Drayer: How close are the A’s to challenging the Mariners as a contender?
Feb 9, 2023, 9:00 AM
(Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
With MLB spring training set to begin next week, Mariners insider Shannon Drayer is taking a look around the division this week with the help of conversations from Seattle Sports’ Hot Stove with insiders that cover the Mariners rivals in the AL West. In this installment, it’s all about the Oakland Athletics.
• 2022 record: 60-102 (fifth AL West)
• Additions: Jesús Aguilar, Shintaro Fujinami, Trevor May, Aledmys Díaz, Jace Peterson, Manny Piña, Kyle Muller, Chad Smith, Brent Rooker
• Subtractions: Sean Murphy, Cole Irvin, Joel Payamps, Chad Pinder, Stephen Vogt, Vimael Machín, Tyler Cyr
• 2023 ZiPS projection excerpt: “Are the A’s the most boring organization in baseball?”
• 2022 record: 90-72 (second AL West, third wild card)
• Additions: Teoscar Hernández, Kolten Wong, AJ Pollock, Trevor Gott, Tommy La Stella, Justin Topa, Cooper Hummel
• Subtractions: Mitch Haniger, Erik Swanson, Jesse Winker, Abraham Toro, Carlos Santana, Adam Frazier, Kyle Lewis, Luis Torrens, Matthew Boyd, Curt Casali
• 2023 ZiPS projection excerpt: “The Mariners look like an 85-90 win team, with a tighter range of outcomes than most clubs. That’s fun and makes the M’s a serious contender.”
You likely know the drill with the Oakland A’s by now. For over two decades now it has been a cycle of competition windows and step-back periods where everyone goes. They don’t spend and they are heavily reliant on trades. To give us a closer look at the process, where they are in that process and an update on their stadium situation, we talked with A’s Cast host Chris Townsend on a recent Hot Stove Show.
“We are basically what you see when it comes to what you need to do if you want to be competitive in modern baseball and be a smaller market,” he said. “It is you’re going to have your opportunity to win two, three years, maybe four at most. And then you take a step back. We’re in that step back again.”
There is no panic that the team last season endured just their second 100-loss season since moving from Kansas City. It’s allowed in the plan. While step backs, teardowns and rebuilds come in all forms, Townsend points out that the aim with the A’s is to do it a bit differently, specifically when it comes to acquisitions.
“We don’t go so much to where we’re going to go through five, six years of a rebuild,” he pointed out. “We don’t go full dumpster fire. We’re not sitting here taking guys from other teams who are 18,19, 20 years old. A lot of the guys that we end up picking up in these trades are players that have had a little big league time or they’re about ready for the big leagues. So our journey to the bottom, let’s just say isn’t as long as most teams traditionally.”
The A’s are able to focus on going after the more seasoned club controllable players because they don’t prioritize supplementing the lower minors through trades. That pipeline plays a major part in sustaining winning something that has not seemed to be a part of their longterm plan. They are on again, off again.
“It’s kind of like in Billy Beane and David Forst we trust because they have that track record that we’re never bad for that long and then before you know it, we sneak back up on you. And there we are in the postseason so we’re probably a year or two away,” said Townsend.
It’s worth noting that while Billy Beane’s name has become almost synonymous with the Oakland A’s he’s taken a major step back and is no longer running the day-to-day operations. That has fallen to current general manager David Forst.
“We knew this was coming a long time ago,” said Townsend. “You’ve got to realize he took over in 1997. He’s already on boards of different companies. He’s on a board of a soccer team, he’s got a lot of interest other than running a baseball team, day to day. Right now, he is just going to be the right-hand man of our owner, John Fisher. He’s here for the organization, David Forst will still run stuff through Billy, but Billy is not actually running (baseball operations) anymore. He’s got the fancy title, but he’s the right-hand man to our owner and not only for the A’s, our owner has a lot of other business interests. And Billy has a lot of interests outside of baseball, too. So this was just natural for him to start doing other things, but still being a part of the A’s family because as he said in his press conference, ‘this is who I am. This is where I essentially grew up.’ And he never wants to leave that.”
