson’s development also is now seen with the unflattering comparison to the shortstop taken with the very next pick. The New York Yankees selected Anthony Volpe and MLB.com’s Prospect Rankings currently list him as the fifth best prospect in all of baseball. He is a prospect with All Star potential and he was considered untouchable by the Yankees’ Front Office this summer when the A’s were negotiating a trade package for Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino.

Every team has its successes and failures in the draft; however, the difference between the two is greatly exacerbated when you don’t compete for premium talent – or even very good talent – on the free agent market. With that approach, if you don’t draft a Matt Chapman or Matt Olson, you never have one.

The A’s will have an early pick this year – even if not quite as early as we had hoped – and likely will again next year too. Converting those into impact Major Leaguers could have a strong bearing on how far the next competitive A’s team can go.

Other A’s Notes

Alongside the Draft Lottery, another new feature of MLB’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that we’re seeing for the first time this off-season is the allocation of a $50M fund to the top performing pre-arbitration players (i.e. those in their first three MLB seasons). Sean Murphy is the A’s sole beneficiary this time, earning himself a $700k bonus that pretty much doubles his take-home pay for 2022. There’s no need to worry about A’s owner John Fisher’s art collection budget though, as teams get reimbursed the full cost of the pre-arbitration bonuses from a central MLB fund.

The A’s selected first baseman Ryan Noda from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Rule 5 Draft on Wednesday. By all accounts, there’s a good chance he’ll be a regular at first base for the A’s in 2023. I’ll provide some more detailed thoughts on that selection, and the trade with Colorado that bagged us reliever Chad Smith, in a mid-week blog.

If you haven’t seen them already, you can catch up on my thoughts on the reported signings of Aledmys Díaz and Jace Peterson elsewhere on the blog (they are both pending completion of physicals, so have not been officially announced as yet). The one additional piece of information to add is that Peterson’s contract is reported to be a two-year deal worth $9.5M. That’s a bit higher than I estimated and is part of a wider trend so far this off-season of teams being willing, or being forced, to table offers with a higher average annual value and/or length than initially predicted.

Around The Majors

First: It’s difficult to know where to start with the flood of big money signings across MLB this past week. The eleven-year contracts signed by shortstops Trea Turner ($300M with the Phillies) and Xander Bogaerts ($275M with the Padres) are as good a place as any. Former (and probably future) A’s scourge Carlos Correa is predicted to beat Turner’s deal in the next week or so.

Second: Will Correa be the player to finally take the Giants’ money? For a few hours on Tuesday they thought they had beaten the Yankees to Aaron Judge’s signature, then it emerged that they had pursued fellow outfielder Brandon Nimmo before he decided to take an 8-year, $162M deal to return to the New York Mets. The Giants have managed to sign former Mariner Mitch Haniger, but the Big Star Splash they are desperately trying to make has yet to come off. There’s only a small amount of smirking towards the Giants here: the pain of narrowly missing out after tabling huge offers is a pain us A’s fans would gladly cope with.

Third: As for Judge, well you have to give credit to both the Giants and Padres for making what seemed inevitable be in doubt for a little while. The Yankees would no longer have been the Yankees if they had let their one beloved star leave the Bronx, so the 9-year, $360M pact was a commitment they had to make. The morale boost of keeping him shouldn’t obscure how badly the rest of their offense struggled down the stretch last season, so they’ll need to keep going if they are to be a true World Series contender.

Home: For a guide on this, the Yankees can look towards Queens. The Mets brought back Nimmo at a fair market price, responded to losing Jacob deGrom by signing Justin Verlander and have just added Jose Quintana and Japanese import Kodai Senga to cover for losing Taijuan Walker and Chris Bassitt to free agency (although C-Bass is still unsigned). ESPN’s Jeff Passan has done the sums and estimates that the Mets’ payroll will end up at around $345M, requiring owner Steve Cohen to pay a $76M tax bill for blasting through the various luxury tax thresholds. It’s known as a Competitive Balance Tax, although when one team pays more in tax than some teams will pay their entire 26-man roster (including our lot), it doesn’t seem a very accurate name. How about Free Money for Poor Billionaires Fund?

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A's Sunday Summary

Winter Meetings 2023

Given the way the Oakland A’s 2022 season went, you could almost say that the off-season is going to be more interesting than the action on the field.

MLB’s Winter Meetings get underway today in San Diego. Whilst other fanbases are excitedly dreaming about their team reeling in one of the big free agents, we are left looking up details of prospects on teams being linked with a trade for Sean Murphy.

After the blow-out of the last off-season, Murphy is really our only established Major Leaguer of any great value left to trade, subject to Ramón Laureano recapturing some of his previous form in the first half of the 2023 season to entice offers ahead of the trade deadline.

Amidst all of the other chaos, Murphy quietly put together a very impressive season, mixing a quality approach at the plate with his usual outstanding defence at one of the hardest fielding positions on the diamond. Add in the fact that he has three years remaining under contract and it’s no surprise that every potential contending team that hasn’t already got a good everyday catcher is reportedly flirting with the A’s.

Return of the Winter Meetings

The big difference compared to last year is that the A’s Front Office has more normal trading conditions to work within, rather than the mad rush produced by the protracted player lock-out. A’s General Manager David Forst has spoken in the past about how much more difficult the contracted nature of the 2021/22 off-season made it to fully tease out the potential trade packages from interested parties.

