Amid the opening days of the Cactus League schedule, the Oakland A’s sent out a press release that caught the eye.
“The Treehouse at the Oakland Coliseum set to debut this season”
A 10,000-square-foot “destination area” perched above the left-field bleachers — the Treehouse is complete with an indoor bar, an outdoor bar and a pair of redwood decks.
“We are committed to enhancing the fan experience at the Coliseum and delivering dynamic and new ways to enjoy A’s baseball,” president Dave Kaval boasted in a statement. “The Treehouse will provide fans a place to gather, watch our games, and connect in an environment that is casual, fun, and authentically Oakland.”
In the dying days of February, the A’s finally made their splashy — if reasonably priced — offseason addition. The Treehouse will cost roughly $1.1 million per a team source.
The problem: The upgrade is all about fan experience, not the on-field product.
During a glacial offseason that left dozens of MLB players without jobs, the A’s were conspicuous for their lack of spending.
Here’s the list of major league free agents the A’s signed …
The veteran swingman is an unquestionably valuable acquisition, but his contract guarantees him just $10 million over two seasons. The club also added Brandon Moss, Ryan Buchter and Stephen Piscotty in trades — a commitment of approximately $38 million between now and 2022 — but a lone $10 million free-agent outlay is no way to pass an offseason.
The frugality has been duly noted. On Tuesday, the Players Associate singled out four teams — the A’s, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays — in a grievance to the league.
A Deadspin headline summarized the argument best: MLBPA Files Grievance Against Four Teams For Being Cheap Bastards With Revenue-Sharing Money.
The numbers do not look kindly on the A’s.
The team drew a revenue sharing check worth a reported $20 million and also collected a $50 million MLB Advanced Media subsidy.
As it currently stands, the 25-man opening day payroll is in the neighborhood of $60 million — down from the $81.7 million figure a season ago, per Spotrac.
There are legitimate baseball arguments for — and against — the club’s financial restraint. The core of position players — headlined by Khris Davis, Marcus Semien, Matt Chapman, Matt Olson and Franklin Barreto (sooner rather than later) — is good enough to make last year’s summer upstarts a viable threat for a wild-card run.
The argument begins to crumble when the microscope focuses in on the rotation, which finished No. 20 in ERA and No. 19 in innings pitched and didn’t receive a single upgrade via free agency or trade.
That’s the area that will doom the A’s should the team come up short in its pursuit in for one of the wild-card spots.
That’s the same chase that the San Francisco Giants — though from a much different approach and in a different league — find themselves engaged in. While the A’s have been typically cheap, the Giants spent the winter as one of the sport’s most aggressive and contrarian spenders.
While much of baseball has eschewed the veteran free agent, the Giants went to work importing old players. They traded for Evan Longoria (32 years old), dealt for Andrew McCutchen (31), signed Tony Watson (32), inked Austin Jackson (31) and re-signed Nick Hundley (34). Minor league free agents but major league veterans Gregor Blanco (34) and Derek Holland (31) also found a fit in the over-30 club.
The money is no joke either. Longoria is due roughly $72 million over the next five seasons, McCutchen makes $14.5 million on his expiring deal, Watson will net at least $9 million over the next two years, Jackson makes $6 million over a pair of seasons and Hundley makes $2.5 million in 2018. That’s $104 million in future salary — not an insignificant sum.
The current group — especially in the outfield and at third base — is markedly improved from last year’s iteration of the Giants. The obvious issue is that executive vice president of baseball ops Brian Sabean has constructed a club that would have been far more formidable in 2014 than it will be in the season to come.
The Giants, for better or worse, have gone back to the formula that served them so well in 2014 — the final season of three even-year titles — and carried the team to the verge of upsetting the eventual champ Chicago Cubs in 2016. Build a roster that can secure a wild-card berth and let Madison Bumgarner handle it from there.
As Opening Day approaches, the A’s and the Giants find themselves on two very different paths but they’re both headed to the same destination — at least that’s the hope.