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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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Roster moves

A’s 2023 Arbitration Salary Estimates

MLB Trade Rumors have published their annual estimates for the salaries that the arbitration-eligible players are likely to receive in 2023.

This is always an interesting list, but it’s all the more so for the A’s this off-season as our roster is devoid of any guaranteed contracts.

We have a group of pre-arbitration players, plus six confirmed arbitration players and two more (A.J. Puk and Cole Irvin) who may be added to the list once the qualification point for Super Two players is finalised (a certain number of the best performing players become eligible for arbitration after two seasons rather than the standard three) .

Here are the six currently-confirmed arbitration eligible players and what the projection system has produced as a potential 2023 salary for each of them.

Tony Kemp (5.098): $3.9MM

We all love TK; the energy he brings and everything he stands for fits perfectly with Oakland. That doesn’t change the fact that he had some struggles at the plate in 2022 (yes, I know that can be said for virtually A’s hitter) and his value is more as a 25th/26th roster guy who can fill in at multiple positions than as a regular starting player.

Kemp made $2.25M in 2022 and I can’t help but feel that if signing him will take close to $4M then the A’s may not tender him a contract. To be honest, I was surprised that the projection system gave him such a big raise as I was looking at him being more in the $3.25M-$3.5M range. If he’s prepared to accept that level of contract, on the basis of staying somewhere he knows and where he’ll get plenty of playing time ahead of becoming a free agent at the end of the 2023 season, then a deal might still be possible.

Deolis Guerra: $900K

Not much to be said here, other than Guerra will be making his way back from Tommy John surgery and there’s every chance he won’t be tendered a contract.

Austin Pruitt: $1.2MM

Pruitt did okay for us out of the bullpen this season, pitching in 39 games. He gave up 11 home runs, which hurt, and he’s not a strike-out pitcher, but he does a good job in limiting free passes and can do a steady enough job in 6th-7th inning situations. It doesn’t seem overly likely we’ll spend a 7 figure sum on him, though.

Ramón Laureano: $3.6MM

2023 is going to be a big season for Ramón. We hoped that he would come back in a big way in 2022 once he finished up his suspension, but things didn’t quite turn out like that and his season was ended early by a hamstring injury.

Selfishly, the difficulties he faced in 2022 increase the chance that he will stay with the team heading into 2023 and hopefully we will see the old Ramón firing on all cylinders once again (albeit, that likely meaning he gets traded at the deadline).

Sean Murphy (3.029): $3.5MM

Comfortably our best player in 2022, Murph is a steal at a salary of $3.5M; however, unfortunately that factors into him being comfortably our most valuable trade asset this off-season.

Any team that is seeking an upgrade at catcher will be a potential trade match, with the most obvious fit being the Cleveland Guardians. They boast a strong farm system to trade from, have a need at the position and Murphy’s contract status (three years of arbitration-eligibility left) puts him in an affordable bracket for the cost-conscious team.

Paul Blackburn (3.018): $1.9MM

Paulie All-Star was having a break-out season until he ran into some performance struggles in the second-half and then ultimately was shut down for the season in early August with an injury to his pitching hand. There was talk that he may need to undergo surgery, although that doesn’t seem to have been needed to this point.

In any case, that puts some uncertainty against him that will affect his trade value this off-season, so there’s good reason to expect him to be back with the A’s in 2023.

All Comes Back to the Budget

As always, the options available to the A’s Front Office will be dictated by the budget constraints John Fisher places them under.

It shouldn’t be possible for Fisher to set such a ridiculously low payroll again without penalty ($47.7M 26-man Opening Day, just under $61M 40-man for Competitive Balance Tax purposes); however this is a system with little to prevent him from doing so.

It’s best not to underestimate how cheap a cheap Billionaire can be.

An A’s Fan Guide to the 2022 MLB Wild Card Round

The thin silver lining to the cloud of baseball futility is that the MLB play-offs can be taken or left without expectation or nervous anticipation.

With our A’s narrowly missing out on snatching the final Wild Card place by a mere 26 games, I thought I would take a look at the Wild Card round match-ups to see where our rooting interests may reside if we wanted to have some small investment in the outcomes.

But first …

UK baseball Twitter has been in a justifiable meltdown today with fears, now confirmed, that MLB has done the dirty on loyal paying customers and quietly removed play-off baseball games from the international MLBTV subscription just a day before they start.