The annual Winter Meetings gathering was one of many things that was cancelled last year. With the key Front Office staff from all 30 teams in one place, alongside the leading agents and hordes of media, everything starts moving much more quickly. Even if a deal isn’t finalised before everyone flies off, you’ll often find that a deal agreed over the coming month or so had its roots in discussions that took place at the Winter Meetings.

The A’s are in no rush to trade Murphy due to his contract length and that there isn’t the pressing need to rid everyone off the payroll as there was last off-season. He is one of only four players presently under contract for 2023 who will be earning more than the league minimum, the others being Laureano, Tony Kemp and Paul Blackburn.

Much as I want to keep our “Big Boy Home Runs” flag flying for a bit longer, it still looks inevitable that he will be on another team by Spring Training, if not by Christmas. Demand significantly outstrips supply right now when it comes to quality catchers on the market. It is less a question of whether an acceptable offer is received, more which team is most willing to put together a trade package that best suits our Front Office’s design (MLB-ready talent, young prospects a few years away etc).

Rule 5 Draft

The return of the Winter Meetings also includes the return of the Rule 5 Draft after last year’s was cancelled.

The Rule 5 Draft gives teams the opportunity to pick and purchase (for $100k) certain eligible players who are not currently on another team’s 40-man roster. The caveat is that you have to keep a selected player on your 26-man MLB roster all season to keep hold of their rights from then on. That can be a struggle if the player is talented but a little over-matched in the Majors right now; however, it’s the type of situation that non-contending teams like the A’s can sometimes take advantage of.

An example of that came in 2018 when the Baltimore Orioles made the first pick to select Richie Martin from the A’s. Martin was a sweet-fielding shortstop with a questionable bat that was not yet ready for the Majors and possibly never would be.

Oakland took a small risk in leaving him unprotected ahead of the Rule 5 Draft, partly because it was unlikely he would hit enough to stay up on the Big League roster for a full season at that point.

As the Orioles were going to lose 100+ games in 2019 anyway, they decided it was worth taking the short-term hit. Sure enough, Martin struggled to a .208/.260/.322 batting line in 120 games, but he stayed on the roster and gave Baltimore the chance to see if he could develop in their system.

Ultimately it hasn’t worked out as Martin appeared in only 37 MLB games in 2021, followed by 13 in 2022, and was released by the Orioles at the start of October. Still, it’s the sort of very-low-risk gamble that a rebuilding team has the opportunity to try and the A’s may take a punt on a similar type of player in the upcoming draft.

The A’s most successful signee in recent years was Mark Canha in 2014. He is a good example of a little trick teams can pull if they know a team picking ahead of them is not interested in selecting someone (usually because their 40-man roster is already full so they have no space to add another player). The Colorado Rockies agreed to select Canha in the draft from the Miami Marlins, then sold him to us for a nominal amount above the $100k rate.

The Rule 5 Draft will take place on Wednesday and the development logjam created by the lost 2020 Minor League season means there are a few more interesting projects available. The A’s are certain to grab at least one player, probably a relief pitcher, this time around.

Draft Lottery

The other main event at this year’s Winter Meetings is going to be the first ever MLB draft lottery. This takes place on Tuesday and will determine the order at the top end of each round of the 2023 Amateur Player Draft in June.

In previous seasons the draft order predominantly has been set by win-loss record in reverse order; however that created the perverse situation in which there would be a race to the bottom to get the Number One pick. Under the old system the Washington Nationals would have had the Number One pick, with the A’s picking second. Of course, it’s very A’s-like for us to go into a rebuild just as that rule changed.

Under the new system, all 18 non-playoff teams from 2022 have a chance at getting the first pick based on a lottery that uses a variety of complicated factors that give different teams a different percentage chance of winning.

Feel free to Google it if you want to know the full ins and outs, but in short the A’s have a 16.5% chance of getting the Number One pick and are guaranteed to get a pick within the first 8.

A’s 2023 Coaching Staff confirmed

The A’s officially announced Mark Kotsay’s coaching staff for 2023 and in doing so confirmed the reports that Brad Ausmus is not returning as the Bench Coach. That position has gone to Darren Bush who served as the team’s Third Base Coach last season.

Other changes in coaching assignments see Marcus Jensen move from Bullpen Coach to Quality Control, Mike Aldrete move from Quality Control to First Base Coach and Eric Martins going from First Base Coach to Third Base Coach.

Scott Emerson (Pitching Coach), Tommy Everidge (Hitting Coach) and Chris Cron (Assistant Hitting Coach) all stay in their previous roles, whilst Mike McCarthy joins the A’s as the new Bullpen Coach. McCarthy was a pitching instructor at the San Diego Padres’ Triple-A team last season.

Hopefully they will have a few new players to coach once they reconvene in February for Spring Training.

Around the Bases

First: The Texas Rangers fired the first shot ahead of the Winter Meetings by announcing on Friday the signing of former Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom. The ex-New York Met has agreed a five-year contract that guarantees $185M and could be worth $222M if an option year gets picked-up. My AUK pals and I were at the Coliseum on September 24th when the A’s knocked him out of the game after just 4 innings having chalked up 5 runs. It was funny at the time, particular with 800 or so Mets fans in attendance, although as we will now see him several times per season the old adage of “he who laughs last …” may come back to haunt us.

Second: The Houston Astros confirmed the signing of first baseman José Abreu at the start of the week, taking him as a free agent from the Chicago White Sox on a three-year, $58.5M contract. Now that deGrom is off the board we may see the pace quicken in the market for fellow elite starting pitcher Justin Verlander. The Astros are keen to bring him back, but they will now have to factor in the New York Mets as a potential bidder for him with their deGrom-shaped hole to fill.