Townsend acknowledged that the team is likely a year or two away from returning to being a threat for the postseason. Who will be leading that charge on the field? The hope is some of the players we saw acquired in the last two years.
“A lot has to do with pitching like Ken Waldichuk and JP Sears,” said Townsend. “They’re two of the guys we got from the Yankees. Sears actually pitched well at the big league level for the Yankees before we got him. Ken Waldichuk, he’s definitely a stuff guy. We got Kyle Muller in the Sean Murphy trade, a big left-handed pitcher. Offensive-wise, Zack Gelof was our second-round pick out of Virginia in ’21. He’s blossomed and put up some big numbers. We expect him to show up this year. Tyler Soderstrom, his dad was a former first-round pick for the San Francisco Giants. His dad has one of those baseball camps kind of like a Driveline where they’re all going to get better. This kid’s been playing with all these guys. You’re going to see him this year. So there’s talent that’s coming. They’re not maybe the biggest names, but they’re definitely guys that can play that are going to show up and they’re going to help.”
It is helpful to the process that the A’s have a manager who is on board with the plan. The succession plan for the manager Bob Melvin, who led them through six playoff seasons, was perhaps better than that of some of their superstars. Former A Mark Kotsay was ready to go, having both played for the team and coached under Melvin.
“He’s he’s very much like Bob 2.0,” said Townsend. “Kotsay obviously knew coming in what the deal was. You’re going to have a lot of different players last year who was going to kind of be, we’ll call it as it is, a train wreck, but we’ll get better fast. He had a speech at spring training that was great, you know, because he’s been through everything. The message that he had for everybody at the big league level all the way down was you’re all going to get an opportunity. And Mark Kotsay did something last year that I don’t think a lot of veteran managers do. He had a lot of connection with the young players in our minor league system, he was getting on Zoom calls with guys in A-ball with guys down in Arizona in the rookie league. He was a manager that you were hearing his voice, you were seeing his face. He was saying, ‘Hey, guys, this is your goal. This is where you want to be.'”
Of course, the biggest question looming over the A’s and their future is where the “this is where you want to be,” will actually be. There stadium situation has been up in the air for years now with some reports having them already all but relocated to Las Vegas. If you have been following the news closely however, you will see that a door to a stadium at Howard Terminal in Oakland is far from closed.
“It’s as our team president David Kaval says. It’s two tiers. It’s parallel paths,” said Townsend of the pursuit of stadiums in Oakland and Las Vegas. “Hopefully we’re going to find out coming up here, alright, is it Oakland or is it Vegas? Right now they’re down meeting in Vegas. There’s been a lot of meetings down in Vegas. So we’re going see, but it is hard to build in California. It is hard to build on Port land. It’s hard dealing with city officials when they have issues that are beyond baseball.”
That said, meaningful progress has been made on the Howard Terminal site and when push comes to shove, Townsend’s gut tells him that is where the A’s will be in the future.
“I think it gets done in Oakland, because it’s gotten to be so far,” he said. “And Oakland needs this project. Oakland needs this project for jobs. So many things after the pandemic, different projects stalled and have gone away in Oakland. This is the one major project, the construction of everything that’s going to be around it, all the commercial real estate property, all the condos, all the stuff that goes on. I mean, the local builders and unions and all these people are behind it, because it’s going be jobs. And then you’re talking about turning a part of Oakland into just a great, we see it 13 miles away (Pac Bell Park). If you look at that part South of Market Street in San Francisco, what it looked like before Pac Bell was open, and what it looks like now, you’d be amazed. What it can do for a city? We have that blueprint.
“So I think we’re just so far down the line. And I think what you need to realize is that there’s so much money to be made off this project that I think you’re kind of crazy to walk away from it once again, building on the Bay, the waterfront is an opportunity not many people get. So you build a ballpark. You build it right there on the water. It could be something really, really special.”