Thursday, November 15, 2012

Statistically A's 2011 Fire Sale Bigger than Marlins' 2012

The Marlins pending trade of Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes is the talk of baseball right now and the predictions of doom for next season are flowing. The Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay today authored a satirical send-up of the 2013 roster -- joining Giancarlo Stanton are an old doughnut and a recycling bin among other discarded or underutilized inanimate parts. The general consensus seems to be that the time will be a real stinker and may drop as many as 100 games. Hmm, that last bit sounds familiar.

A's fans were told after the team last off season shipped off the team's last three "All Stars" -- Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez -- that there was little reason to have hope for 2012. 100 losses were predicted for a team that was 74-88. The Marlins were slightly worse in 2012, finishing at 69-93. Neither team, despite having some seemingly very good players was actually any good in terms of win-loss record.

It may not be probably, but it's possible that the Marlins could have a season like the A's did in 2012 that defies all odds.

Ranking the Fire Sales

Removing salaries, which are often wildly disproportional to actual performance, the Marlins are sending away three players with a total combined WAR of 10.4. Factor in the previously traded Heath Bell and this rises to 10.8. The A's in the 2011 off season traded (for this purpose Bailey, Cahill and Gonzalez) or allowed to leave via free agency (for this purpose David DeJesus and Josh Willingham) a WAR of 11.3. Here are the breakdowns, according to FanGraphs:

2011 A's WARs
Andrew Bailey -- 0.9
Trevor Cahill -- 2.6
David DeJesus -- 2.2
Gio Gonzalez -- 3.6
Josh Willingham -- 2.0
Total = 11.3

2012 Marlins' WARs
Heath Bell -- 0.4
Mark Buehrle -- 2.1
Josh Johnson -- 3.8
Jose Reyes -- 4.5
Total = 10.8

When you factor in salary, thanks to Cot's Contracts, a huge difference can be seen:

2011 A's Salaries
Andrew Bailey -- $465,000
Trevor Cahill -- $440,000 (Opening Day) / $500,000 + $1,000,000 Signing Bonus after mid-season contract extension
David DeJesus -- $6,000,000
Gio Gonzalez -- $420,000
Josh Willingham -- $6,000,000
Total = $14,380,000

2012 Marlins' Salaries
Heath Bell -- $7,000,000
Mark Buehrle -- $7,000,000
Josh Johnson -- $13,750,000
Jose Reyes -- $10,000,000
Total = $37,750,000

In addition to producing a smaller WAR, the Marlins' players in the 2012 off season that were/are being traded cost $23,370,000 more than the five that the A's either traded or let walk away in the 2011 off season.

Let's take one final look, this time based on value expressed in dollars based on performance as calculated by FanGraphs:

2011 A's Value in Dollars
Andrew Bailey -- $4,300,000
Trevor Cahill -- $11,500,000
David DeJesus -- $9,800,000
Gio Gonzalez -- $16,200,000
Josh Willingham -- $9,200,000
Total = $51,000,000

2012 Marlins' Value in Dollars
Heath Bell -- $2,000,000
Mark Buehrle -- $9,400,000
Josh Johnson -- $16,900,000
Jose Reyes -- $20,100,000
Total = $48,400,000

According to this data, the free market value determined by performance of the 2011 A's in question either traded or that the team made no attempt to sign is greater than the free market value determined by performance of the 2012 Marlins either traded/being traded.

After all this, you can only conclude that the A's fire sale in 2011 was bigger than this Marlins one. The difference is that the Marlins players made far more money than the A's players. Also, unrelated to performance or real/contractual value of the players, but crucial to the current outrage is the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars went to a new stadium for the Marlins with an expectation of a decent/large payroll. The A's had no such subsidy. The A's also toil in what can feel like relative obscurity from a media perspective on the West Coast. Aside from Bay Area reporters, no one really went off on the A's moves last season. This might be a reason why G.M. Billy Beane didn't leave for the Cubs last year or the Red Sox in years past.

The spotlight is just a little less bright out here, but the fire sales are no less intense.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Moneyball and the Marlins

The game of baseball itself is incorruptible. It is a beautiful tapestry that for many truly enlivens life. If you saw any of the A's walkoff victories in 2012 you understand this. I will always hold dear the 14-inning walkoff against the Rays on September 13.

The problem is that the same business principals of profit and loss and the never ceasing quest for more apply to those that control the franchises. Exhibit A: Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. After soaking the taxpayer for a heavily subsidized new ballpark built on the promise of championship caliber baseball, he gave it three measly months and then started unloading stars and contracts. (You can now understand why Albert Pujols wouldn't commit unless the team offered him a no-trade clause.) Then came last night's nearly completed trade of Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes to the Blue Jays for a bucket of prospects and Yuniel Escobar (he of the recent suspension for writing a gay slur on his eye black). Call it Orange Tuesday, or the day that the Loria Reality returned to Florida.

A lot of A's fans have issues with managing partner and part-owner, full-time mouthpiece Lew Wolff. However, after yesterday, Wolff looks like a saint compared to Loria. Remember, Loria is the same rich scoundrel who helped kill the Montreal Expos (great piece on this by Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports).

Back to that business thing.

Loria, unlike previous revenue-sharing, low-attendance and low-payroll seasons, probably either lost or did not make very much money last season. It was well-chronicled that the new ballpark's so-called honeymoon period with fans didn't last very long and the Marlins themselves were terrible. So, Loria looked at the books and decide to cut costs, not unlike HP slashing 10,000 jobs. Remember, former A's owner Charlie Finley set the precedent for this when he tried to sell (for cash, not prospects) Vida Blue to the Yankees and Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox. The deal was vetoed by then commish Bowie Kuhn. Finley didn't do it to win more. He did it because he needed the money. He did it to run a more profitable business.

I tweeted after the Chris Young trade, when it seemed that Coco Crisp was not long for green and gold, that  Moneyball  isn't about sentimentality, it is about winning. The problem with this from a marketing perspective is that winning is just one component (although a huge one at that). Sports engender passion. There are any number of popular superstars that Moneyball would dictate are on the way down but who still are legends to their teams: Ryan Howard, Michael Young and Albert Pujols to name a few. Stars sell tickets and big money contracts have been equated in many minds to winning. Based on WAR however, these stars are often not worth half their paychecks.

The A's perpetually wrestle with the fact that they have no superstars (Yoenis Cespedes looks like he might become one though). This makes it hard to fall in love. How many Gio Gonzelez or Trevor Cahill or Huston Street jerseys are still worn despite those players being long gone? Billy Beane rolled the dice and decided last season that the marketability (defined by merchandise sold and attendance) generated by the teams previous three All Stars (including Andrew Bailey) was outweighed by their value in MLB-ready players or prospects. They were stocks that he felt were at maximum value and so he sold.

What the Marlins did is not that dissimilar to the A's except that the un-quanitative sentiment is that if the public pays big money for you to get a new park, that you should have a reasonable payroll and some actual big-paycheck stars.

Consider though, that a reasoned look at this may be that the players traded were declining assets. Like Gio or Bailey, they sold shirseys, but didn't win enough games. (I maintain the Gio trade was a mistake.) As un-sexy and as un-marketable to the average fan as it sounds, the Marlins simply sold a bunch of stocks and bought new ones. They re-balanced their portfolio -- more emerging players, less mature blue chip stocks and a greater cash balance.

We, as fans, just can't have it both ways. With statistic-driven front office decisions the term "fan favorite" means very little. Even the Red Sox, who the movie Moneyball claims used the theories set forth by Bill James and adopted by Sandy Alderson and later Billy Beane, succumbed to bad contracts that didn't balance cost with production.

Just like the A's possibly leaving their California ancestral city, this is all business. The A's project making more money in San Jose. Therefore the decision is logical. Your feelings, to them, do not amount to enough tickets sold, beer poured, etc... for them to stay in Oakland. The Marlins ownership, now at rock-bottom in terms of profitability, calculated that the players they had weren't worth the cost and got cheaper. If you remove passion, then its just business.