Third: Staying on the Mets theme, they announced this week that former A’s favourite Eric Chavez has been moved to the position of Bench Coach under Buck Showalter. Chavy is earning an impressive reputation as a coach and looks destined to become a Big League manager in the future. The six-year, $66M contract extension he signed with the A’s back in 2004 remains the most lucrative commitment the team has made in a player, which given how significantly revenues across MLB have increased over the past 18 years is yet one more sad fact about the way our team has been run over the past two decades.

Home: Finally, former A’s reliever J.B. Wendelken has found a new home in Japan. The righty departed from the Arizona Diamondbacks as a free agent and has joined the Yokohama BayStars on a one-year deal, with a further year’s option, that MLB Trade Rumors reports could earn him up to $3M.

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A's Sunday Summary MLB

Pache Getting To Work

We always refer to this time of year as the off-season; however, that’s only accurate when it comes to the baseball action in MLB.

The Australian Baseball League is in its Third Round of the 22/23 season, with former Oakland A Josh Reddick playing for Perth Heat in what will be his final competition before retiring.

You will also find a whole bunch of Major Leaguers and Minor League talent in the Caribbean Winter Leagues, primarily in Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rico, LVPB in Venezuela and The Liga de Béisbol Profesional de la República Dominicana, known as LIDOM, in the Dominican Republic.

One of the players getting some at-bats in LIDOM is a native of Santo Domingo Centro: Cristian Pache.

The A’s centre-fielder unfortunately epitomised how Oakland’s 2022 season unravelled. Just as we knew it was going to be a rough year in the win-loss column, we also knew that Pache came from the Braves with a reputation of being an elite centre-fielder, but needing plenty of development at the plate. The hope, for both the team and for Pache, was that there would be improvement over the season and encouraging signs of things to come.

That wasn’t quite what happened.

Although Pache’s fielding was as outstanding as advertised, he never found any sort of rhythm at the plate. Despite manager Mark Kotsay giving him plenty of time and encouragement to work through his struggles, by June 30th he was hitting only .159/.203/.224 and the team had no choice but to demote him back to Triple-A.

He put up a much better line in 41 games in Vegas, hitting .248/.298/.389 with 4 HR, although it still wasn’t quite at the level you would like to see from a player trying to force his way back onto the Major League roster.

Pache is far from unique in finding it hard to deal with the quality of breaking balls and off-speed pitches as he moves through the Minors. You don’t get far in the professional hitter ranks if you can’t catch up with a good fastball, but what separates the maybes from the Major Leaguers is how they cope with the so-called secondary pitches.

That doesn’t mean you have to be just as good at hitting those pitches and in fact even some of the best hitters have quite a drop in their production off non-fastball pitches. You’ve got to be able to hit them well enough to keep the pitcher honest and, most importantly, you’ve got to develop the pitch recognition and discipline at the plate to force the pitcher to either come at you with the fastball or give you a free pass to first base.

When we look a bit deeper into the statistics there is a case that Pache did suffer some misfortune at the plate during 2022.

His batting average on fastballs was .192, but his expected Batting Average was .276, just as his expected Slugging percentage of .361 was .100 higher than what his actual slugging percentage turned out as (.264).

You have to be careful when looking at ‘expected’ stats as they don’t tell the whole story (e.g. if Pache had been getting better results then pitchers would have started pitching him differently etc); however, at a basic level they give you an idea of how lucky or unlucky the hitter was.

In this case, Pache’s ability to hit fastballs hard didn’t produce the results you would normally expect and part of that genuinely will be a case of hitting into some bad luck.

We all know how important confidence is for an athlete, especially a young player trying to find their feet, so perhaps if the baseball gods had been more on his side then Pache may not have fallen into such a hole and found a better approach at the plate.

That’s not how things work, though. Coping with failure is a big part of the game and Pache was like a driver sat in a car spinning its wheels in the mud hoping that if he jumped on the accelerator pedal enough times he may finally gain some traction and race clear of danger. Time and again Pache was behind in the count 0-2 within a blink of an eye from chasing after bad pitches (accepting that’s easy to say watching on TV from the comfort of your sofa). No one knows any of this better than Pache himself.

Pache is playing for Estrellas Orientales (Oriental Stars) in LIDOM, alongside former A’s teammate Christian Bethancourt.

His season debut came on Monday against Tigres del Licey where he went 3-for-4 with 2 doubles and he then went 1-for-5 against Toros del Este on Tuesday. Pache sat out the team’s game on Friday against Aguilas Cibaeñas, whose line-up included former A’s favourite Yoenis Cespedes and former A’s Minor Leaguer Frank Schwindel.

In truth, Pache’s stats from his time in LIDOM won’t tell us all that much. What matters is that he uses the off-season to re-set and then is able to work with the A’s hitting coaches during Spring Training.

His fielding is so spectacularly good that he doesn’t need to be an impact hitter to be a quality everyday Major Leaguer. He does need to be able to contribute at the plate, though. The joy of watching him patrol centre field at the Coliseum, and the infectious joy he shows when playing the game, means that we all want him to come good.

Whether he can or not will be one of the key stories to follow in the A’s 2023 season.

Thao confirmed as new Oakland Mayor

As rumoured last week, Sheng Thao has now been confirmed as the new mayor-elect for the City of Oakland. Thao was elected by a narrow majority of just 682 votes over Loren Taylor and held her first press conference outside the City Hall on Wednesday.

