Athletics owner John Fisher has become the subject of increasing levels of ire from a fanbase that has engineered “reverse boycotts” this season and initiated “sell the team” chants at parks throughout the league when the A’s are playing on the road. The vitriol is understandable from a group of fans that is none too pleased with the manner in which the team’s ostensible exit from Oakland has been ushered in, but Fisher unsurprisingly told Mick Akers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal yesterday that those cries have largely fallen on deaf ears.
“I have not considered selling the team,” says Fisher, noting that he and partner Lew Wolff have owned the club since 2005. “… Our goal since then has been to find a new home and build a new home for our team.”
Fisher praised the “great success stories” of new ballparks elsewhere in the league, pointing specifically to Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Atlanta’s Truist Park. He demurred when asked whether the $380MM in public funding to which the state of Nevada and Clark County have committed would meaningfully impact player payroll, instead touting how much his own family plans to invest in the stadium.
Without delving into specifics, Fisher told Akers he “(expects) that our revenues will be considerably higher in our new ballpark than they have been to date, and that that will enable us to have a higher payroll.” Later in the interview, he claimed that the A’s expect an operating loss of $40MM this season and asserted the organization lost around $175MM during the 2020 pandemic season.
Fisher’s claim of the organization’s dire financial circumstances come at a time when the A’s have slashed spending and trotted out one of the worst rosters in recent history. The A’s are on pace for a 47-115 season that’d match the ’19 Orioles for the second-worst record of the past two decades.
The club is less than three years removed from a trio of consecutive playoff appearances, headlined by back-to-back 97-win rosters in 2018-19. Those teams were dismantled via a series of trades as the A’s sliced player payroll from a franchise-record $92MM range in 2019 to just under $57MM this season, as tabulated by Cot’s Baseball Contracts. As the quality of the on-field product has dropped and the franchise has explored relocation, the fanbase has increasingly stayed away. ESPN calculates the A’s average home attendance in 2023 at a little under 10,500 fans. That’s easily the lowest in the majors and just over half the approximate 20,500 average from 2019 — the last time the A’s had a playoff team in a season with fan attendance.
Fisher told Akers that the new stadium should allow the A’s to “keep our young talent around, as opposed to sadly seeing them go to other teams.” The A’s, of course, have regularly traded players to other clubs as their young talent reaches arbitration, often lamenting that the team’s market size, stadium and television contract don’t allow them to retain core players. The open question, naturally, is one of how strongly the A’s have tried to retain said talent. Oakland hasn’t brokered an extension with a pre-arbitration player in nearly a decade. Sean Doolitte’s four-year, $10MM contract was the last extension of its kind.
The A’s reportedly put forth an offer to Matt Chapman at one point, and perhaps they’ve made other attempts in the nine years since Doolittle signed his contract. But it’s difficult to imagine they’ve been as aggressive in trying to lock up homegrown talent as other small-market organizations like the Rays, Guardians, Brewers and Pirates have. The A’s have had dozens of high-quality players graduate from their farm over the years, and the lack of subsequent contract extensions is patently bizarre — particularly for an owner that laments his ability to retain stars and inability to field a competitive payroll; most early career extensions are signed at well below-market values. Perhaps the A’s don’t want to risk being locked into a long-term deal, but the potential “burden” of being bogged down by a pre-arb extension doesn’t seem any more glaring than signing an oft-injured Trevor Rosenthal to a one-year, $11MM pact a couple years back.
Rosenthal aside, the franchise has generally done little on the free agent market. The organization’s largest contract — a $66MM extension for Eric Chavez — predated the Fisher/Wolff ownership group. A $36MM guarantee for Yoenis Cespedes shortly after he defected from Cuba stands as their largest contract of the last 18 years. Among traditional MLB free agents, Billy Butler ($30MM), Ryan Madson ($22MM) and Scott Kazmir ($22MM) are the only players to whom they’ve given a contract exceeding $20MM.
As for the relocation process itself, Fisher told Akers that the A’s have officially submitted their application to MLB. They’ll need approval of 75% of ownership groups to sign off on the move to Vegas. That’s widely expected to be granted. Fisher indicated to Tim Keown of ESPN this evening that the vote has not yet been scheduled.
The A’s lease at the Coliseum runs through the 2024 campaign. The new stadium in Las Vegas isn’t expected to be ready before ’28, leaving the franchise with some uncertainty about their home in the intervening three seasons.