Blame Revenue Sharing

The real culprit in this is, ironically, revenue sharing. Revenue sharing props up franchises that should be forced to invest in a balanced way in their product so as to make money. Sprinkle in some marketable veterans with some young players and sell enough tickets and hot dogs to make a profit. The Marlins know that they can simply bring the payroll to as low as the player's union will tolerate and then rake in cash generated by other teams and you and me -- through and MLB.TV purchases among other components -- thanks to revenue sharing.

Remove revenue sharing and baseball might actually contract organically. The markets that simply cannot support the game (and Northern California certainly has enough people and money to support two franchises) would either relocate or fold.

Baseball's revenue sharing allows the teams that spend the least to enjoy some of the highest profit margins. (Check out the data on Forbes' annual "Business of Baseball" feature.) It is a perverse incentive and one that future league CBA's will hopefully address based on the progress of the last one. How insane is it that even without five of last year's marquee players (including now Dodger-Hanley Ramirez and now Diamondback-Health Bell) the Marlins's will probably end up more profitable in 2013 despite selling fewer tickets?

If we play the baseball-as-a-business game, then you certainly would not guarantee a profit to a company paid by its industry peers. Should AMD get millions from Intel? Should Apple give to HP? As loathsome as they are, should the Yankees really be giving money to the skinflint Marlins? To the A's? I have no answer to that. It just seems worth thinking about.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A's Owners Political Contributions Nationally, Locally

It was recently reported that the ownership of the San Francisco Giants has given a great deal of money to both political parties this election season. The A's ownership, for this purpose limited to majority owner John Fisher (billionaire and part-heir to the Gap fortune) and managing partner Lew Wolff have also made sizable donations. Here is a brief breakdown of state and federal donations from the period of Jan. 1, 2011 to present taken from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Fisher donated a grand total of $70,100 with $51,500 going to Republican candidates. In the past, Fisher has given heavily to Republicans and causes as well. Notably, he was a major opponent of 2006's Prop. 82 which would have funded preschool for all four-year olds through a tax on high income earners. Fisher gave $25,000 to opponents of the measure, which ultimately failed.

*The numbers above do not include donations to the Major League Baseball Political Action Committee as its contributions are essentially split between parties and the A's influence on the direction of its funds is likely quite limited.

In Oakland

In 2010, Fisher and Wolff made $25,000 in contributions to support then-Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata through his political committee Coalition for a Safer Oakland. This followed years of contributions to the politician. At the time, the East Bay Express reported this:

In addition, at a recent editorial board meeting with the Oakland Tribune, Perata appeared uninterested in talking about keeping the A’s in town, according to several attendees. “He was very evasive,” said (Rebecca) Kaplan, who was at the meeting with (Jean) Quan, Perata, and fellow mayoral candidate Joe Tuman. “He basically conveyed that keeping the A’s is not very important.” 

After the editorial board meeting, one of the attendees, Tribune columnist Dave Newhouse, published a piece on October 6 about the mayoral candidates and their thoughts on the A’s and the Golden State Warriors. Newhouse quoted Perata as being resigned to the fact that the A’s are leaving. “I don't think the A's are going to stay here,” Perata said. “We can't play in this game, putting up the money. We haven't been smart with our franchises.”

In an interview, (Lew) Wolff denied that Perata's stance on the A's had anything to do with his $10,000 donation, saying he's supporting the ex-senator because he thinks he's the best mayoral candidate. Fisher donated $15,000. "I've known him for years," Wolff said of Perata, "and I respect him." Wolff also said he hasn't been paying attention to what Perata has been saying on the campaign trail.

In 2011, Fisher donated $10,000 to Perata's "Hope 2010 Cure Cancer" committee. Hope 2010 subsequently changed its name to "Hope 2012 -- Yes on Prop. 29 -- Californians for a Cancer Cure" and campaigned in support of Prop. 29 which would have taxed tobacco products to fund Cancer research. (The measure did not pass.)

IBA Buzz noted in a March 2012 posting that the committee gave almost $6,000 for "meetings and appearances" and travel reimbursements to Perata.

In the 2011-2012 election cycle $12,500 of the group's total treasury went to Oakland city council member and longtime Perata friend Ignacio De La Fuete for campaign consulting. De La Fuente also received $25,000 from the organization for similar services in 2009.

De La Fuente is currently running against fellow council member Rebecca Kaplan in this upcoming election for the at-large seat on the council -- a position currently held by Kaplan. In terms of the A's, Kaplan is a vocal champion of Oakland's "Coliseum City" concept. De La Fuente's support is unclear.

Oakland North reported on the sports issue which came up at a debate in August:

One question from the (Oakland Chamber of Commerce) Chamber addressed the issue of sports teams leaving Oakland and the role of the A’s, the Oakland Raiders and the Golden State Warriors as drivers of economic activity. The city recently unveiled the Oakland Coliseum City proposal, a $40 million project that would construct new facilities for the city’s three sports teams, as well as retail space, offices for technology companies and hotels.

Kaplan said she includes retaining sports teams under economic development. “Advancing the Coliseum City project, with shops and bars and restaurants and hotels, all connected to a convention center and regional transit is an important way of expanding job opportunities,” she said.

But others said there are more important issues the city should focus on.

“Yes, the A’s and the Warriors and the Raiders provide jobs, but we have learned stadiums should not be for the public sector,” De La Fuente said.

In considering the at-large race and the A's stadium issue, this article from the East Bay Express is worth a read. Here is a passage from it pertinent to the sports issue:

Kaplan, however, has become a much bigger booster than De La Fuente of keeping Oakland's sports teams in town. Kaplan was one of the first politicians to back the so-called Coliseum City project. That proposal, which is also supported by the mayor and other councilmembers, envisions new privately financed facilities for the Raiders, the Warriors, and, possibly, the A's, on Oakland Coliseum property, surrounded by restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and retail stores. Kaplan also supports a proposal for a privately financed ballpark for the A's at the Port of Oakland on the city's waterfront — if Major League Baseball and the A's prefer that site to the Coliseum.

De La Fuente also happens to be co-chair of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority an organization which the A's are actively trying to negotiate a short-term lease with.

In March, Matier and Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle reported this regarding De La Fuente:

None of the payments (From the Prop. 29 committee) was disclosed on De La Fuente's statement of outside earnings as a councilman and head of the Coliseum authority.

Just a "What If?" Exercise

Every individual is welcome to vote how they feel is appropriate and to contribute to any campaign or candidate they want to. A sole editorial comment here is that John Fisher's support of an old school democrat like Don Perata is somewhat puzzling. This is a man who from 2006-2010 gave $575,000 to the California Business Political Action Committee, Sponsored by the California Chamber of Commerce (CalBusPac) -- not exactly a friend of organized labor like Perata. CalBusPac also received direct donations from Philip Morris and was listed on the No on 29 website.

A cynic would could draw the conclusion that the A's owners gave to Perata directly in 2010 to help elect a mayor who wouldn't fight their exit from the city. Since then, they have maintained ties with Perata as he is still an extremely well-connected Democrat in a city where Republicans have no chance at winning an election. By giving to Perata they are also currying favor and influence with De La Fuente -- a potential mayoral candidate who also will offer them an easier path out of town. More immediately, De La Fuente will help cripple support for Coliseum City by replacing Kaplan and may help the A's get a more generous lease with the Coliseum authority.

Oakland only has the Coliseum City concept as a path forward for the A's, and the lease is their only legal tool. It is logical to assume that the A's owners would like to see De La Fuente succeed as he has not taken as hard a stance on the team staying as others have.

Do understand that bright lines are not here. The A's owners are not on record as having donated directly to De La Fuente and organizations like Hope 2012 pay campaign consultants all the time. The point of this exercise is to look at the "What if?" and nothing more.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The A's Battle for Relevancy in a Fog of Orange and Black

When the Giants won the World Series in 2010, they dealt the A's a true body-blow in the fight for relevancy, Before they had won, both teams had been in the playoffs, but no champ had emerged since the A's in 1989. As Moneyball (the movie) made reference to, people remember the team who wins the last game -- the World Series. If the Giants defeat the Tigers this year, they will enter the rarefied air that is reserved for teams known as dynasties -- "The Big Red Machine" of the Cincinnati Reds, the "Mustache Gang" of the A's and the New York Yankees in general (besides the 80's and early 90's, choose your time period).