Thao’s campaign drew in part on her own experiences of the homelessness struggles that are rightly a major concern in the city, as the Guardian.com’s news report states:

Just 15 years ago, Thao was living in her car with her infant son. She had just escaped an abusive relationship and had nowhere to go. This week Thao, 37, became the first Hmong American woman to lead a major US city, the youngest Oakland mayor in 75 years and the first renter to hold the position

The Guardian.com

The report goes on to state that “Over the past five years, Oakland saw a steeper rise in homelessness than any other city in the Bay Area” and this of course plays into some of the tensions around the A’s proposed development at Howard Terminal. Whilst there are valid arguments to support the wider benefits of investing tax-payer dollars into the project, it’s understandable that the optics of potentially doing so continue to be controversial.

Thao’s previous position has been the straight forward one: she wants the project to go ahead but the deal has to be right for Oakland, not just for the A’s owner John Fisher. Coming from a country where public funds wouldn’t be used in this way, largely because we don’t have a sports franchise system that allows teams to threaten relocation, it’s a stance that is hard not to support regardless of how much we all want the team to stay in Oakland.

Thao has lots on her ‘to-do list’ and that will likely include resolving the Howard Terminal project one way or another in the first half of 2023 rather than letting it continue to drag on.

Over to you, Fisher.

Around the Bases

First: Aaron Judge’s Free Agency tour began this past week across the Bay where the San Francisco Giants rolled out the red carpet for the Linden, California native. Whilst a return to the New York Yankees still seems the likeliest outcome – the Yankees not being able to re-sign the reigning AL MVP, and by far their most popular player, would cause a complete meltdown in the Bronx – the Giants figure to be a strong candidate for at least one of the big-ticket free agents on the market this off-season.

Second: There is something very comforting about the annual off-season tale in Anaheim, where the Angels make some moves, the national media hypes them up, and then they fall woefully short of the play-offs. It’s funnier when the A’s aren’t hopeless too, but it’s always worth a chuckle anyway. The Halos have been the most active MLB team so far this off-season, signing pitcher Tyler Anderson to a 3-year, $39M contract, trading for third baseman Gio Urshela from the Twins and then this week adding outfielder Hunter Renfroe in a trade with the Brewers. Will it work this time?

Third: The competition for ‘Cheapest Team of the Off-Season’ has taken an early turn as the usually frugal Pittsburgh Pirates have jumped into the free agent market and agreed a deal with first-baseman Carlos Santana. Although it’s only a one-year deal worth $6.75M, the stakes are so low in the Cheapo Challenge that the investment may take the Buccos away from the other misers. It looks unlikely that the A’s will agree to a free agent contract worth more than that amount of money. The question is whether our entire free agent spending goes above that figure?

Home: The MLB London Series returns in 2023 with the postponed 2020 match-up between the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals at the London Stadium. Pre-sale ticket offers go live for MLB Europe subscribers on Monday.

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A's Sunday Summary

On to the Off-Season

I always feel the need to switch off completely from baseball at the end of a season; however, that’s never been so necessary than after the heavy-going 2022 campaign that us A’s fans had to endure.

Watching the play-offs didn’t offer much of a distraction, not least because the Houston Astros always looked odds-on to go all the way. There’s no doubt that they deserved their World Series triumph and the way they have coped with losing key players to free agency has been a lesson to many other big-spending teams.

Alas, the Oakland A’s will have no need to attend the School for Big Spenders under current ownership, that is unless a few of our younger players are sent there to clean the bogs to earn some pocket money.

Let’s not get bogged down in the negativity, though. There’s always reason for optimism if you look hard enough and that’s what I’ll aim to do over the off-season every Sunday.

Beane and (not quite) Gone

Whether the big A’s news on Friday is something to cause optimism is in the eye of the beholder.

The Oakland A’s announced that Billy Beane is moving into a new role as senior advisor to owner John Fisher, relinquishing his position as Executive Vice President of baseball operations.

It has felt like this has been coming for a while as Beane has made no secret of his ambition to test himself with other sporting ventures. He is already involved in various other teams – most notably, and slightly bizarrely, including Barnsley Football Club – and the new role will give him the opportunity to invest more time into those whilst continuing to provide his wisdom and expertise to the A’s.

The news has garnered plenty of attention due to Beane’s Moneyball profile; however the Front Office has been a true team effort in recent years. It’s no slight on Beane to think that this is more about what we will gain than what we will lose as it will allow the other highly-rated baseball operations staff to take on more responsibility. That starts with current General Manager David Forst, who will now report directly to Fisher, but also others such as the Assistant GM’s Dan Feinstein, Billy Owens and Rob Naberhaus.

Owens is regularly mentioned when other teams have an opening at the GM position, most recently when that role became available at the San Francisco Giants. It’s the same in every company: if there isn’t space for your best employees to progress then ultimately they will seek opportunities elsewhere.

It all seems like a positive step for the A’s Front Office.

Other Personnel Changes

Keith Lieppman is a significantly lesser-known name than Billy Beane, even among A’s fans, but his retirement from the A’s this past week at the age of 73 deserves just as much attention.

Lieppeman held various roles with the organisation since being drafted as a player by the A’s in 1971; however it was his 28 years as Director of Player Development where his impact was most keenly felt. Since he started in the role in 1992, the amount of players who have come through the Minor Leagues and had successful careers, with the A’s and with other MLB teams, is staggering. He was justifiably inducted into the A’s Hall of Fame this past summer and his legacy will live on for a long time to come.

