Offseason Swap Series: Oakland Athletics
By Matthew Van Wormer
Of all the teams in Major League Baseball, one team reminds me of the Indians more than any other; the Oakland Athletics. They put a premium on having a great farm system and building a team through the draft rather than signing high priced free agents and players with questionable character. This, however, also puts competing at a premium and usually opens up windows for a year or two at a time. I had the chance to ask some questions of David Wishinsky over at the Todd Van Poppel Rookie Card Retirement Plan to get his thoughts on the Indians western twin.
DTTWLN? 1 – Oakland appears to be gutting their roster this winter. They are trying to trade Andrew Bailey and just shipped Gio Gonzalez out of town. They could quickly find themselves without a player making more than $5 million per season. Are the A’s out of money?
David – The A’s aren’t out of money. Their ownership group is one of the wealthiest in baseball and while I understand it is a business and they want to turn a profit, many fans feel that they have a civic responsibility to take a loss and field a contender (something many Indians fans may find common sentiment with with the Dolans). That said, the team is rebuilding, typically the A’s have been big spenders in the international free agent market and draft but that will change with the new CBA. Currently they are building for 2014/2015 and a new stadium akin to what the Tribe did in anticipation of the move to Jacobs Field, so it isn’t getting rid of Bailey or Gonzalez for financial reasons but purely for baseball reasons.
DTTWLN? 2 – There have been rumors over the years that the Athletics could move to San Jose. What efforts are being made to keep the franchise in Oakland and how are any attempts at a stadium project going?
David – I think the likelihood of the A’s staying in Oakland is very limited to non-existent. I anticipate that the club is moving to San Jose and the lack of moves to keep Josh Willingham (who wanted to stay) to me is evidence of that and the approach of building a winner for a new stadium. The team is merely waiting on Bud Selig to iron out a deal to compensate the Giants for the loss of their territorial rights to San Jose. Keith Law of ESPN put it well when he tweeted something to the effect of if San Jose was that important to the Giants’ success why did they move further away from it in their move from Candlestick to China Basin. I am a bit concerned that the move to San Jose is not the panacea the team and their fans are hoping for, as so much money comes via television revenue. The Rays draw poorly, have an awful stadium but have incredible television numbers but whiffed on a lucrative contract. I wonder how much attendance is really tied to the day-to-day expenses vis-a-vis a lucrative television contract, and a move to San Jose won’t alter the dynamics of TV.
DTTWLN? 3 – Most people are aware of the Moneyball theories. Why doesn’t it seem to work any longer?
David – On the contrary, Moneyball is working and perhaps too well because most front-offices are emulating it. The subtitle of the book is “The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” and the A’s took advantage of approaches other front offices weren’t taking advantage of. Now the sabermetric approach is being used in Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Houston, on and on and that advantage of seeing commodities differently is gone. The A’s, like many small market teams need to find a new advantage that no one has ever thought of before but as the game and knowledge of it expands those differences become more and more marginal and slight and in the end everything has to go right for a team like Oakland because everyone else is looking for similar things. While there are some who will poo-poo Oakland’s success and say well they never won a championship, that sort of is nonsense. The playoffs are an awfully lot different than the regular season, it is one small sample size. The best teams still lose 3 out of 5 games routinely during the season, which is what bounced the A’s from the ALDS so many times. Others will say they had once in a generation pitching, and that too is true, but the success of franchises like the Red Sox prove that the A’s theory was right. Now that differentiation is all but gone between front offices as only Baltimore and Minnesota seem to be the only ones without much stated acceptance of sabermetrics.
DTTWLN? 4 – Considering the move toward prospects, the struggling finances and stadium situation, and the development of the Angels and Rangers as AL powers, how long do you think it will take for the Athletics to legitimately contend?
David – The division sure got a bunch rougher this past offseason with the big moves for the Costa Mesa Angels of San Juan Capistrano or whatever it is they are called today and the Rangers. That has an impact and the Mariners while afflicted with many of the same problems that the A’s have been the past few years (all pitching, no bats) can more readily play in the free agent market than can we. I think the A’s can contend as early as 2014, but more likely 2015. The A’s need to figure out how to develop hitters. I am not sure if it is a poor luck thing in the end or some sort of organizational problem with identifying hitters, but we certainly have the pitching side down as in 2012 we went to an 8th starter at time do to injuries and yet still succeeded on the mound. If the A’s can continue doing what they are doing on the mound and figure out the bat problem while moving to a new stadium and increasing their ability to sign free-agents and retain players (a lot of ifs) the team could come together nicely.
DTTWLN? 5 – With all the changes to the roster, the new look Athletics could have a tough year in 2011. Where do you see the team finishing when the dust settles in September?
David – My guess is that Oakland ends up at 66-96 and in the American League West cellar. The offense should be better. I think Kurt Suzuki should be better (he needs to sit more often, they overplay him), first base production has to be better, a full season of Jemile Weeks will be an improvement at second, and I like the continued maturation of Scott Sizemore to give us more production at third. The infield’s overall improvement will outpace the deterioration of quality in the outfield and I anticipate an improvement at designated hitter (though it is wholly unclear who that will be now). That said, I think the pitching will be worse than it was, I anticipate Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey and likely Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes gone before the end of the 2012 if not by Opening Day, so the A’s will slump from their 74-88 record of 2011. The competition in the West has greatly improved too so it is very likely that 66-96 may be wishful thinking. It won’t be a pretty year in the East Bay that is for sure!
Brutal honesty from a true fan and great answers on top of that! While the immediate future may not look bright for the Athletics, we here in Cleveland know just what the right mix of chemistry, talent and luck can do for a team in a year where people think things will be on the down swing. Best of luck to the A’s this year and I’m sure we will be in contact with TVPRCRP again before all is said and done!
Photo: Associated Press