Long-time fans of the Athletics are probably somewhat accustomed to the boom-and-bust cycle of the club by now, with the team oscillating between contenting and rebuilding throughout the 25-year period since Billy Beane took over as general manager. Although Beane was promoted to executive vice president of baseball operations in 2015 with David Forst taking over as GM, the cycle hasn’t stopped.
However, it’s possible that this up-and-down sequence is now in a deeper valley than ever before. After trading away just about every player making a meaningful salary in the past year, the club finished 2022 with a record of 60-102, their worst showing since losing 108 games in 1979. Financially, the club has stripped the payroll back about as close to zero as a team can get. As MLBTR’s Steve Adams laid out in his recent Offseason Outlook piece, the club has no guaranteed contracts and a small arbitration class, most of whom could plausibly be non-tendered or traded.
Still, the opinion of the front office seems to be that this is a road they’ve been down before. Forst and Beane both spoke to the media this week, with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Matt Kawahara and John Shea both reporting on some of the comments. “As long as I’ve been here and worked with Billy,” Forst says, “we’ve worked with what we’ve got, done our best to put the most competitive team we can out there,” before adding, “I don’t think this is any different from what we’ve dealt with at various times over the last 20-plus years.”
Forst and Beane seem to be aware that the poor results were due to decisions made above field level and aren’t falling at the feet of manager Mark Kotsay. This was his first year at the helm after Bob Melvin departed for the Padres a year ago. “He lost some great players and some critical players, and he handled it as well as you could expect, particularly given your first year,” Beane says of Kotsay’s performance in his first season on the job. It seems that Kotsay won’t be evaluated based on wins and losses for the time being, which makes sense.
Climbing back into contention from this nadir won’t be easy, especially without financial resources. The A’s have never been big spenders, with 2019’s Opening Day payroll of $92MM a franchise record. This year, however, they were barely half that, coming in at $48MM, according to figures from Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Beane tells Kawahara that next year’s payroll is “still in discussion.”
One thing impacting the club’s financial future is the ongoing uncertainty around the stadium situation. The club has been in negotiations with the city of Oakland for quite some time about an ambitious project at Howard Terminal. The club has long hoped to make progress on the $12 billion project this year, before upcoming municipal elections lead to a new mayor and change the face of the city’s council. However, Shea reports that it’s likely to get kicked down to the road until after the elections. If it doesn’t end up working out, the club has explored the possibility of following the example of the Raiders and moving to Las Vegas.
Regardless of the slow progression, Beane remains optimistic. “At some point, we will have a new stadium,” he says. “That’s what makes me feel good. I hope it’s within my tenure. But we will. I think the organization, the city deserve it, and it’ll happen.” Still, until there’s some progress, it seems the team will be in a sort or holding pattern. “The frustration from a team standpoint is, yeah, it would be nice to be at that point where we could have some continuity,” Beane added. “We don’t. And until we have a new venue, we’re not going to.”
Amid all that frustration, Beane doesn’t seem to have given any strong consideration to pursuing outside opportunities. About a year ago, the Mets obtained permission to speak to Beane about a position in their front office, though he withdrew himself from the running. Despite the uncertainty in other areas of the franchise, one thing that can seemingly be counted on is Beane’s presence. “If you project five years from now, I believe I will always have something to do with the A’s, until they don’t want me here,” Beane tells Shea. “What will continue no matter what, until they want to want to kick me out the door, is I will have some involvement and some association always with the A’s, is what I believe. I have no intention of ending that.”