A Giants World Series crown will make it that much harder to sway casual fans to the A's side. In terms of baseball, the Giants already dominate Bay Area sports media coverage and a title will only take even more air and ink away from the A's. The 2012 A's were a magical story, but a championship trumps it. People like a winner, but they love a champion.

All of this is to say that the A's need to seize each and every opportunity on the national and local scale to assert both that they exist and that they matter. 

The Stadium, ad nauseum

As maddening as it is, the A's stadium situation is so critical that it rivals the actual on-field product. Although this year's playoff run was great fun, it was a squandered opportunity for ownership and the pro-Oakland/pro-San Jose sides.

The most action was seen by Let's Go Oakland! (LGO) -- a political advocacy group whose aim is to keep the A's in Oakland. It's major initiative was the "Remove the Tarps" flash-campaign which aimed to convince ownership to increase the capacity of the Coliseum by taking off the vinyl covering over the third deck (minus the Value Deck) and Mt. Davis. The result was that the team did yield -- slightly -- by saying that for the ALCS (should the team have made it) they would have removed the tarps. Previously, ownership had said only for the World Series would this have happened.

The campaign was well-intended, as a frequent sentiment heard among fans is a strong distaste for the tarps, but had real long-term weaknesses. Past the playoffs, what was the organization's end goal? It is plain unrealistic to ask that the team de-tarp for the regular season when attendance was the 26th best (out of 30) in baseball. Did they want the team to un-tarp for big games -- such as Opening Day or the Bay Bridge Series? It is unclear as this was never expressed. What LGO did was motivate a lot of people to sign a petition. It has not, to date, taken the information and excitement it generated and leveraged it for any additional objectives.

What LGO could have done, rather than the tarps campaign, is say, "These jam-packed crowds are proof that if ownership puts a great product out, they will get the support -- here in Oakland -- that they desire. These fans are committed to this team right now, we ask that ownership do the same and work to find a home for this club here where it has won more division titles and championships than any baseball team in the Bay Area. Let's keep the excitement going by celebrating and committing to the team's Oakland roots."

Baseball for San Jose (BBSJ) -- a political advocacy group who wants the A's to move south to San Jose -- basically sat out most of the season and the playoffs. They posted an AL-West champs graphic to their Facebook page when the A's won the division. Besides that, they have said and done nothing publicly since late May. 

BBSJ could have emphasized the urgency of moving the team to a new facility. They could have said, "The entire Bay Area has enjoyed seeing this club succeed. We believe the time is now for Major League Baseball to approve a move to a new home here in San Jose that will assure the Bay Area of decades of great A's baseball. As the 10th largest city in the United States we have the resources -- population, corporate base and land to make a new A's stadium a reality."

Ownership, mainly Managing Partner Lew Wolff, could have pressed the point as well. Wolff could have said, "I'm having a lot of fun watching this team. It is important to understand that -- long-term -- our ownership group has a singular goal of showcasing great teams like this current one in a world-class facility. We want to share in the memories and joy of great A's teams with Bay Area residents for decades to come. We remain hopeful that MLB will allow us to move to San Jose and provide us with certainty moving forward."

Instead, Wolff was largely silent on the issue. Majority owner John Fisher was actually silent.

An Orange and Black Fog

The Bay Area is -- with all due respect to the true A's-only baseball fans -- wrapped in orange and black right now. The Giants, from a business standpoint, would like nothing more than to see the A's fade into obscurity. Make no mistake, they want the whole Bay Area market to themselves.

For voices in the A's debate, opportunities like the sensation that was the 2012 season don't come along all that often. It's a shame that when the bunting at the Coliseum was taken down and the national media had packed up, we were no further along in the quest to define where this team will be long-term.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Location and the A's Economic Benefit

With the Tigers in the World Series, a spotlight has been shined on the city of Detroit. The Toronto Star had a great piece today on the rebirth of the city's downtown.

The article by Bill Morris starts off:

Back in the bad old days, office workers in downtown Detroit staged a macabre daily sporting event. At quitting time there would be a mad dash to the parking lot — eyes out for muggers, or worse — then, quick, fire up the car and race home to the suburbs. As night fell, downtown turned into a ghost town.

He goes on to say:

The reverse exodus (to the suburbs) has become so pronounced that downtown Detroit can now be fairly accused of imitating such desirable Manhattan addresses as Chelsea or Tribeca. Yes, it’s gotten so bad — or good — that it’s now nearly impossible to find a vacant apartment to rent in downtown Detroit.

And later:

“Look out there,” (Detroit native Dick) Dettloff says, pointing over the rim of the stadium to the north. “Those are all new condos. Downtown is coming back, and you’ve got to give a lot of the credit to (Tigers owner) Mike Ilitch. If our guys win the World Series, that’ll bring a lot of money into this area. They’re talking 70 million bucks.”

The Detroit Free Press recently chronicled what a then hypothetical World Series appearance would mean for the city economically. From Katherine Yung's piece:

"Unambiguously, major league sports playoff games bring out extra expenditures," said Patrick Anderson, CEO of the Anderson Economic Group. 

He estimates that the overall boost from all of the Tigers' postseason games will amount to more than $72 million -- the economic benefit forecasted when the Tigers made it to the championship series in 2006. 

Later in the article:

"I don't know if I am screaming at the TV because I want the Tigers to win or because I know they are going to fill our hotel for a week," said Judy Booth, director of sales and marketing at the Detroit Marriott hotel at the Renaissance Center. 

A World Series means a sellout of all of the hotel's 1,298 rooms. 

The Westin Book Cadillac sold out all of its 453 rooms on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, said Scott Stinebaugh, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

Thinking About the A's

The reality is that the A's economic benefit reaches far beyond the city limits of Oakland. Visiting teams tend to stay in San Francisco. (For instance, here is a tweet from Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander during the ALDS.)

Part of the reason for this is that Oakland simply does not have as many hotel rooms as San Francisco. Oakland also lacks San Francisco's high-end brand names -- no Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons for instance.

Oakland's total number of hotel rooms, as calculated by the adding the numbers provided by the Oakland Convention and Visitor's Bureau is 3,584 -- including the Claremont Hotel which is technically in Berkeley (by mailing address anyway). The Port of San Francisco, as part of its promotional materials for The America's Cup noted that as of 2009 there were 32,976 hotel rooms in San Francisco.

A further comparison is can be seen when looking at Detroit. As of 2008, according to the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments there were 5,731 hotel rooms in Detroit proper.

San Jose, where the A's ownership would like to move the team to, has 4,000 hotel rooms citywide according to Team San Jose.

The natural extension of this is to conclude that the A's overall economic benefit doesn't stop at the foot of the Bay Bridge.

The city of San Francisco -- between visiting teams and fans and players living in the city -- has a very real incentive to be in favor of keeping the A's in nearby Oakland.

Why San Jose Would Change Things

If the A's were to move south, hotels in San Jose would likely benefit as the option of staying in San Francisco becomes more difficult. The distance to San Francisco would increase from about 17 miles (mapping from the Four Seasons to the Coliseum) to 42 miles (mapping from the Four Seasons to the HP Pavilion).

If you search for where opposing teams stay when playing the Sharks in San Jose, the consensus appears to be downtown San Jose -- for instance, the Vancouver Sun spotted the Canucks at the hotel Valencia last May.

With this in mind, consider A's Managing Partner Lew Wolff's various hotel investments. While Wolff owns part of the Fairmont in San Francisco, his company Wolff Urban Development, LLC lists among its properties both the Fairmont and the Hilton and Towers in San Jose. In addition, in 2011 Wolff also purchased the Sainte Claire in downtown San Jose. He is very clearly well-poistioned to gain from fans and teams staying in San Jose.

