Why can’t the A’s just start over and begin rebuilding?
Many people have questions about the moves that the Oakland Athletics have made in this and in offseasons past. It makes sense to question them. Why don’t the A’s just tear everything down and rebuild?
That would seem like the way to go. It’s worked out well for the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros who had quite a few poor seasons and are now powerhouses in their respective leagues. They stayed at the bottom to collect high draft picks and they waited for those prospects to develop and now we have young, dynamic players like Kris Bryant and Carlos Correa.
Yet, for some reason, the Athletics never seem to do that even when they have a season like they did in 2015 where the finished at 64-98. The question is why? Why don’t the Athletics just rid themselves of any “big” contracts and start stockpiling prospects. Why not lose for a couple of seasons in order to comeback, like the Astros and Cubs, to dominate their division? Quite simply, the A’s can’t afford that option.
Recently, at Major League Baseball’s Annual Winter Meetings, A’s executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane explained in a bit more detail why exactly it is that the Athletics’ can’t afford to do a complete rebuild and offered insight into the way he and general manager David Forst make the decisions they make and sign the, sometimes seemingly risky or random, players that they do.
According to Beane, rebuilding that way is at least a five-year process and the A’s don’t have the resources to take five years to rebuild.“[Our] market is not going to allow us to punt for five years. We’ve never done that. That’s never been a part of our model.” Beane said.
They need to try to compete every year, while still allowing the prospects they have been stockpiling time to develop. This is very hard to do, to compete while also trying to develop young talent. The don’t really have a choice, however. They may play in a big market area but as Beane pointed out, “There are two teams in our market. There’s one in the third-largest city in America, that’s Houston.”
He’s also sure to point out that the A’s are not a Bay Area team – that they play in Oakland at O.Co Coliseum. Even the Cubs can lose but still draw crowds due to Wrigley Field’s history, ambiance and surrounding Wrigleyville community when they win only 66 games. In 2013 the Cubs won a 30 fewer games than the A’s who won 96 games and their division – yet the Cubs still drew bigger crowds and as a result made more revenue.
Even still as ESPN’s Eno Sarris writes, “Couldn’t the Athletics still cut money, be worse, get the high picks and collect talent that way?”
Beane’s response is that it’s nice for teams (like the Cubs) that can rely on a stable season ticket base. However, for the A’s it’s not that easy. Yes, they can, for the most part, rely on the same 15,000 people to attend almost every game but season ticket holders buy different types of season ticket packages, while others won’t buy tickets at all if they are angry with moves that have been made. There was a call on social media in 2014 to boycott A’s games after Josh Donaldson was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. Some people actually did in 2015, making it harder not easier for the A’s to continue to compete.
“We have payroll limitations,” Beane explained. “The great thing about having a season ticket base is there’s a fixed amount you can rely upon.”
The A’s can’t rely on that season ticket base for revenue because many of the fans simply do not understand the situation that they A’s are in. There is that, and the fact that the team plays in an old stadium and the casual fan would rather visit the park across the bay.
In fact, Beane is essentially guessing at how much he really has to spend. Even when the A’s are good as they were in 2013 they drew 1.8 million in attendance. When they were bad in 2015 they drew 1.77 million in attendance according to data provided by ESPN. Whether the team is good or bad they still don’t draw huge crowds and it’s always a guessing game on what kind of money will be available to pay the current players and then they get to see what they have left to work with the following year.
“We’ve realized that if we’re a little bit over, and we’re playing well, we can catch up to it,” he admitted. “But if we’re not, we need to be ready to have an exit strategy, too, in terms of payroll.”
Yet another main reason that using a five year plan and doing a complete rebuild wouldn’t work in Oakland is that even if they bring up a whole crop of good, young players at the same time, then they would be in trouble trying to pay them once they were arbitration eligible or unable to re-sign them once they hit free agency. That’s a main reason why the team is forced to trade away most of their stars. There just isn’t enough money to keep them all.
“One of the beauties of what they are doing is that they have the ability to hold on to those players for a while, “ Beane says of the Cubs and Astros.“That would be a challenge for us.” With all the kids hitting their arbitration years at once the A’s wouldn’t be able to afford to keep everyone by year three of this five-year rebuild plan.
The A’s have attempted to start rebuilding but they also have to field a relatively decent MLB caliber club on the field which almost always takes their entire payroll. “I think our market demands it,” Beane says.
So how in the world do the Athletics intend to improve their team?
Right now they are attempting to balance bringing up a small core of prospects (much smaller than that of other rebuilding clubs) while trying to remain competitive. It’s not an easy task which is why most teams prefer the five-year plan. It is an extremely difficult balance to walk.
While trading their stars away last season led to the team having the worst record since Beane took over as general manager 18 years ago, they did manage to collect a core group of prospects that they are planning to try to hold onto, including shortstop Franklin Barreto, first baseman Matt Olson, catcher Jacob Nottingham, lefty Sean Manaea, third basemen Matt Chapman and Renato Nunez.
Beane admits that there will be a gap between now and when these High Class-A and Double-A level players will be ready for the big leagues. He also admits that they may not always have winning seasons, no matter how hard they work to make it happen.
He also says that although the A’s have not changed their unique model that has kept them competitive over the years, the A’s have made the playoffs eight times in the 16 seasons that have been played in this century, they are going to attempt modify it slightly “to keep that core group of kids together.”
In order to attempt to do this the A’s are looking for those bargain players who are often shunned by other teams for one reason or another. They can sign them relatively cheap and perhaps, as they have multiple times in the past find a diamond in the rough.
Just Saturday they finalized a deal with starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez. Alvarez is just 25 years old and has already thrown a no-hitter in 2013 and was an All-Star in 2014. He suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery after four win-less starts in 2015. His former team, the Miami Marlins, then non-tendered him in order to avoid going through arbitration. As a result the A’s were able to sign Alvarez to a one-year contract worth approximately $4 million plus incentives. There’s a chance he’ll never return to his old form but the Athletics are used to taking these kinds of chances and more often than not they have worked out.
For example, Beane was criticized for the moves he made after the 2011 season yet the A’s went on to make three straight postseason appearances and win two straight division titles.
If they can do that again, while trying to keep a core group of prospects together, remains to be seen. However, even if they must endure one or two more mediocre seasons, if they are successful the Athletics may just be able to add a few veteran players to that “core group of kids” and the World Series Championship that has so far eluded Beane may, in fact, become a reality.
(use the link above if you’d like to read the less wordy version! LOL!)