Elsewhere, the A’s Medical team will have a different look to it heading into Spring Training as Nick Paparesta, who was the Head Athletic Trainer in Oakland for 12 years, has taken up a position with the Minnesota Twins. Just as Billy Beane’s new role has created opportunities for others, the same goes here. Jeff Collins, who has worked for the A’s for 25 years, moves into the Head Athletic Trainer position whilst Brian Schulman has been promoted to the role of Director of Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.

And it appears as though there will be at least one change in the dugout for the 2023 season. Brad Ausmus provided some experience alongside his friend and former teammate Mark Kotsay during the latter’s rookie season as a Big League manager; however, the New York Post’s Jon Heyman has reported that Ausmus has turned down the offer to return for 2023 and instead is looking for a Front Office position elsewhere.

A’s player news (AKA ‘who’s leaving us next?’)

The MLB Hot Stove season has started relatively quietly, other than the New York Mets splashing out a record $105M to retain the services of star closer Edwin Díaz.

Predictably, it is Sean Murphy’s name that is being bandied about in trade rumours the most so far, with a group of teams (including the Cleveland Guardians and Chicago White Sox) reported to be sniffing around the A’s catcher.

A few minor transactions have been completed over the past week as teams across MLB have been doing their usual tidying up of their 40-man rosters and deciding which of their current players they will be tendering a contract to. As expected, the A’s decided not to tender contracts to infielder David MacKinnon, and pitchers Deolis Guerra and Jared Koenig.

Meanwhile they have added a couple of players to their Triple-A depth by claiming infielder Yonny Hernandez off waivers from Arizona and outfielder Brent Rooker from Kansas City. Both players have at least one Minor League option remaining, meaning that they can be moved between the Minors and Majors during the 2023 season without having to offer them to other teams.

As with all such waiver claims, the two players have their warts (Hernandez has no power at the plate, whilst Rooker has plenty of power but hasn’t been able to show it in limited playing time in the Majors) and it’s more likely than not that they will have little impact, but they also have some skills that make it worth taking a very low financial risk on them to see if something clicks.

Oakland Mayor Race Almost Completed

Although we have more than enough political misery in the UK to stop us from getting worked up about local politics in the States, the election of the new City Mayor for Oakland has great significance in respect of the future home of the A’s.

The latest update from The Oaklandside website is that Democrat Sheng Thao has taken a narrow lead after the ballot count was completed on Friday, 10 days after the election day. There is little to split Thao and the other leading candidate Loren Taylor and so it may well head to a recount, but it seems like Thao will be the person to succeed Libby Schaaf.

What this means for the A’s plans to build at Howard Terminal remains to be seen. NBCS’s Brodie Brazil interviewed both of them a few weeks ago and the videos are well worth watching:

They are interviews with politicians trying to get elected so it’s understandable that they both broadly come to the same stance: supportive of the plans but the deal has to be right for Oakland. What it all means when one of them becomes Mayor remains to be seen.

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A's Sunday Summary

The Only Win That Really Mattered This Week

Saturday’s walk-off loss to the Seattle Mariners was the latest in a long line of depressing results that we’ve suffered through the first half of the 2022 season.

Paul Blackburn pitched extremely well once again, keeping his stock high as the trade deadline approaches at the end of the month. Unfortunately, allowing only one run doesn’t guarantee a starting pitcher anything with the A’s this year and, sure enough, he ended up getting a no-decision as the A’s lost 2-1.

In New York

Oakland’s ability to find new ways to lose games was on full display this week, frustratingly so given that a bunch of us had gone out to New York to watch the series against the Yankees.

Dom and Matt flying the UK A’s flag outside of Yankee Stadium, June 2022

Tuesday’s 9-5 loss, in which the A’s squandered an early 5-1 lead, was a mini tragicomedy in its own right. The bottom of the seventh inning saw the A’s give up 6 runs in part thanks to two catcher interference calls against Sean Murphy and A.J. Puk hitting a batter along the way.

It said a lot about where the A’s are right now that the usually abrasive Bronx crowd went easy on those of us wearing the green and gold as we were heading out of Yankee Stadium. It felt like a mix of understanding – knowing how badly A’s fans have been treated by ownership – and pity, which is a sorry state for us to be in.

However, getting swept at Yankee Stadium really didn’t hurt all that much. Firstly, it was to be expected given the relative strengths of the two teams this season. Secondly, the only thing that mattered this week was the result of Thursday’s meeting of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).

I was sat at JFK Airport glued to my Twitter timeline as the updates came through. When we hit the magic 18 “Yes” vote mark it took all of my self-discipline to refrain from running victory laps around the departure lounge.

What happened at the meeting?

The land that the A’s want to develop on the waterfront at Howard Terminal was covered by “priority port use” designation. This meant that the land could only be used for port-related activities and that any planning application to develop the site for alternative uses would fall at the first hurdle.

Whilst it was expected that the vote would go the A’s way, that didn’t remove the suspense. If the BCDC had not agreed to remove the port designation then the whole project would have been killed stone dead.

The BCDC voting in favour of removing the designation on Thursday, and doing so with a comprehensive 23-2 vote, was a huge step along the way to keeping the A’s in Oakland.

Working Towards An Agreement

Part of the whole point of the Howard Terminal plan – for the A’s, for A’s owner John Fisher, and for Oakland City Council – is that it will be a major waterfront development that will extend far beyond a new ballpark.

From the outside it feels like the current A’s ownership have gone all-in on a final attempt to build a ballpark in Oakland at Howard Terminal. It is arguably the most challenging option that the A’s could have opted for, given the many complexities (environmental, financial etc) involved in trying to make the site work, but at the same time it is also the site that has by far and away the most potential.