This notion was brushed aside in KCBS's Matt Bigler's story regarding the purchase of the Sainte Claire:

Rumors that the hotel could be used by visiting Major League Baseball teams if MLB allows the A’s to move to San Jose are “highly speculative,” said Santa Clara County Assessor Larry Stone.

“He’s got 3 other hotels that could provide the same option,” Stone said, adding that the purchase should nevertheless signal to city officials that Wolff is committed to help bring people and business to downtown San Jose.

It isn't speculative at all.

Wolff very clearly, and sensibly, wants a cut of the ancillary revenue streams that would be created by bringing a team to downtown San Jose. It is utterly naive to think that Wolff's personal calculus regarding the team's location isn't impacted by his non-team investments. In San Jose he has stakes in hotels and office buildings throughout the city. His investment in Oakland is non-existent besides being a tenant of the Coliseum.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Around the League

Eck Rooted for Rodney

A's great Dennis Eckersley told the Tampa Bay Times' Marc Topkin that he was rooting for Fernando Rodney of the Rays to beat his ERA reliever record of 0.61 Rodney did so with a 0.60. From the piece:

In his 1990 season, Eckersley allowed five earned runs in 73 1/3 over 63 games and converted 48 saves in 50 chances; Rodney allowed five in 74 2/3 over 76 games and converted 48 saves in 50 chances. 

"That is a great year," Eckersley said (presumably referring to Rodney's 2012 season). "What it is is being good and a little lucky, which you have to be. And that makes for magic."

Nolan Ryan's Thoughts on the Astros in the AL

This is from a piece by Chip Bailey in the Houston Chronicle:

“It’s going to be different,” he said. “I grew up with the Astros. The Astros, in my opinion, are a National League ballclub — that’s the way I’ll always view them. But from our perspective with the Rangers, to put somebody else in our time zone, it’ll help us with some travel and also on our audience. … When both teams are fighting for a Western Division title, it’ll stimulate a lot of baseball interest in the state.”

White Sox Cutting Prices

It is rare to see a team that sports a big improvement in wins turn around and reduce ticket prices, but that is just what the White Sox are doing. Per Marc Gonzalez in the Chicago Tribune:

More than 87 percent of all full season-ticket prices for the 2013 season will either drop or stay the same. More than 54 percent of the full season tickets will decrease in price by an average of 26 percent. 

The cost of parking will drop to $20, a decrease ranging from $3-$5. 

''This was the first step of many things we need to do,'' said Brooks Boyer, the Sox's senior vice president of sales and marketing, noting that the economic climate over the past four to five years has changed people's habits.

As we referenced in an earlier post, the New York Times recently had a good piece chronicling Chicago's baseball scene and how the Cubs -- despite crushing ineptitude in the standings -- easily outdrew the South Side Sox.

A's 2013 Season Tickets

The A's have yet to announce ticket prices for 2013. However, they are running a contest for those that are due refunds for postseason tickets for the LCS and World Series that will not occur. If they roll over the money they fronted they are eligible to win prizes like autographed bobbleheads and bats. Before you jump in, consider that the total number of prizes to be awarded is 24.

The Greatest Fake-Out Ever

Today is the 40th anniversary of Rollie Fingers striking out Johnny Bench of the Reds in game three of the 1972 World Series after giving all indications that Bench was going to be intentionally walked. The Hardball Times recaps what happened.

NPR's WBUR-FM Weighs in on the Bay Area A's-Giants Culture Clash

San Jose's Minimum Wage Changes Stadium Equation (at Least Marginally)

A's Managing Partner Lew Wolff is also a hotelier. Yesterday when he came out publicly against Measure D in San Jose, a ballot initiative that will raise the minimum wage immediately from $8.00 an hour (state mandated) to $10 with future increases pegged to inflation, he noted that his opposition to this measure was due to his stakes in hotels in the city. Certainly, if this ordinance were to pass the labor costs for operating these properties would increase and that would mean, potentially, a loss of revenue. It might also mean rates would be raised by owners (i.e. Wolff and Co.) to make up the difference. If this were to occur, as Wolff noted in John Woolfolk's article in today's San Jose Mercury News, travelers might head over to surrounding areas for cheaper rates:

"Every city that surrounds San Jose has got to be happy if San Jose increases the minimum wage," Wolff said over breakfast at the Fairmont (a hotel that Wolff partially owns). "If everyone had the same minimum wage, it wouldn't be a factor. Everyone would be in the same ballpark."

"Ballpark" is an interesting choice of words for Wolff, as he is currently building a stadium in San Jose (for the Earthquakes who presently play in neighboring Santa Clara) and has dreams of building a big league ballpark downtown (for the A's).

Making no comment in favor or against Measure D, the reality is that for any business in San Jose that has a workforce composed -- even partially -- of minimum wage earners, labor costs will increase if the initiative passes.

Wolff's stadium for the Earthquakes is being privately financed, as would Cisco Field for the A's. This is notable, in that one of the most compelling reasons for eschewing publicly-owed facilities -- such as the Coliseum -- is that you do not need to split any revenue generated by the facility, including concession sales. The A's currently receive an above-average 75 percent cut of these sales at the Coliseum. However, they surely would prefer to get 100 percent. (This is to say nothing of the fact that the tide-over Coliseum lease may not offer terms as generous as its predecessor.)

If Measure D were to pass, Wolff's ownership group for any San Jose facility would see a dent in total stadium revenues. Outside concessionaires who staff food stands with minimum wage earners would no doubt push for price increases in their contracts with the team. Prices may go up for consumers to offset these new costs, but there is only so much elasticity in that regard. Keep raising the cost of beer or tickets year-over-year and at some point demand will shrink.

This is to say nothing of other stadium operations staffed by minimum wage earners. Consider that, although certainly not all minimum wage earners, the St. Louis Cardinals website notes that there are 3,000 day-of-game employees at Busch Stadium.

All of this is to say that Measure D means more to Wolff than he is saying. Aside from the difficulty in finding a place to build a stadium, one has to also think that the cost of labor in San Francisco (which has a city minimum wage of $10.24 and a health care provision) factored into the 49ers decision to move to Santa Clara.

Measure D's passage increases the cost of operating a privately owned stadium in San Jose marginally when compared to Oakland -- where the minimum wage is $8.00. Of course, the counterargument to this is the un-testable notion that a new San Jose stadium will draw more fans than a new Oakland stadium. This additional attendance will then, presumably, offset the higher labor costs.

An increased minimum wage is San Jose, will become yet another factor when considering in the costs of building and operating a stadium in San Jose as opposed to Oakland.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

49ers, A's Different Embraces of South Bay

Yesterday, it was announced that San Francisco has been selected as a finalist to host a future Super Bowl in early 2016/2017. The funny thing is there won't be a team playing inside the city limits at that point in time. The namesake 49ers will have long since decamped for Santa Clara some 40 miles south.

This issue was addressed in an article by John Diaz in this past Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle. From that piece:

"San Francisco is our home," 49ers CEO Jed York said in a phone interview Friday. "If and when we win a Super Bowl, the parade will be on Market Street."

Consider that downtown San Jose (using the San Jose Caltrain Station as a landmark) is just 6.2 miles up the road. Are the 49ers essentially saying, "There is no there there," with respect to San Jose? At the very least, York could have said that one of the team's parades would be in San Francisco in addition to the geographically convenient San Jose.

Today, Santa Clara mayor Jamie Matthews tried to walk back York's comment:

"If our 49ers win the Super Bowl, I think there will be a parade in lots of cities, not the least of which will be San Francisco and Santa Clara," Santa Clara Mayor Jamie Matthews said. "You can never have too many parades."

An aside: Should Oakland expect a parade as well?

Brand Value

Unlike the A's, the 49ers have several key branding advantages. One is that the team can easily shift to saying that "San Francisco" references the San Francisco Bay Area as opposed to the city itself. The other is that they are not, as part of their negotiating principles with Santa Clara, bound to insert "Santa Clara" into their name.

