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MLB

The A’s Have Made A Science Of Giving Up

OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 21: Matt Olson #28 and Matt Chapman #26 of the Oakland Athletics celebrate after Olson hit a solo home run against the Seattle Mariners in the bottom of the first inning at RingCentral Coliseum on September 21, 2021 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

It is once again the time in the life cycle of the Oakland Athletics when their Fangraphs roster resource page looks like a Scattergories phonebook. As is their wont, they smell players approaching their first get-paid contract and move them for a gaggle of minor leaguers who have cool names and thin Baseball-Reference pages because the A’s are in a small market, with only seven million people from which to draw, and crushed by the mighty power of the San Francisco Giants because for the most part they want to be crushed rather than engage in the kind of internecine warfare both fan bases have craved with minimal payout for what is now 54 years.

The A’s have in the last several days rid themselves of elite first baseman Matt Olson, once-elite third baseman Matt Chapman, and one-time ace Chris Bassitt, and have also let Mark Canha, Starling Marte, and Josh Harrison leave in free agency (as if they had a choice), and released Mitch Moreland. They are expected to leave starters Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas on the front lawn as well, because when the A’s detonate a roster, they leave no brick burdened by another brick.

In exchange, they have collected sensational names like Cristian Pache (be kind; he’s in mourning), Shea Langeliers, Adam Oller, Gunnar Hoglund, J.T. Ginn, Zach Logue, and Kirby Snead. It’s as if Billy Beane and David Forst are using Comrade Roth as a consultant.

It has been a predictably tumultuous offseason for the Oakland Anonymii, with the usual harlot-y hints about leaving for towns that have shown remarkably little interest in having them, complaining that the city of Oakland isn’t doing enough to lavish them with a new ballpark nobody is sure they actually prefer to that mythical other city, and now being re-granted revenue sharing money for another three years to get said ballpark started. They have not had an owner actively engaged in the baseball team itself since Walter Haas passed in 1995 and have had three full teardowns since then. They are embarking on a fourth, and all four align with their best players approaching free agency. Winning is everything, except when it impacts the all-important victories-per-dollar-spent competition.

Every A’s fan has known this was coming for more than a year because they can read contract terms too, and reacted with more-aggressive-than-usual ennui last year, drawing the second lowest attendance in baseball and lowest in Oakland since 1979. They too are sort of done with the whole perpetual-remodel model in the same way that they are done with the monthly hunt for a new city to fleece. It’s like HGTV in hell. Their rooting cycle is now in stasis as they get used to a new set of Sheas and Gunnars and Kirbys they may never actually see.

Baseball has been good at testing the patience of its fans, better indeed than other sports, and the A’s aren’t even the worst individual offenders. They have won more often than not (their winning percentage post-Haas is ninth) but their 11 playoff appearances have been abrupt and largely disappointing. They have traded intrepidly on the hopes of a fan base they have tried repeatedly to abandon, and now they are marching boldly toward that familiar drain they will circle for the foreseeable future. Just because it’s that time again.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so frustrating for their abused fan base if it weren’t so predictable. The baseball people assemble players to make a run, the run dies in the first round, the clock ticks and the time comes to blow it up again. Maybe that’s the new normal in baseball, but it’s more normal than new for these guys. Unlike Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and Miami, which always contrive new ways to not even start the process, Oakland tries and then stops, claiming they can’t become a real team that goes for it all the time until they get someone to build them a stadium—as though that weren’t actually their responsibility.

It’s a tiresome excuse, this ballpark kvetch, one that we are reminded of again since the Chapman trade comes on the same day as yet another in a series of tedious votes to approve yet one more procedural yurt on a steppe full of them. This is a stadium saga that has now lasted 22 years and involved six sites in Oakland alone. SIX! Nobody knew Oakland had that much available land for a mythical stadium, and they haven’t even gotten to the dredge-the-bay-and-stick-a-park-in-the-mudflats plan yet. The current scheme, at Howard Terminal, is itself five years old.

In the meantime, the A’s are again stripping the roster down for parts in the most literal way, and the Manaea and Montas deals won’t be far behind. After all, those Hoglunds and Honeywells don’t just wander in off the street. The big-league team must occasionally be sacrificed to upgrade the minor league system as well as the ballpark in Narnia, because … well, who needs a because? Go with what you know.