What’s becoming increasingly clear, however, is just how much work has been going on between the A’s ballpark team, the City Council and other related parties in recent months. It’s the nitty gritty, boring detail stuff that doesn’t make news headlines, nor is likely to be of any great interest to A’s fans, but is absolutely vital.

A good example of that would be the development agreement and community benefits package. From the City Council’s side, it’s entirely right that, in allowing a private company to take forward a major development, they ensure that the proposal will benefit the local area, and the community that lives and works within it, rather than it solely benefitting the bank accounts of the developers.

You don’t need to be an expert in this area to realise that these are hugely complex negotiations in which everyone wants to make sure they are getting an agreement that works for them. There is no deal until a deal has actually been agreed, yet the noises coming from A’s President Dave Kaval and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf over the past few days suggest that the parties are much closer than perhaps some would believe.

The Main Danger

In a project as complex as this there is always a potential problem around the corner; however the main one is a matter of timing.

Mayor Schaaf’s term in office will come to an end in November when a new Mayor and councillors will be elected. As is the case with local government bodies around the world, when a new Mayor/Council Leader and new ruling group is elected there is always a period of stasis in which decisions are put on hold as the newly formed Council reviews what’s in progress and sets out its priorities for the term ahead.

Measures that have been worked on for months, if not years, can suddenly grind to a halt, whether that’s because the new administration doesn’t support the activity or, more often, they would prefer to divert potential funds away from it to a topic that they campaigned on.

The current timeline, building in a few inevitable delays, puts the A’s on track to open a ballpark at Howard Terminal in 2027. Even if a new administration ultimately voted in favour of the plans, delaying a binding vote by 4 months or so could actually mean delaying the project by an entire year and a launch date of Opening Day 2028.

This is why the A’s are campaigning so strongly for a binding vote to take place in September or October. Whether that is achievable could go a long way to determining if the A’s stay in Oakland or move their attention to Las Vegas.

All of the work that has been completed over the past three years, let alone the money the A’s have already spent on the Howard Terminal project, leaves me in no doubt that the primary objective of John Fisher and MLB is to stay in the Bay Area if everyone can make it work.

Hopefully the BCDC vote this week will be a springboard to getting a binding vote over the next 3-4 months and making that dream a reality.

Further info

Casey Pratt continues to provide outstanding coverage of all the intricacies around the Howard Terminal project. His interviews with Kaval and Schaaf after Thursday’s vote are linked to below.

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A's Sunday Summary

Almost ready for the off!

After what has felt like the longest off-season ever – probably because technically it has been, at least in recent memory – we’ve now reached the “this time next week …” point.

For all the player departures and budget woes, I’m no less excited for this coming season than I have been for any other. It’s the seasons when you expect big things and it all falls apart that hurt the most. This year, we know the A’s have taken some steps backwards and that we have to adjust our win-loss expectations accordingly, but there will still be plenty of great performances and fun moments over the course of the 162 games to come.

Rule Changes Announced

MLB and the Players Association jointly-announced some additional rule changes on Thursday that will come into effect immediately.

The Extra Innings rule, where a runner is automatically placed on second base from the tenth inning onwards, will be back this year as expected, to the considerable anger of some baseball fans but to general indifference from me.

Extra innings are a bit like extra time in football: you may not like penalties as a way to decide a game, but if the teams couldn’t be separated after 90 minutes you may as well get on with it rather than adding another 30 (almost always boring) minutes onto the game.

The more immediate rule changes are those that are going to be temporary until the end of April. The active roster size will be 28 rather than 26 until May 1st, which should help teams manage pitching innings early in the year after the disrupted Spring Training schedule. It also will slightly annoy A’s owner John Fisher in having to pay the MLB minimum salary to two extra players for a month – yes, we know he is that petty! – so count that as an added bonus.

Related to that, there will also be a change from May 2nd that means pitchers (and those two-way rare birds) will be put on a 15-day Injured List rather than the 10-day Injured List. I’m not particularly sure why they’ve modified that (the period is a minimum so it’s not like it will impact a team potentially having to rush a pitcher back), but let me know in the comments if you’ve got any suggestions.

Roster decisions

The 28-man active roster means the A’s will be able to carry a couple of extra players (pitchers, more than likely) so that will have a bearing on some of the close calls that otherwise might have had to be made in pairing the group down for Opening Day.

MLB.com’s Martín Gallegos wrote an article yesterday about Sheldon Neuse and Kevin Smith, both of whom having impressed hugely in camp. The ability to add a couple of extra pitchers to the roster means that the team won’t have to make a compromise elsewhere, so I’d expect both to make the Opening Day roster.

Both of them are a great example of the stories that a year like this can bring. I was disappointed when Neuse was traded to the Dodgers a year ago, in part because I always expected Matt Chapman to be traded this off-season, so it’s great to see he has got another shot at becoming a regular in the A’s infield.

As for Kevin Smith, he got a taste of the Big Leagues last year with Toronto and when rumours were circulating of the Blue Jays looking for infield additions it must have felt to him like he would have to climb another mountain to get back there. He’s now in a situation where, even if he has some time in Triple-A at points this year, there’s a much clearer path to getting some regular playing time in the Majors. Players like that, who are desperate for a chance to give everything to the cause for the A’s, are always easy to get behind.

Oller Oller Oller

There’s no one on the roster that applies more to than Adam Oller. After toying with thoughts of retirement and giving up on his Big League dreams, his years of hard work are finally going to pay off.