The A's can't really extend "Oakland" -- which aside from part of a bridge and an estuary -- is really just the city itself. Also, and with all due apologies for those that care about the city, Oakland is simply not as strong a national and international brand as San Francisco.

The A's are also bound by their negotiating principals with San Jose to include that city's name in their moniker should they move there.

Regional Darlings

The 49ers seem to be able to have their cake and eat it too. They can build in a place that offers fewer construction hurdles and offers lower operating costs while tapping into the prestige, resources and brand value of San Francisco. It is a tremendous piece of marketing ju-jitsu.

Can you imagine the Raiders or the A's parading down Market Street in San Francisco? Surely not, and yet they are closer to that spot than the 49ers will be once they move south.

An A's Move Would be Different

In 2006 when the idea of the A's moving to Fremont was still alive, Managing Partner Lew Wolff suggested that the team might adopt either the name "Fremont A's" or "Silicon Valley A's." The phrase "of Fremont" was also thought to be on the table. However, did anyone really think that "Oakland A's of Fremont" would have been chosen ahead of "San Jose A's of Fremont" when you consider Wolff's strong ties in business and politics to San Jose?

Bearing in mind York's comments, would the A's if they won the World Series celebrate down Broadway in Oakland after they had packed up and headed down to San Jose? Would they still think of Oakland as their home.


If the A's decamp for the South Bay and win it all, confetti would surely fly in downtown San Jose. Oakland, it would seem based on ownership's statements, would be lucky to have the trophy make a guest appearance at city hall for an afternoon.

In 2007 with a Fremont move still alive, Wolff framed the move away from the team's California roots this was:

"We're still here, folks," he said. "We're not moving to Timbuktu. We're just moving down the street."

The thing is, an A's move to San Jose wouldn't be that simple. Unlike the 49ers, the A's are actively trying to rebrand from the "Oakland" portion of their name.

A name is inconsequential to the wins and losses a team amasses, but it is paramount for fans who embrace the game not from an economic and rational standpoint, but rather from a tribal and emotional one.

If the A's remove Oakland from their name, it will no doubt hurt many fans. They can only envy the have-it-both ways situation the 49ers are enjoying.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Thinking About the A's as a Regional Asset

As you know, two places in the country aggressively use the moniker "Bay Area" -- here in California and down in the vicinity of Tampa Bay / St. Petersburg. The similarities extend in that both areas house a baseball team deeply unhappy with their current stadium.

The Tampa Bay Rays, a fellow-small market brethren of the A's, are stuck in the Tropicana Dome serving what seems like a life sentence. The domed ballpark with in-play structural rings and astroturf was seemingly designed by the same team that thought the Pontiac Aztek was a good-looking car. The larger problem is that the Rays are saddled with a lease that runs through 2027. The City of St. Petersburg, where the stadium is located, also has the right to sue any party that negotiates with the team for a new lease.

The Rays are a really good team, with a great manager in Joe Maddon. They even have a coda of sorts to the A's Moneyball in The Extra 2%. Like the mythical field of dreams that was a Fremont Cisco Field, the Rays once dreamed of playing in a cutting-edge "sailboat"-like park.

Despite the team's seemingly iron-clad lease, an issue that actually helped keep the A's in Oakland back in the 1970s, two developers have recently announced concepts for finding the team a more suitable home (here and here).

Last week Rays owner Stu Sternberg put down in writing his desire to have the freedom to negotiate with other parties and look for locations both Pinellas County (home of St. Pete) and in neighboring Hillsborough County (home of Tampa Bay). Sternberg, in deference to the team's current lease terms, is willing to give St. Petersburg the right to veto any deal.

A Lesson for A's Fans

It can be difficult for parties on both sides of the stadium debate -- stay in Oakland/move to San Jose -- to approach this issue dispassionately. Filter these comments on the Rays saga from John Romano in this past Sunday's Tampa Bay Times through an A's fan perspective:

....Because this story can no longer be driven by either devotion or outrage. The time has come to look at the situation clear-eyed and logically. And the reality is this: 

The Rays are not staying at Tropicana Field. 

Once you accept that as a simple fact and not a community rejection, it becomes easier to decide which path makes the most sense. St. Petersburg can either: 

1. Hold the Rays to the terms of the stadium use agreement, and wait for them to try to break the contract, or leave when it expires. The downside to this argument is the next decade will be a slow death march with declining payrolls and a neglected stadium, and Tampa Bay will lose baseball forever. 

2. Negotiate a winding down of the use agreement that allows the Rays to relocate to their desired destination of downtown Tampa, and compensates St. Petersburg for giving up baseball early. 

If you think the Rays are a regional asset and want them to remain in Tampa Bay? Option No. 2 is clearly better. 

And if you think Rays owners are a bunch of carpetbaggers out to fleece taxpayers? It makes far more sense to see how much money might be available in Option No. 2 before consigning St. Petersburg to the eventual doom and lawsuits of Option No. 1. 

We can argue forever the question of whether this is fair to St. Petersburg. And considering that the Rays are the first team in the history of Major League Baseball to finish last in attendance while winning 90 games, the argument for the city's nonsupport does seem fairly strong. 

But the reality is that argument does no one any good. The better debate is figuring out which solution offers the greatest benefits to fans, taxpayers and the ballclub....

Like the Rays, discounting the forthcoming tide-over lease renewal at the Coliseum, the A's are not staying there. They are leaving, and it may be somewhere else in Oakland, it may be San Jose or it may be to a place that isn't the Bay Area. The reality is that there is zero chance the team plays another twenty years at the Coliseum.

Romano's terming of the Ray's a "regional asset" is -- like it or not -- what the A's are. No Bay Area team fills its stadium with just fans from their namesake city. (However, the amorphous "Golden State" Warriors are in their own category.) Zoom out and you realize that no city-named baseball team -- even the Yankees -- populates their ballyard exclusively with the denizens of their metropolis.)

Alameda, Berkeley, Colma, Fremont, Hayward, Sacramento, Santa Clara and San Jose all have dedicated A's fans that trek to the Oakland Coliseum.

At present, there is no clear path for the A's moving forward.

The Giants, lack of a complete set of land parcels needed to accommodate a stadium and a still-unpassed city ballot referendum are some of the major impediments for San Jose. Oakland has land, if you believe they will build at the Coliseum or could (given environmental concerns) clean up and build at Howard Terminal, but generates no interest from the current ownership group and thus has no funding mechanism.

No other major metropolitan area has the means or facilities at present to lure the A's. (For instance, Portland is not only a smaller media market than the Bay Area, it doesn't even have a AAA stadium for the A's to temporarily play at.)

There is certainly pride and a tradition of winning in Oakland. However, the A's were winners in Philadelphia as well and they left that city due to poor attendance despite winning five championships. Some of us in the fanbase may have to, for the sake of this historic franchise, cease putting the team in the confining boxes of "Oakland" and "San Jose" and begin to think more broadly.

Like the Rays, the A's just need a home and a path forward -- badly.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Eulogy for an Epic Season

When game five of the American League Division Series concluded last night the Tigers players stormed out to the mound, filled with joy. The A's made their way to the dugout, beginning to come to grips with the end of a season that began in March at the Tokyo Dome.

The funny thing is, the crowd didn't act like it had lost the series. Thousands stood and chanted "Let's go Oak-land," complete with rhythmic hand claps. The fans knew that the A's hadn't lost anything. This team, which defied everyone's expectations had done something so magical, so inspiring that they didn't need to win it all to be the champions.

Across baseball there was no better story than the Oakland Athletics.

Fifteen walkoff victories (including one in the playoffs), twelve rookies on their playoff roster, a playoff rotation of four rookies and a pitcher barely recovered from Tommy John surgery.

This is the stuff of legends.

A rookie third baseman in Josh Donaldson who is a converted catcher, and a key bullpen piece in Sean Doolittle that is a converted position player who this time last year was pitching in the instructional league -- the lowest rung of professional baseball.