It’s a shameful act for a miniscule reward; however, such shithousery should come as no surprise. As I lamented on Twitter, the only reason international fans haven’t been screwed over much previously is because we’ve not been worth the effort.

Now that the sport is increasing its profile internationally we represent what new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss would giddily describe as ‘a growth opportunity’. For those of us who don’t stare vacantly into the middle distance like we’ve just been subject to a back-alley lobotomy, à la Little Miss Pork Markets, we of course recognise this instead as being ripe for ruthless exploitation so that the rich can get even richer at our expense.

The predictable amount of ill feeling this has generated would make you all the more baffled as to why MLB has done this if you weren’t already aware that they couldn’t care less.

At least it appears that UK TV rights-holder BT Sport will be showing the vast majority of games throughout the post-season. That gives us an option to watch the games, even if that involves an extra £25 for a one-month online subscription if you don’t already get the channels, in a way that may not be available in every country.

Wild Card Round Revised

Justified moan over …

If any fanbase in baseball should be glad to see the one-game Wild Card consigned to the pit of Bad Manfred Ideas, it’s us. It was difficult to even feel like you’d really made the play-offs at the end of a 162-game campaign when you could – and, sadly for us, did – get dumped out by losing one game.

The new Wild Card round is now a best-of-three series, with all three games held at the home of the team with the best record out of the respective pairing. That still makes for a short series, but it improves on the previous ‘one-and-done’ without unfairly disadvantaging the other teams by creating a big gap – for teams used to playing virtually every day – between the regular season ending and their play-offs beginning.

American League Wild Card Round

The new Wild Card round pits the division winner with the lowest W-L record against the third-placed Wild Card, and the remaining two Wild Card teams against each other. The other two division winners will await the victors as part of the new play-off format expanded from 10 to 12 teams.

Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Guardians

This series brings together two underdog teams that A’s fans can readily identify with. The Rays have once again defied the odds by claiming a play-off spot from the AL East division despite working with the 6th-lowest Opening Day payroll in the Majors. As for the Guardians, whilst it’s fair to note that the under-performing Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins helped their cause, winning the AL Central division despite having the 4th-lowest payroll ($68.2M on Opening Day) was a monumental achievement.

Neither team has a strong former-A’s presence, although Christian Bethancourt turned a nice start to the season with Oakland into a spot on a play-off contender so he could be the difference-maker if you want to pick a team to support.

The winner of this series will move on to a Division Series against the New York Yankees.

Seattle Mariners at Toronto Blue Jays

The Mariners have finally made it back to the play-offs for the first time since 2001, breaking an unwanted leading current streak across North American sports and putting a dent into Dom’s description of them being “perennially shite”! Their reward is to head to Canada for a best-of-three series against the Blue Jays.

Toronto’s offense has been one of the very best across MLB this season and that’s come thanks to a group of hitters performing well, rather than just relying on one or two stars. That group has included Matt Chapman who has been the Chappy that we’ve come to know: outstanding defense at third base and a good contribution with the bat despite some streakiness and a modest batting average.

Chappy was never one of the more beloved A’s due to the impression, fairly or not, that he always saw himself moving onto bigger things; however he provides the only real A’s presence in the series if that is what will sway you towards a team. If not, it comes down to whether you have an AL West loyalty towards the Mariners or the rivalry sets you squarely against them.

The winner of this series will move on to a Division Series against the Houston Astros, so picking a team there will be as easy as deciding whether you want to be punched in the face.

National League Wild Card Round

The National League has also resulted in three teams from the East Division qualifying for the post-season, with the Atlanta Braves joining the LA Dodgers as division winners receiving a bye in the Wild Card round, and the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies joining the Central-winning St Louis Cardinals and the Wild Card from the West in the San Diego Padres.

Philadelphia Phillies at St Louis Cardinals

It’s taken a while for the Phillies to get back to the play-offs after their excellent five-year run between 2007 and 2011. They’re back now and although they made hard work of it at times over the past month, they have enough top-line talent (starting pitchers Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, plus Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Kyle ‘home-run or bust’ Schwarber) potentially to make them more dangerous in the short series format than their regular season record might suggest.

The Cardinals are the storybook team in many ways, with the veteran trio of Adam Wainwright, Yadi Molina and Albert Pujols trying to win another ring together before the latter heads into retirement. They’ve definitely got a fair chance when pairing their play-off experience with the elite double-headed monster of Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt in the batting line-up.