Mark Kotsay told Oller on Friday that he would be on the Opening Day roster and his comments about calling his parents to tell them the news were wonderful to read. Kotsay clarified yesterday that the plan for now is for Oller to be in a long relief role in the bullpen, something that is likely to be particularly important over the first month.

Not all good news

Unfortunately it’s the way of things that where there is good news for some, there’s bad news for others.

Deolis Guerra was an unsung hero out of the bullpen last season, filling in with several innings out of the bullpen on numerous occasions when needed; vital work even just to save the rest of the relievers so that a short outing from a starter didn’t snowball into several days of pitching struggles. He looked all set to build on that work this season with a more prominent role; however, he is now slated for surgery in response to suffering from forearm tightness.

The exact details are yet to be disclosed, but the concern is that forearm tightness can often be a symptom of a ligament tear in the elbow that could require Tommy John surgery and over a year on the sidelines. All we know right now is that he’ll start the year on the Injured List, so we have to hope for the best whilst perhaps fearing the worst.

The same goes for Brent Honeywell who looked like he was finally over his years of injury problems that plagued his time with the Rays and was ready to start the season in the A’s starting rotation. Instead, he’s been shutdown with what could be yet another serious elbow injury, as per the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matt Kawahara:

And there was also bad news for A’s prospect Grant Holmes. We’ve been waiting for him to work his way through the Minors since being acquired from the Dodgers in the Josh Reddick/Rich Hill trade that also bagged us Frankie Montas and Jharel Cotton back in 2016. Holmes came into camp out of Minor League options, so he either had to make the Opening Day roster or be made available to other teams.

Unfortunately for Holmes, he struggled in his Cactus League appearances so a Big League call is once again on hold. The one positive, for the A’s at least, is that he wasn’t claimed off waivers by another team so they have been able to take him off the 40-man roster (gaining a needed spot on there) whilst keeping him in the organisation. He’ll be back with Triple-A Vegas in 2022.

Plans for the week ahead

As well as keeping up the Sunday blogs and news items here, my plan for 2022 is to up our game on our YouTube channel having spent time over the off-season learning more of the intricacies of Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects and Photoshop (although, as with the A’s, perhaps temper your expectations in the early going!).

Not only will I be doing regular A’s videos and livestreams there, but I’ve also started a series where I’ll be commenting on news stories around the Majors in my “The Other 29” series. So, head over to the channel and subscribe if you haven’t done so already.

Dom is out in Oakland right now enjoying some Roots action in place of the A’s original home-stand being postponed. That’s given him the chance to dish out some A’s UK (and Roots!) merch to plenty of our friends in the East Bay as well as to finally take our beautiful Town Business to where it belongs.

We’ll probably be a little behind in getting around to our 2022 Predictions podcast until Dom’s back, but keep an eye out on the YouTube channel and Twitter account for a bunch of features as we look ahead to the A’s Opening Day on Friday in Philadelphia.

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A's Sunday Summary

Where did that hour go?

You know baseball is getting close when the clocks go forward one hour in the UK.

The hour less of sleep this morning is easily forgiven with lazy Spring Training games to listen to or watch in the British evening. There’s something very relaxing about spending an hour or so listening to Ken and Vince, or Vince’s son Dom, at the end of a long work day.

The A’s have just 10 Spring Training games left before the real action gets going. This year, more than most, it’s difficult to know quite how close we are to knowing what our Opening Day roster will look like.

Putting the band back together

For all of the cost-cutting going on, it always seemed likely that the A’s would make some veteran additions to fill out the roster and bring some more experience into the camp.

I wrote about Stephen Vogt’s return on Thursday and yesterday he was joined by Jed Lowrie signing another one-year contract with the team.

Lowrie was a very pleasant surprise last season after the A’s took a chance on bringing him back after two lost seasons with the New York Mets. His performances did tail off as the year wore on, but he still gave us more than even the most optimistic fan would have projected when he signed a Minor League deal with the club.

Mark Kotsay is going to need to manage his workload so that he can stay productive; however, it’s a low-risk situation so very worthwhile trying to catch lightning in a bottle for the second time.

Pushing up the payroll!

Stephen Vogt’s contract is worth $850k, with another $100k possible if he’s on the roster for more than 60 days. Jed’s deal is likely to be in the similar price range, so we are not exactly looking at A’s owner John Fisher diverting from his cost-cutting course.

The A’s projected Opening Day payroll sits at $52.6M, 27th out of the 30 teams. That figure includes the salaries agreed with Sean Manaea ($9.75M), Frankie Montas ($5.025M), Lou Trivino ($3M) and Ramón Laureano ($2.45M) ahead of the arbitration deadline this past week.

It’s all gone a bit quiet on the Manaea/Montas trade-away rumours recently, although that may in part have been due to the arbitration deadline getting closer and it being easier all round for the A’s to agree contract terms first. I still think it’s possible Frankie will be a mid-season trade chip, given that he has two years left under contract rather than Manaea’s one, but the coming week will probably give us an answer.

The main question then will be if the current $30M reduction in payroll from last year is what Fisher has set for the Front Office or if any salary commitment traded away will be added to the savings pot?

Roster Review

This looks like being our starting rotation as things stand, with James Kaprielian starting the season on the Injured List:

  • Manaea
  • Montas
  • Irvin
  • Jefferies
  • Honeywell

Whilst it’s dangerous to put limits on Fisher’s cheapness, you have to assume that some of the money saved if/when Manaea and/or Montas are traded will be spent on a veteran free agent starter in the $2M-$3M range.