This team, before a pitch was even thrown, traded away this year's potential NL Cy Young award winner in Gio Gonzalez and the team's last three All Star representatives -- Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill and Gonzalez. If this wasn't enough, they ended the season without ESPN The Magazine's cover star pitcher Brandon McCarthy who took a line drive to the head, necessitating brain surgery.

Go ahead. Make the argument that any of the other teams, even the Orioles, were a better, more compelling story than the A's. Consider too that the team plays in a stadium detested by its owner and the commissioner of baseball and that their payroll on opening day was the second lowest in all of baseball.

There was a reason why the fans stood and clapped and waited before they shuffled over the BART bridge and back home. They knew they were witnesses. Witnesses to something magical and something that may never happen again. Without a doubt, every member of that team was a champion.

The A's couldn't slay the Goliath that was Justin Verlander, but their trophy case was hardly empty. Albert "The Machine" Pujols and Josh "The Natural" Hamilton -- among other high-paid "superstars" -- were bested in a division that was thought to belong to either the Angels or the Rangers.

The A's had a 0.5 percent chance to win the AL West according to Las Vegas. On June 30th they were 13 games back of Texas. They not only overcame that deficit, they did so on the last day of the season defeating the Rangers in a thrilling come-from-behind win to cap off a thrilling sweep punctuated by two clinches -- playoffs and division.

The Athletics weren't Cinderella embodied or a real-life version of Major League. These analogies are far too simplistic. The Oakland Athletics in 2012 were their own story and maybe someday Hollywood, or an enterprising writer, will detail it.

They were original, and they were ours as A's fans.

We bore witness. We were forged in the fire along with these inspiring players.

This A's team reminded a lot of fans across the country of just what can happen in baseball and why this franchise is so crucial to the game. The Coliseum's sun-bathed tarps with decals signifying the five Philadelphia championships and the four Oakland ones are not enough. This team needs a beautiful new home and they need to wave flags in the outfield for nine world titles, 15 American League pennants, 15 West Division titles and one Wild Card berth. This team needs a cathedral.

The fire that fueled the end of this great season comes from the flame that has remained lit from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland from Connie Mack to Jimmie Foxx to Dick Williams to Tony LaRussa to Dave Stewart to Billy Beane to Bob Melvin.

The 2012 A's reminded us that the A's must remain relevant to baseball.

The green and the gold. Very special colors indeed.

It was a privilege to be there with you.

15 Walkoffs

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Electric Coliseum

Last night's game at the Coliseum was quite an experience. Fans were on their feet the entire game and loud, loud, loud. Brett Anderson's superb pitching combined with flawless defense -- punctuated by critical catches by Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes -- gave the A's a chance to get back in this best of five series.

We'll do it all over again tonight! Should be a blast, or maybe a party as Sports Illustrated's Phil Taylor writes.

The Catches

Check out these mash-ups of the TBS and the A's radio broadcast of last night's defensive highlights by Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes. (For Crisp, even the Tigers radio announcers were excited.)

It May Get Loud

Here are a few snippets regarding the sold-out atmosphere at the Coliseum last night:

Detroit Free Press:

I’m not sure that there’s any other professional stadium (other than soccer venues in Europe) quite like Oakland, with its flag-waving, rhythmic cheering and sign after sign after sign.

Detroit Free Press:

Loudest crowd of the year? Anibal Sanchez was asked. 

“Definitely,” said the Tigers’ starter, whose first-inning control problems exacerbated the noise. He described it as fun, even if he could barely hear Gerald Laird when the catcher came out to the mound in the first to help calm him down.

 "We knew this was going to be tough,” Laird said. 

It was enough to make you wonder what might have been had the Tigers been forced to begin the series in Oakland. Every strike by a Tiger elicited a roar — and cowbells and drums and horns — from the fans, most of whom spent most of the night on their feet. A Tigers out was reason to cheer even louder. 

Just four months ago the Tigers played at Oakland in front of a crowds smaller than 10,000. That might as well have been a different season. Nearly 38,000 jammed the Coliseum, turning the joint into one of the most uniquely hostile parks in baseball.

The Detroit News

Tuesday night's crowd was the largest and loudest these Tigers ever have seen at Oakland Coliseum — there were very few Tigers fans there — and certainly it'll be no tamer tonight.

Mercury News

It was a reminder how, under certain circumstances, a sports venue can become a mystical force of some sort and sweep away the participants. Across the bay, tidy AT&T Park can be quite noisy for Giants' games but seldom if ever crosses the pandemonium bar. On Tuesday, the Coliseum did that about five times. In the first inning alone.

New York Times

Unlike some announced “sellouts” in other stadiums, almost every available seat appeared to be filled. And the crowd was exuberant. While the Tigers took batting practice, one fan repeatedly blew long blasts on a horn, making the place sound like the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge at rush hour. The commotion reached football-like proportions before the first pitch, with fans twirling gold A’s towels.

A Tale of Two Bloomberg Columns:

Here is Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Mahler yesterday before game three of the ALDS:

At this point, however, the argument for keeping the A’s in Oakland is purely sentimental. This year’s team came out of nowhere, reaching the postseason after a 37-42 start (and preseason odds of winning the division of 0.4 percent). It was a lot of fun to watch, but the team’s attendance barely budged -- up from last in 2011 to fourth-to-last this year. That says everything you need to know about the ability of the city of Oakland (population: about 390,000) to sustain a big-league team.

Here is he is today after last night's amped-up atmosphere at the Coliseum:

Is the A’s lack of fan support connected to discontent with the ownership of the team? No doubt. Still, since 2006, the A’s best showing, attendance-wise, was third to last in the American League.

If Oakland wants to keep the A's, its only option is for fans to get out and support the team. Protest outside the stadium until Wolff agrees to remove the tarp. Order your 2013 season tickets now. I would love to be proved wrong.

CBS News Piece on Billy Beane and the A's:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The World Has Been Shocked.

Here, thanks to MLB, is the call on both the TV and the radio side of last night's playoff clincher for the A's:

Another amazing game in an amazing season. Too bad only 21,162 saw it. Jason Turbow of the New York Times opined on this issue today.

Bear in mind, Tampa Bay, who if the A's had lost would still be alive in the playoff hunt, drew 13,666 for their contest against the O's.

Here is how it looked from the cheap seats the Value Deck:

Some National Love:

ESPN's Dave Schoenfield --

There are iconic teams which come out of nowhere to win it all. It's a beautiful thing for a team and its community when this happens, the delicious joy of celebrating winning baseball day after day, spring to summer to fall. Maybe these A's will become one of those iconic teams. I know they believe they will.

Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal --

The Rangers, mind you, need to win only one of the final two games in Oakland to clinch the AL West title. Alas, the Rangers have been on cruise control for much of the season, and now they’re Microsoft trapped in a room with 25 hotshot techies, all out for blood.

Quotes from the Southland:

From Mike DiGiovanna's recap of last night's Angels game in today's Los Angeles Times:

"With the ballclub we have, we should not be in this position," said right fielder Torii Hunter, who willed the Angels to several September victories with a .351 average and 27 RBIs in 28 games during the month. "It's as simple as that." 

From Bill Plunkett's recap of last night's Angels game in today's Orange County Register:

(Angels Manager Mike) Scioscia wasn't willing to admit the strong finish only highlighted the disappointment of the slow start – exemplified by Albert Pujols' .190 average and homerless start into May – and the post-All-Star break lull. 

"The season is 162 games. You can't really chop up the good parts and the bad parts and say, 'Hey, we could have played at this pace or that pace,'" Scioscia said. "We set ourselves back early in the year and never quite got back into a position we wanted to be. We paid a price for it.

Hat Tip to Joe Maddon:

The Ray's were also eliminated by the A's last night. Rays' skipper Joe Maddon, one of the best in the game, defines keeping a level head. Here he is in Marc Tompkin's article in the Tampa Bay Times after the Rays won last night, but before the A's-Rangers game had been decided:

Manager Joe Maddon insisted he'd play it exactly that way, planning to watch the DVR'ed version of the Monday Night Football game, read some more of Ken Follett's new Winter of the World and go to bed believing they'd be alive when James Shields takes the mound tonight. 