We don’t have much to go on for a former A’s player link here, so maybe the franchise’s history in Philadelphia tips the balance for you?

The winner of this series will move on to a Division Series against the Atlanta Braves.

San Diego Padres at the New York Mets

Finally we go from a series without A’s player links to one overflowing with them.

Bob Melvin’s Padres, including Sean Manaea and Jurickson Profar, will head to Citi Field to take on Chris Bassitt, Mark Canha and Starling Marte of the Mets (although it looks like Marte may miss the entire series whilst recovering from a broken finger).

The Mets’ main task may be in getting themselves into the right mindset for this short series. They were the dominant team in the NL East early on, and still ended up on 101 wins; however they lost the division crown on a tie-breaker after the Braves went on a late charge. Buck Showalter’s team hardly cracked under the pressure down the stretch, still going a very respectable 18-13 from September 1st, but they still need to shake the feeling that they missed out.

In contrast, the Padres will be feeling good about themselves despite having a season that was below their high expectations. Their off-season splurge, a totally foreign experience for BoMel after years trapped within the John Fisher Experiment In Billionaire Cheapness, was added to in extravagant style at the trade deadline by trading for Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals.

The regular season reward for this huge investment was to finish 22 games behind the LA Dodgers in the NL West.

The post-season reward is that they still won a Wild Card place and fall in the non-division winner part of the bracket, exactly as they would have done if they had finished much closer to the Dodgers in the standings (albeit, a better win-loss record might have secured home-field advantage). They can forget the NL West gap and concentrate on causing an upset or two in the play-offs.

The A’s choice here is difficult to call so maybe flip a coin (I just did and it landed Heads for Mets, for what it’s worth). The winner of this series will go on to face the Dodgers.

Oakland a “Baseball Wasteland”?

It’s been a while since a journalist has put some money into the ‘Oakland A’s article’ machine and pulled the handle.

In the first few weeks of the season, when other baseball stories were thin on the ground, it seemed like coins were being fired into the machine with the frequency of a compulsive gambler trying to chase their losses on the Vegas slots; appropriately enough, some might say.

Since then, most news outlets have shifted back to the default position of forgetting the team exists at all; however for some reason the online version of the Guardian felt minded to publish an opinion piece by Dave Caldwell describing Oakland as “a baseball wasteland” and condemning the Coliseum as “a dump”.

Dom took to our Twitter account to point out all that was wrong about this view, whilst also offering me up as being able to “talk sense” about it. Well, you be the judge!

What’s the Motivation?

The most curious part of the article is that its opening salvo, and presumably the thing that sparked the idea for it, is the level of attendance for the recent visit from the New York Yankees.

The writer makes the valid point that it was a rare series this season that was well-attended throughout: “93,719 fans attending the four-game series, or 23,430 per game”. This train of thought ends with the following conclusion:

“The A’s are still dead last in the major leagues in attendance, though, having drawn a little over 10,000 fans per game this season. That should tell you not just something about the Yankees’ drawing power, but about Oakland as a baseball wasteland”.

There’s no doubt that the Yankees are an attraction and they produce an uptick in attendance at most ballparks they visit, but although he throws in some vague references to the way the team has been run in recent years (low payroll, churn of players etc), he doesn’t actually probe the obvious question that the facts should lead you to ask: what’s the difference between the series with the Yankees and all of the others?

Do over 10,000 fans from New York jump on planes and cross the country so that there is briefly a decent-sized baseball fanbase to sell tickets to?

Does the Coliseum temporarily undergo a magical transformation in which all of the things he readily trots out that make the place a “dump” somehow vanish for the weekend?

No, what the attendance at the Yankees series tells you is that Oakland is far from being “a baseball wasteland”. It tells you, if you have ignored all of the vital baseball market metrics (population, size of media market etc) and so don’t know this already, that thousands of local baseball fans are ready and willing to part with their hard-earned cash to enjoy a visit to the Coliseum.

The core issue is simple: invest in putting a good product on the field (such as the Yankees’ team of stars) and people in the area will come out and watch it; continually treat your customers badly and offering them a poor product and they will simply take their money elsewhere.

Oh, Caldwell delights in telling stories of feral cats (a valid issue but obviously not something that is actually putting people off attending) and feral fans (it’s becoming something of a trend in North American stadiums), but he skates away from considering whether these issues are relevant from the point he’s making because he knows they are not.

What’s It Based On?