The Vogt-Lowrie comeback immediately makes me think of a player like Brett Anderson also making another return. He signed a one-year, $2.5M contract with the Brewers last season and that’s the sort of price range at which the Front Office would be shopping.

As with the other recent returnees, I do think there’s real value in having some experienced players on the roster, irrespective of how much their direct contributions will change the win-loss column.

The success of this season on the field will come from seeing a bunch of players taking a step forward, whether that’s the likes of Irvin, Kap and Seth Brown adding to their experience or the likes of Daulton Jefferies, Kevin Smith and Nick Allen really getting their Big League careers going. Those guys will greatly benefit from having some experienced heads around them.

New podcast episode now available

On Tuesday we recorded our first podcast since the MLB lock-out came to an end. That meant we had to tackle the less-than cheery topic of A’s players being traded away, but we find plenty to have a chuckle about in any case. In this episode, Dom and I were joined by our good friend Jay from the New York A’s.

You can find the podcast at all the usual platforms, with an eleven minute excerpt also available on our YouTube channel. This version allows you to enjoy the full effect of Jay trying to dress up as Dom!

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A's Sunday Summary

Pain and Games

The A’s Spring Training began on Friday with a come-from-behind win over the LA Angels. It’s fair to say we all needed some on-field action, even just of the exhibition type, to briefly distract us from the off-field news.

Manaea In A Muddle

The two came together last night in the A’s Cactus League game against the Cincinnati Reds. Sean Manaea took the mound with trade rumours swirling as to whether he would even come out for the assignment pending an imminent trade.

Manaea did pitch, but didn’t pitch well. He only retired one of the six batters he faced in the first inning before Mark Kotsay decided to go get him. Spring Training rules allow a player to come back into a game and the A’s took advantage of this by sending Sean out to start the second inning.

His final pitching line – 1.1 innings pitched, 5 earned runs allowed – still looks ugly, but he looked much more like himself in the second inning.

With one year left under contract, it seems only a matter of time before Manaea is moved on. He’s a favourite of so many of us A’s fans and it will be tough to see him in another team’s uniform; however, that’s a feeling we’re all-too familiar with.

Taking stock

At time of writing, here’s the list of key contributors from last season who are no longer with the team:

Traded: Chris Bassitt, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman

Free Agents signed by other teams: Mark Canha, Starling Marte, Josh Harrison, Yan Gomes, Andrew Chafin, Jake Diekman.

The Cot’s Baseball Contracts site currently projects the A’s 26-man Opening Day roster as costing $53.2M, fourth lowest across MLB. That figure includes estimated arbitration salaries of $10M for Manaea and $5.25M for Frankie Montas, so it could fall to as low as $38M in short order.

The total blow-up job the Pittsburgh Pirates are doing means that it somehow still wouldn’t be the lowest in MLB (the Buccos are currently projected at $35.9M), but in any case I wouldn’t expect the A’s to start the season with a payroll quite this low.

Trading Manaea and Montas would leave us with an extremely inexperienced crop of starting pitchers, whilst the bullpen looks equally challenged. There are always free agent pitchers available at this time of year who can be signed to relatively modest one-year commitments, including the likes of Yusmeiro Petit and Sergio Romo who are still without a new team.

Whilst it depends quite how restrictive owner John Fisher is being with the budget, I’m sure the A’s Front Office will be pushing to make a batch of one-year signings once their trading activity is completed.

Every team in the play-off race come the trade deadline will be looking for an extra arm, so it’s worth taking a flyer on some pitchers to use as trade chips at that point. In a structure that doesn’t allow you to trade for draft picks or directly buy prospects from other teams, it’s a very economical way to add more talent to your farm system. I also feel it’s important for the younger players to have experienced heads around them, especially in a season when we’re likely to take plenty of losses.

Chapman’s Choice

The most interesting A’s story this past week came in the wake of Matt Chapman being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.

In an interview with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Chapman confirmed that the A’s had offered him a 10-year, $150M contract extension at the end of the 2019 season. As one of many A’s fans who have recently highlighted the fact that our biggest contract award came a in 2004 (the $66M extension given to Eric Chavez), it is a noteworthy revelation.

At the time, Chappy had just had an excellent season and it was precisely the point at which teams are increasingly looking to sign young talent to long-term deals. The thought process is that it could ultimately save the team millions compared to what they would otherwise have to pay, yet would still put a guaranteed life-changing sum on the table for the player to be motivated to accept.

The contract would have covered four arbitration seasons and then bought out six free agent years. Given that Chappy is a little older than perhaps you’d assume (he’s 29 at the end of April) and would have been 36 at the end of the 10-year pact, it’s understandable why he decided to bet on himself to earn more money by going through arbitration and then signing a free agent deal.

Even so, it was a very fair offer by the A’s relative to other similar deals, as acknowledged by Chapman in admitting he second-guessed his decision when he had hip surgery the following year. We do need to give the A’s credit for that, including (deep breath!) John Fisher; however the fact that Chappy noted his concerns about how competitive the A’s would be needs to be added to the other side of the ledger too.

Quality players will earn a big contract from one team or another. They would prefer to take it from a team that gives them confidence they’ll be playing meaningful baseball in September most seasons unless you really blow the competition out of the water, as it appears the Colorado Rockies did with their seven-year, $182M contract with Kris Bryant.

The latest A’s blow-up only increases the challenge the Front Office will have in convincing current players and free agents to sign long-term deals with the team, much as that seems a moot point with where the team is right now.

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A's Sunday Summary

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.