"I'll find out (this) morning," he said. "Regardless, I just love the way our guys are going about their business."

Meanwhile...Dallas Braden is Imploding -- Dallas Braden, he of the 2010 Mother's Day perfect game and a $3.35 million contract this year, got some bad publicity with yesterday's Deadspin article detailing the incident where he was allegedly assaulted in his car. This follows up on his recent outburst at a community meeting lambasting the City of Stockton's (his hometown and current home) -- ineffective response to crime in the community. At that meeting he declared that he was leaving and moving to Sacramento. Braden is arbitration eligible next year and, given this year's teams success, his frequent trips to the disabled list and this recent unsavory media coverage, the A's might just decline arbitration and make him a free agent. Braden is one of the most affable players on the team and a good pitcher when healthy. Here's hoping everything works out for him personally and professionally.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Shocking the World

We can shock the world, because it’s been done before. Coming from me, it’s not hearsay. I’ve done it, living proof – 25 dudes in the AL East, and we went to the World Series on a $42 million payroll.

-- Jonny Gomes, January 2012

Jonny Gomes may have been the only person alive who believed that this A's team could be as good as they have been. Even A's Assistant General Manager David Forst didn't really seem to believe the club could win now, either that or its a world-class head fake by the Harvard grad:

Offseason articles in the local and national media didn't express much hope:

Here is the San Francisco Chronicle's Bruce Jenkins in January after the trade of Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals:

While the Angels and Rangers spend wildly, separating themselves from Oakland in a manner reminiscent of Microsoft vs. Ted's Bakery, the A's have essentially told their fans that the 2012 season will be a sort of minor-league carnival, complete with minuscule crowds, low-budget promotions, vaguely familiar names and the occasional shred of hope.

Here is CBS Sports' Danny Knobler in March:

The A's weren't going to be able to compete with the big-budget Angels and Rangers this year, so they swapped sort-of-young for very young, with hopes that they can compete a few years down the line. They also re-signed Coco Crisp, signed Manny Ramirez and spent big for Yoenis Cespedes, capping off one of the busiest winters in baseball. But unless Cespedes becomes a star (and he could), the most significant moves they made were to trade away the three pitchers.

If you're trying to win now, you don't do that.

2012 season preview pieces are just as bad:

Projected Finish -- Last
Best-case scenario: Early in the season, Oakland ownership gets word that the move to San Jose is a done deal, and the Athletics funnel all their efforts into building the team for 2015-16. Brandon McCarthy and Kurt Suzuki are traded for prospects, bolstering an already-deep farm system, and fans begin to rally around a promising young rotation of Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray.

ESPN's Grantland
Projected Finish -- Last
From Team Preview:
Big years for rookies (Yoenis) Cespedes, (Jarrod) Parker, and Brad Peacock, a successful (Kurt) Suzuki trade opens the door for Derek Norris to become a poor man's Mickey Tettleton, continued strides for (Jemile) Weeks and (Brandon) McCarthy, and a lot more good vibes than you'd expect from a team that's a long shot to finish above .500, let alone battle elite division mates Texas and L.A.

Sports Illustrated
Projected Finish -- 3rd
Video Preview (Including a gratuitous amount of Manny talk. Key phrase, "not a playoff team."

The Sporting News
Projected Finish -- Last
From Team Preview:
The A’s have all but assured themselves of a last-place finish this season after trading away so much major league talent, especially on the pitching side. Oakland received plenty of talent in return, but those prospects will not pay dividends for several more years.

It's a crazy, unpredictable game.

The A's magic number for a playoff appearance is now just 1 going into tonight.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


If you weren't at the first two games of this Mariners series, you are missing some amazing baseball. Last night, this catch by Yoenis Cespedes in the eighth inning to rob Jesus Montero alone was almost worth the price of admission. However, only 16,232 (46.7 percent of capacity) made it out.

Today's game was the 14th walkoff victory. Josh Donaldson's home run to tie it, and by Brandon Moss' home run to win it (below) are all you need to know. Easily one of the best games of the year.

Only 21,517 saw it. The fans that come are great but when will the stadium really start to get packed?

At this point the team can't do much more to entice you. Tickets are cheap (including a $10 Plaza Level offer for Monday) and the quality of play is great. It's lunacy to say that fans, with a team knocking on the door of the playoffs, are staying away because they don't like the team's ownership. Crowds like Friday's make you wonder if the playoff games will even sell out? If they make it, and they don't, then ownership has more fodder for bringing in the moving vans.

It's well time to #FillTheODotCo.

Albert Who? -- The recent criticism on Twitter of Josh Reddick as he labored through an eventual 0-30 hitless streak before busting out on Wednesday in Texas was astounding considering the value he has brought the team over the course of the year. The new sabermetric gold standard for value is Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Here is a good definition of WAR and how to calculate it. In simplest terms, it determines value -- expressed in additional games a team wins -- by weighing a particular player's contributions over a potential waiver-wire/AAA replacement. WAR looks at the season in the aggregate and so does not give a +1 for a walkoff home run.

Taking a look at this year's WAR rankings according to FanGraphs, Reddick is outperforming quite a few big money players -- including Albert "The Machine" Pujols.

Josh Reddick
Albert Pujols
Josh Willingham
Derek Jeter
Andre Ethier
Adrian Gonzalez
Nick Swisher
Corey Hart
Carlos Beltran3.0$13M

Friday, September 28, 2012

Yesterday's Weird Connections

Yesterday was a bizarre "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" sort of day for the A's. The team dropped the last game of a four game set with the Rangers, while the hard-charging Angels lost to the Mariners preserving the A's two game lead for the second Wild Card spot. Really though, the interconnectedness is far greater.

  • Three of yesterday's starters in these two games were: Travis Blackley (A's), Dan Haren (Angels) and Hisashi Iwakuma (Rangers)
  • Haren, of course, is a former A. 
  • Iwakuma, who the A's really needed to pitch well against the Angels was almost an A. Remember, Iwakuma -- a Japanese player -- entered into exclusive negotiations with the A's after they won his posting rights in the 2010 offseason. The two sides never reached an agreement, and the A's were accused by Iwakuma's agent, Don Nomura, of not showing any respect for the pitcher with their reported offer of four years/$15.5 million. Nomura said this about the A's, "Their offer was low and they weren't sincere." Some camps accused the A's of using the refundable posting system to block Iwakuma from a division rival like the Mariners.
  • Yesterday's starter for the A's would have been Brett Anderson had he not suffered an oblique strain in Detroit. Anderson was acquired in the trade that sent Haren to the Diamondbacks in 2007.
  • It's possible, although clearly not in any way measurable, that the game's momentum might have shifted had Chris Carter not ground into an inning-ending double play when two were on in the first. Carter was also acquired in the Haren trade.
  • The A's are battling to make the postseason for the first time since 2006. The last game for the A's in those the playoffs was started by Dan Haren.
Positives from Yesterday:

1) Josh Reddick's two home runs. 
2) Jesse Chavez and Pedro Figueroa pitched clean innings. 
3) The A's late rally forced the Rangers to use their closer Joe Nathan.
4) Balfour, Blevins, Cook, Doolittle and Scribner got the day off.

Attendance Woes -- Last night on the South Side of Chicago with the White Sox just a game behind the Detroit Tigers and clinging to their fading playoff hopes the team drew a mere 18,630 (45.9 percent of capacity). Not only was the game key for the Sox, it also featured one of baseball's hottest team in the Tampa Bay Rays. Meanwhile, across town the Cubs, currently 59-94, drew 33,354 (81 percent of capacity) at their most recent home game on September 23. How this makes sense is anyone's guess. Ben Strauss of the New York Times on August 26 explored the issue.

Stockton -- A's pitcher Dallas Braden gave an interview to KOVR-TV in Sacramento following expressing very vocally his concerns regarding the state of Stockton and its crime level at a public rally. At the end of the interview, the reporter notes that Braden -- one of the biggest champions of the 209 -- is moving to Sacramento.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The A's $100 Million Payroll

This past Saturday, the New York Times featured a piece by Tyler Kepner regarding the A's quixotic quest for a new stadium. This passage, thinking long term was interesting:

If the A’s knew their destination, (A's part-owner Lew) Wolff said, they could begin to secure their core players and prepare for a payroll that could eventually almost double, to $100 million.

