This week, the Oakland A’s made a trade, sending their best starting pitcher, Gio Gonzalez, to the Washington Nationals for four prospects. A couple of days later, they sent their All-Star closer, Andrew Bailey, along with outfielder Ryan Sweeney to the Boston Red Sox for Josh Reddick and two more young players.
Gonzalez and Bailey, you see, were arbitration eligible and in line to get big raises. But the A’s don’t do big raises. They can’t with their payroll essentially maxed-out at $66 million. That dollar figure is expected to drop, and keep dropping unless the A’s can increase revenue streams.
They play in a stadium unsuited for baseball, in a relatively poor part of California’s Bay Area. But that could change if they’re allowed to move and build a new park in San Jose.
And if it weren’t for the Giants, claiming territory rights on San Jose, a region 50 miles from the San Francisco park, the A’s might have been able to do it by now.
It’s not hard to see the Giants’ position on this. Their claim to San Jose is based on their own perception of their Bay Area stance — if San Jose is theirs, so is the advertising money from San Jose businesses, so are television and radio rights, so are the fans’ dollars.
But the A’s are a franchise that dates back to the beginnings of the American League, and they’ve historically been a successful team since moving to Oakland in 1968. They’ve had championship teams, colorful characters and a diehard, working class following on the less glamorous side of the bridge. More importantly, for more than four decades, they’ve been able to share a fan base with the Giants.
Where they’ve missed out is in stadium money. While I don’t, and never will, agree that taxpayer money should ever fund a Major League ballpark, it’s no secret that newer parks generate more money than old, multipurpose stadiums. With the Marlins’ move into their own Miami park this year, the A’s are the last team sharing a facility with a football team. Moreover, that football team rendered that park useless for baseball when Mount Davis was constructed in centerfield, killing the view from home plate and turning fans off from seeing a game there.
Setting how the finances are secured aside, they seem to have found a natural landing spot in San Jose. It’s about 45 minutes down I-880 to the bottom of the bay, accessible from San Francisco and Oakland by the BART, and home to a bigger population, one loaded with businesses, including those in Silicon Valley with money to spend on tickets.
San Jose has supported the NHL’s Sharks for 20 years now, and there’s no reason to think the A’s couldn’t thrive in that setting.
But the A’s can’t move. The San Francisco Giants were 5th in revenue in 2011, and the A’s were 29th. The Giants have thrived since moving into their downtown park in 2000, and the A’s have floundered. If competition is really an American ideal, the Giants’ refusal to engage A’s is something out of a first-year screenwriter’s villain trope.
The biggest fault of the A’s this past decade? They were too successful. Billy Beane’s method of finding wins among undervalued players — players with high on-base percentages and pitchers with high strikeout-to-walk ratios — was mimicked by the likes of the Red Sox and Yankees, to the point that those players are no longer undervalued.
With their current payroll structure, Beane is left to find the best among young players who aren’t arbitration eligible, role players in free agency and aging players looking to hang on. In a division with the Texas Rangers, two-time defending pennant winners, and the Los Anaheim Angels, who just splurged on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson in free agency, the A’s can’t expect to contend year-in and year-out. Even the Mariners, with a great park and young stars like Felix Hernandez, could keep Oakland in the cellar.
Baseball is better when teams aren’t constant doormats. The A’s have a winning tradition that has been undercut by modern economics. The fact that they haven’t been a complete trainwreck for the past 15 years is a testament to their leadership’s ability to draft and maintain a strong farm system and find diamonds in the rough of the free market.
Barring them from San Jose, against the perceived potential losses for San Francisco, would be to openly wage class warfare within the ranks of baseball.
Let the A’s move to San Jose. They deserve a chance to succeed, and baseball will be better for it.