With the trade of fan favorite Sean Doolittle and top-salaried Ryan Madson, the A’s shifted into full long-range future mode. But was this an up-shift, or just another downshift?
For now, definitely down. It’s depressing as hell to lose one of the last true fixtures on the team, and Doolittle has been one of the classiest acts on the Bay Area sports scene in recent years. We knew something was coming, of course. It was just a matter of who, when and where and which unfamiliar names would be coming in return.
Look, we’ve learned the drill. Bring up the kids, refine them into quality major leaguers, then trade them away for more kids. Start the cycle again and sustain the pretense of a grand plan.
This time it’ll be different, they say. New team president Dave Kaval strives to build that new ballpark that’s been in the planning stages for a decade. Billy Beane is promising that this latest crop of youngsters will have a lot better chance to stick with long-term deals because of increased franchise stability. Everybody’s going to live happily ever after once they pull it off.
A’s fans – the smart ones, anyway – remain suspicious, if not downright cynical. They should be, and here’s why: Despite the best intentions of Kaval and Beane, the man who controls the money and pushes all the big buttons remains a total mystery.
John Fisher has owned roughly 80 percent of the A’s for 11 years now and we still don’t know him from Howard Hughes, the man he seems wont to emulate. Fisher doesn’t talk to the media. He doesn’t speak in public on behalf of the team. He keeps such a low profile, it’s hard to get a handle on how many games he actually attends. For all we know, he’s the person in the Stomper costume.
We have no idea what Fisher’s true intentions are with the A’s, except through appointed emissaries who may be guessing themselves. We have no idea what he’s thinking, whether he knows anything about baseball, whether owning the A’s is merely a profit venture or whether he truly cares about building a winner in a city other sports teams are escaping.
Contrast that with Joe Lacob, or even Mark Davis. At least we know where they stand and what they want. Fisher? Sorry, folks, no clue. Shook the man’s hand once in front of the A’s dugout and haven’t talked to him since. That was around 2007. Bay Area News Group colleague Elliott Almond interviewed him briefly last year when the Avaya Stadium opened in San Jose, but it was one of the rare times he’d been quoted anywhere.
The Wizard of Oz eventually came out from behind the curtain. He turned out to be a pretty swell guy, albeit a bit eccentric. Now the Wizard of A’s needs to do the same thing, in some way, shape or form. Who is Fisher? He might be the most engaging, smart, committed guy we’d ever want to meet. Fact is, we just don’t know. We haven’t known for 11 years.
Hence, how can we trust him and all these grand plans we keep hearing about the A’s future in Oakland? Tough to get a read on a sphinx.
Thanks to Major League Baseball, Fisher may be forced into view at some point. We can only hope. The league is phasing out the revenue-sharing freebie that has allowed the A’s to subsist and even stay in the black without putting much into the operation or fretting about those low Coliseum attendance figures. The timing — revenue sharing is scheduled to end altogether in 2020 — seems to coincide with this new fantasy ballpark opening and this alleged great young team of prospects being ready to win.
Again, we’ll see, but remain suspicious. And maybe demand to hear from the real boss. It’s easy to fall in love with Kaval’s optimism, enthusiasm and pure energy to work the ballpark side. He’s promising a site announcement before the end of the season. Presumably, at that time, we might even hear about how the whole thing will be financed, and when a shovel might hit dirt.
As for Beane, despite some trades that have severely dulled the allegiance of A’s fans – and dealing Doolittle on the heels of cutting Stephen Vogt certainly won’t help that – he has built teams in two eras with limited resources that at least challenged for championships, even if he came up empty both times. With up-and-coming prospects such as Matt Chapman, Franklin Barreto, Ryon Healy, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Gossett and others still in the pipeline like A.J. Puk, Grant Holmes and Lazaro Armenteros, there’s a future nucleus very much in the works.
But it all means nothing if the A’s maintain the status quo of silent, enigmatic ownership. If the A’s continue to brand themselves as a Little Engine That Could small-market team in one of the richest regions in the country with a man reportedly worth $2.3 billion at the helm, nobody’s buying in anymore. Lew Wolff found that out the hard way.
If they want our undivided attention, it’s time for the A’s to reform the whole operational dynamic into a unified, fully focused and transparent operation, and that has to start with the man at the top. What does Fisher want out of this baseball team? What will he do to ensure its stability and growth? How can he convince fans that he means business and he’ll be serving their best interests in addition to his own?
At this stage of the game, there’s only one way to do it: Come out, come out, wherever you are, John, and tell us.
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