A $100 million payroll would be nice, however if the team can do what it has done this year, then they really would have no need to spend that much. Below is a chart comparing actual salaries versus value in millions assigned by FanGraphs (hitting/pitching). Many of the current A's are making less than the league minimum for the season as their salaries are prorated from when they are called up. The A's also paid a prorated portion of the league minimum for Brandon Inge.

For totals, full league minimum salary was given to each rookie. This is also only a snapshot with respect to the FanGraphs data. Tomorrow the numbers will be adjusted per today's performance and so on through the end of the season. It is also worth noting that, unlike in real life, players can generate a negative value.

What these numbers show, however, is that spending money wisely is paramount. Every player on this list is performing above their market value. The A's key players are playing like a $100 million plus team already.

PlayerActual Salary (in millions unless noted)Value Per FanGraphs (in millions)
Josh Reddick$485,000$17.4
Jarrod Parker$480,000$16.7
Coco Crisp$6.0$11.4
Tommy Milone$480,000$11.1
Yoenis Cespedes$6.5$10.5
Bartolo Colon*$2.0$10.4
Brandon Mossless than $480,000$10.2
Jonny Gomes$1.0$8.7
Brandon Ingeless than $480,000$8.2
Brandon McCarthy$4.275$7.9
Seth Smith$2.415$7.6
Josh Donaldsonless than $480,000$7.0
Sean Doolittleless than $480,000$7.0
Cliff Pennington$490,000$6.2
Travis Blackleyless than $480,000$5.4
Ryan Cook$480,000$5.7
A.J. Griffinless than $480,000$5.7
Grant Balfour$4.0$4.9
Chris Carterless than $480,000$4.5
TOTALS:less than $26.582$166.5

* Colon, although suspended for PEDs and thus having a smaller sample size, still had a substantial impact on the season. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Feeling Better?

Last night's victory for the A's was a possible turning point for this road trip from hell. It was the first time on the trip that the A's did not drop the first two games of a series. In both Detroit and New York, the A's faced the added pressure of a possibly sweep before pulling out game three victories.

With the win, in light of another evening of complete futility for the Mariners in losing to the Angels, the A's avoided having their second Wild Card spot lead trimmed to one game on the Angels and set up today's match-up with current staff ace Jarrod Parker against the Rangers' Martin Perez giving them a chance to slice Texas' division lead to three games and guarantee at least a split in the four game series.

Meanwhile, In Anaheim the Angels face the M's best starter and one of the best pitchers in baseball in "King" Felix Hernandez. Even though, as Dave Schoenfield of ESPN reports, Hernandez hasn't really been dominating either the Angels or the A's lately, he still gives the A's a good chance to move three games above the Angels for the second Wild Card spot.

Looking Forward

Darvish's next start is TBA. His turn is scheduled for this Sunday against the Angels. If he makes the start, it means the A's would not see him in the series at home against Texas to conclude the season. This is the best-case scenario. However, should the A's be charging hard for the division, would this alter Texas' calculus? The Rangers could set up Darvish to go on the last day of the season if the A's had a chance to win the division. The thinking here would clearly be that it was worth burning your number one starter to avoid the one-game Wild Card playoff. The downside for the Rangers, obviously, is if they were to lose that last game than they couldn't start Darvish in that winner-take-all Wild Card game.

Felix Hernandez, as mentioned, starts today against the Angels. His next turn, five days after today is against the Angels. This means the A's are poised to avoid Hernandez in their upcoming three game set in Oakland, instead getting Blake Beavan (10-10, 4.64 ERA) on Friday, Jason Vargas (14-11, 3.94 ERA) on Saturday and Erasmo Ramirez (1-3, 3.42 ERA) on Sunday.

Crazy, Just Plain Crazy!

ESPN's Jayson Stark detailed how things might work out in the AL if ties were to occur.

An interesting nugget from the New York Times to think about in light of transcontinental travel:

Even within the United States, traveling east over just three time zones can be taxing: a study led by Dr. Lawrence D. Recht, a neurologist, of 19 Major League Baseball teams using season records from 1991 to 1993 showed that the team that had just completed eastward travel would give up more than one run than usual in every game.

Update: You may recall a previous post regarding "radio only" games and lamenting the fact that tomorrow's day game against the Rangers was set to be one of them. In case you hadn't heard, SportsNet Reports has been bumped in favor of this critical matchup. Truly a no-brainer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Few Positives After Some Tough Losses

If baseball is designed to break your heart, then the A's are certainly living up to that expectation of late.

The extra-innings loss over the weekend in New York was soul-crushing and bone-rattling. It also had very real implications for the A's bullpen as it was worn down to the Jesse Chavez/Tyson Ross-nub that that is the end of it. Balfour, Cook and Scribner pitched two innings each. Doolittle was unavailable after having pitched 1+ the night before. The damage to the pen for a team in the midst of a meat-grinder of a road trip cannot be understated.

Last night, we saw more of the impact of the heavy workload. Tyson Ross once again absorbed the loss, this time to the division-leading Texas Rangers, after Pat Nishak coughed up a two run lead in the seventh. Melvin's hands are pretty tied at this point in terms of available relievers. He didn't want to burn Balfour, who was warming up in case the A's grabbed the lead, as that would leave him with few options to close the game. Doolittle was seemingly unavailable after working on Sunday. He had already lightly used Jerry Blevins in the seventh.

These seemed to be his options:

Jeremy Accardo (Just called up from AAA and possibly rusty)
Grant Balfour (again, you need a closer, also overworked. Essentially he would be pitching his fourth day in a row -- counting Saturday's game as two)
Jerry Blevins
Jesse Chavez (has been as bad as Ross)
Ryan Cook
Sean Doolittle
Pedro Figueroa (who can't locate anything it seems)
Jim Miller (long man, who may be needed today given Milone's troubles on the road)
Pat Neshak
Tyson Ross
Evan Scribner

Second guessing a manager is easy. Melvin might very well have punted and hoped for the best with Ross -- who has really fallen off a cliff in terms of his stuff -- 96 hits over 73.1 innings isn't going to get it done.

Imagine that Ross pulls a Houdini and escapes the 9th last night and then the A's go down in order. Who pitches at this point? Do you bring in Balfour who is presumably continuing to warm? Doolittle? Let's say you go 12 innings and use Doolittle, Scribner and Balfour. How confident are you in your bullpen today if this scenario were to play out? You might only have Blevins out of your "A" relievers. Burning the pen down night after night is a dangerous idea.

With the loss, today the A's should have Balfour, Blevins and Doolittle to back up Milone. (Ryan Cook has thrown over 70 pitches the past three games, so you have to wonder if he is available.)

A further caveat to consider is that last night was a game the A's could more afford to lose. The Angels were off and the O's had split a doubleheader -- meaning they couldn't gain a full game on the A's for the first Wild Card spot. If the Angels had won last night against the hapless Mariners, the A's would have a 1.5 game lead, allowing the Angels to gain a full game. The loss last night was only a half game, and that may be crucial. If the A's and Angels both win tonight, the A's maintain a 2 game lead. This sets up Wednesday's game where the A's have their best pitcher in Jarrod Parker going while the Angels face Felix Hernandez. If the A's win and the Angels lose, then you leave Texas with no worse than a two game lead in the second Wild Card as you get ready to welcome in the Mariners at the while Texas (fighting for the #1 seed) takes on the Angels at home. Gain a game in that series and you guarantee at least a one-game playoff (in Oakland) for the right to the second Wild Card spot. That playoff would only be needed if the A's are swept by the Rangers at the Coliseum and the Angels sweep the Mariners at Safeco to end the year.

There is a reason why Baseball Prospectus gives the A's a 74 percent chance of making the playoffs. They just need to figure out why the baseball gods are upset with them.