Entering Wednesday, the Bay Area’s two baseball teams were separated by just half a game in record, and the Giants’ path to the playoffs seemed more reasonable — San Francisco’s few remaining healthy veterans are hot, and if they can hang around .500 until their pile of injured talent returns, they seem well-prepared for a Wild Card run.
The other side of that “if,” though, is an old and mediocre Giants squad whose future is more uncertain than it has been for more than a decade. Meanwhile, in Oakland, the future is bright; and for the first time in a while, it seems safe for A’s fans to open their hearts and love again.
It’s become trite in the Bay Area sports scene to presume that any Oakland player who succeeds will soon be headed out of town, which must be tantamount to torture for the #RootedInOakland crowd. The franchise’s suggestion that it will open up the checkbook when it opens a new ballpark — overt or not, sincere or not — has surely sounded like nails on a chalkboard for a while now.
I can’t guarantee a ballpark opening date — or even a ballpark site — but fandom isn’t about guaranteeing anything; it’s about what we can talk ourselves into, and when it’s worth doing so. Well, we now have what seems like legitimate reason to be hopeful about a new home, and there is a team on the field that is well worth getting excited about.
First, they are a ton of fun already. As someone who watches an awful lot of both Bay Area teams, though, I can certify that .500 is much more exciting when you can see the future in action. In a welcome twist for Oakland fans, this future is one they may actually participate in.
Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis are two of baseball’s top run producers, and the team is top ten in the Major Leagues in homers, doubles and OPS. There’s an ace in Sean Manaea and two of the sport’s best relief pitchers in Lou Trivino and Blake Treinen.
Matt Chapman is the crown jewel on offense — the thrilling third-baseman just turned 25 — and though his average is sub-.250 right now, he has seven homers, four doubles, three triples and 19 RBIs at the approximate quarter pole. He’s a tremendous defensive player, with the potential to be a Gold Glover at the hot corner, and he won’t become a free agent until 2024, after A’s president Dave Kaval’s target date for the opening of a new ballpark (more on that later).
Dustin Fowler and Matt Olson are also on that timeline. Fowler is just 23, with potential to be the center fielder of the future. Olson, at 24, is a quality defensive first-baseman who hit homers at an absurd rate in a short debut last season and has shown flashes of that promise this year, despite striking out in more than a third of his ABs.
From the mound, Manaea is delivering on his potential right before our eyes — he was an absolute machine in his first six starts, going 4-2 with a 1.03 ERA and a no-hitter. He is scheduled to be a free agent in 2023, but if the A’s are opening a new building, he could be just the guy to earn the first big deal of the new era and start the ballpark’s first opening game.
Daniel Mengden is my personal favorite thanks to a delightfully old-school aesthetic, complete with Rollie Fingers mustache and early-20th-century windup theatrics. The anachronistic 25-year-old is also 3-2 with a 2.97 ERA since April 11, has held opponents to one earned run in four of his last six outings, and is under team control through 2023.
What you haven’t yet seen may be even better. The A’s have six of FanGraphs’ Top 100 prospects, plus James Kaprelian, a hard-throwing starter acquired in exchange for Sonny Gray who was on a fast track before Tommy John surgery — from which he is close to returning. He could be up as soon as this season.
The rest of the haul from the Yankees includes the aforementioned Fowler and Jorge Mateo, a speed monster who tore up Double-A last season. You may have heard of Franklin Barreto, but how about catcher Sean Murphy? He’s hitting .312 with four home runs, 20 RBIs and 26 runs scored at Double-A right now and projected to compete for a spot on the big league roster next season.
On the mound, A’s fans got a taste of A.J. Puk’s Randy Johnson impression during spring training, when he opened camp without allowing one earned run in his first ten innings. Jesus Luzardo is only 20 but dominated A-ball with mid-90s stuff and “advanced command,” according to FanGraphs. He’s looked good in three of his four starts at Double-A since a late-April call-up. Cal product Daulton Jefferies, Grant Holmes and Logan Shore are absent from the Top 100, but are 23-or-under and well-regarded pitching prospects.
It’s an embarrassment of about-to-be-riches, for a team that is finally (hopefully) in position to be able to retain valuable assets when they reach maturity.
On the stadium front, Tuesday night’s Oakland City Council vote means the team officially has exclusive negotiating agreements with two sites — Howard Terminal and the current Coliseum location. The window for the Coliseum is the shorter one at nine months, which suggests that the proactive Kaval would like to settle on a spot before the start of next baseball season.
Kaval has said he wants to open a park for the 2023 season. The obvious analog would be the Golden State Warriors’ new Chase Center — a building that will have been in the works at its current site for five years by the time it opens (the 2019-20 NBA season), with nearly three spent fighting a host of opposition before groundbreaking in January of 2017.
In a highly-optimistic-but-not-wholly-insane, best-case scenario, the A’s site approval goes swimmingly and opposition is minimal, and a 2019 groundbreaking could potentially mean a 2022 opening. A more reasonable positive scenario involves some delays, but 2023 seems well within the realm of possibility.
Certainly there are morbid, worst-case scenarios — a new stadium in Oakland might never materialize; worse, the franchise could settle comfortably into its new home and simply do business the same way they have been. But again, fandom isn’t about worst-case scenarios, it’s about what we can convince ourselves of and whether it’s worth it.
If a new ballpark opening in 2023 is realistic, it is very much worth embracing this A’s team.
Now is the time*, sports fans — adopt the A’s.
*Because in five years, you want to be the one saying “I told you so.”
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on the Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 the Game, usually on weekends. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. You can find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.