And that leads us to the overriding reason to take issue with the article: what exactly is he basing all of this on? Well, he’s interviewed a couple of fans – neither of whom negatively comment on the Coliseum – and he’s watched a video on YouTube in which the presenter is actually much fairer than the “Is This Place Safe? Rusting Floors at Worst Stadium in Baseball?” title would suggest.

What he doesn’t include is his own experiences of visiting the Coliseum. That whilst it is unquestionably rough around the edges, it provides great views to watch a ballgame from. That many of the staff there – Hal The Hot Dog Guy being the obvious example – go above and beyond to make sure everyone has a fun and enjoyable afternoon/evening at the ballpark. That what the fans lack in sheer numbers they more than make up for with their noise, passion and friendliness (and that, selfishly, having plenty of space to stretch out in is actually a bonus!).

No, Caldwell doesn’t mention any of this because – as with all other such articles – it’s based on preconceptions, half-truths and the nonsense that the A’s top brass spew out to justify their relocation threats (to be fair to Caldwell, he does state that Kaval didn’t respond to a request for comment, but he would have only received the same well-rehearsed lines every other journalist gets anyway).

Come And See For Yourself

Four of us are heading out to Oakland from the UK in three weeks’ time to take in six games at the Coliseum. None of us will spend a single second tut-tutting about the ballpark.

Admittedly, we are all used to visiting football grounds in the UK, some of which would be condemned for immediate demolition based on the U.S. sports franchise owner view that anything over 25 years old is ancient and requires hundreds of millions of tax-payers’ dollars to make it habitable, but anyone who doesn’t require a sedan chair to take them to their seat will have no real complaints.

Does it look tired? Sure. Is it a poor venue to watch a game at? No, not in a million years.

Perhaps Caldwell could get in contact with his editor at The Guardian (presumably the US version) and see if they’ll stump up the expenses so that he can join us in the bleachers for a game or two while we’re out there?

If he’s in luck, he’ll find that Oakland is far from being a baseball wasteland deserving of his ridicule and instead is a baseball city of great heart and huge potential that needs journalists like him to shine a more discerning, critical light on why that potential is being wasted by cheap ownership rather than regurgitating the same false narrative.

Categories
UK Schedule

A’s Schedule: Week Commencing 18 July 2022

The All-Star Break has coincided with a heatwave here in the UK and through much of Europe.

It’s been a struggle to stay cool, something that can’t be said for the A’s during the first half of the season!

We have picked up a bit of late, including the confidence-boosting 2-1 series win in Houston last weekend, so let’s hope our reputation as being a second-half team comes true again this year.

Mark Kotsay and his team will aim to do that by starting off with a home-stand at the Coliseum.

Firstly, we have a rare traditional double-header on Thursday against the Detroit Tigers. Game One is set for 12.37pm local time, so 20:37 for us in the UK, and then Game Two will follow after a short break.

The A’s have announced that Zach Logue will pitch in the opener, with Frankie Montas making his return in the second game. I’m slightly surprised by that decision as I would think it would be better for Frankie, coming off his shoulder injury, to know exactly what time he’d be starting as part of his pre-game warm-up schedule, but maybe it makes little difference to him?

The Texas Rangers then come to town for a three-game series. There’s a small change to the usual schedule in that the Saturday game is not being played in the afternoon, as is typical in Oakland, but instead is being played at night. That means one less game being played at a convenient time for us to watch live in the UK, but you do occasionally see A’s fans on Twitter asking for some Saturday games to be played at night so we’ll see if it’s popular.

The good news is that MLB has made all of the games over the next four days available to watch for free online, other than those that are part of US national deals (ESPN, Apple etc). The A’s are not being featured in any of the national games – they rarely show the A’s even when we’re good, so that’s no surprise – and that means all of the A’s games are available to watch for free.

Categories
UK Schedule

A’s Schedule: Week beginning 11 July 2022

The first half of the 2022 season has felt like a long haul, even with the regular schedule getting underway later than planned following the off-season lock-out.

There’s no denying that a lacklustre rebuilding season such as the A’s are going through can make it difficult to keep the enthusiasm up, especially for those of us battling the time difference.

The All-Star Break will therefore come as a welcome chance to reset and to find a second wind for the second half, for A’s fans and players alike. We can at least find some joy in Paul Blackburn being named to the American League All-Star team as a wonderful story for a pitcher who has worked incredibly hard to prove himself at the Major League level.

The final week before the festivities sees the A’s on a road-trip to Texas, starting against the Rangers at Globe Life Field before heading to Minute Maid Park to renew hostilities with the Houston Astros.

Texas Rangers (A)

It’s been an up-and-down first half for the Rangers after their off-season spending splurge.

An awful 7-14 April was followed by a magnificent 17-10 May, only to then lead to a below-par 15-20 June and early July.

Texas has won 5 of 7 against the A’s so far this season with our batting line-up managing to score only 19 runs combined across those games (not quite 3 per game), so there’s plenty of room for improvement on our end. The scheduled starting pitchers are as follows:

Game 1: Adrián Martínez – Spencer Howard
Game 2: James Kaprielian – Glenn Otto
Game 3: Paul Blackburn – Jon Gray

Houston Astros (A)

Avoiding being swept by the Astros at the Coliseum over the weekend just gone counts as an achievement for Mark Kotsay’s team in a year of appropriately low expectations.

Repeating the feat on the road will be another small feather in the cap bearing in mind we’re scheduled to face Jose Urquidy and Jake Odorizzi again, both of whom pitched very well against us, and the ever foreboding presence of Justin Verlander too.

The one crumb of comfort is that the A’s are optimistic that Frankie Montas will be ready to return from his spell on the sidelines. The Front Office must have held their heads in their hands as Frankie’s shoulder started bothering him a month before the trade deadline, but it looks like the cortisone shot has done the trick in bringing down the inflammation.

Game 1: Frankie Montas – Justin Verlander
Game 2: Cole Irvin – José Urquidy
Game 3: Adrián Martínez – Jake Odorizzi

Categories
UK Schedule

A’s Schedule: Week beginning 4 July 2022

The A’s are heading back home after a tough 10-game road-trip, which would sound like a good development but the Coliseum hasn’t exactly been Home Sweet Home this season either.

Add to that the quality of the two teams we’re facing this week and it could be a case of enjoying the 4th of July Fireworks tonight, praying for the best with Frankie Montas’s shoulder injury, and anything else being a bonus.

Toronto (H)

The Blue Jays come into the week on a 44-36 win-loss record and have just slipped behind the Boston Red Sox into third place in the AL East after losing three in a row to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Toronto have been a team of two halves over the past 30 days. Whilst their batting line-up has been excellent, leading the Majors with 171 runs scored during that span, their pitching has been hit by injuries and some ineffectiveness.

Their pitching staff’s combined ERA over the past 30 days of 4.70 ERA is the eighth worst across the Majors and, although they’ve not been terrible throughout that stretch, it’s the part of their game that they need to improve in the second-half of the season if they want to be true play-off contenders.

Probable pitching match-ups are as follows:

Game 1: Alek Manoah – Cole Irvin
Game 2: Yusei Kikuchi – Adrian Martinez
Game 3: José Berríos – James Kaprielian

Houston (H)

It’s always a treat to welcome the Astros to the Coliseum, of course, and this series will be no exception.

The Astros have won 14 of their past 17 games, including six on the spin heading into this week. Their 51-27 win-loss record is second only to the New York Yankees (58-22) and they already have a 13.5 game lead over second place in the AL West, so there’s no doubting they are the class of the division by quite a margin.

They’ve got a four-game series at home against the Kansas City Royals Monday to Thursday before heading out west to face us over the weekend, so we can probably forget the idea that their confidence might take a dent before we face them.

Perhaps they may just get bored of winning and we can take a couple from them! Probable pitching match-ups for the series are as follows:

Game 1: José Urquidy – Paul Blackburn
Game 2: Framber Valdez – TBD
Game 3: Jake Odorizzi – Cole Irvin

Our nemesis Justin Verlander is currently on schedule to start on Thursday against the Royals, so we should miss him this time around. That potential good news gets balanced out by the potential bad news associated with our scheduled starter for Saturday.

We should hear more about Frankie Montas’s injury status later today after he lasted just one inning on Sunday against the Mariners. The initial reaction from Frankie was that he and the team were erring on the side of caution, but the MRI scans today will tell the tale. Even the best case scenario makes it likely that he’ll skip a turn in the rotation to ensure he can get a couple of performances in before the trade deadline is reached at the end of July.

It’s sad to write that maintaining Frankie’s trade value is the most important thing for the A’s right now; however it’s sadly true.

Categories
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.