This is about the other team from the Bay — the one which chooses to put faded tarps on a third of the seats of its stadium, the one which makes us remember the way it was and causes us to think it never will be that way again.
This is about the would-be-San-Jose-but-shouldn’t-leave-Oakland A’s.
There they were Monday, in their great-looking home whites, posing for photo day, not worrying about small-market desperation or an owner so intent on shifting the franchise he won’t consider talking to similarly inflexible officials from the area where the team has been more than 40 years.
Baseball: That’s what the baseball players were thinking about, and only baseball. As is proper.
“You always have something to prove,” said Ben Sheets, the pitcher to whom the A’s gave $10 million after arm surgery — a contract that’s a fifth of the franchise payroll — and who has a lot to prove.
Sheets is not exactly this year’s Matt Holliday, but there is much in common — a player whose location beyond July (meaning current club or different club) is absolutely connected to the team’s location (meaning place in the standings).
“Oh absolutely,” said Billy Beane, the general manager. “Ben knows that. We know that. Ideally that’s not the case, but if a guy like Ben’s out there and you don’t do it, yeah, I don’t think there’s any hiding of the possibility.
“Saying anything else would be disingenuous. We got him because we’re hoping he can help these young guys, help this club take a step forward.”
Billy Beane, aka Mr. Moneyball, once turned flax into, if not gold, then a playoff contender. But now the other teams are using his ideas in conjunction with something he is unable to use: cash.
“We’ve seen a significant shift in valuation of skills,” said Beane. “Ten, 11 years ago we used to have a bunch of big, slow guys who hit home runs and got on base. Guess what? Those guys are the highest paid in the game right now. A younger Matt Stairs — finding that sort of power cheaply — would be paid much more money now.”
So it’s money ball, not Moneyball.
And for the A’s, with Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis, it’s laying down a sacrifice bunt and stealing a base, not that Beane believes in that style.
“Listen,” he said, “if I thought there was a correlation between bunting and scoring runs, then we would do that. But there is no correlation. What we want to do is score runs anyway we can.”
And keep the other team from doing the same. With Sheets, if he meets the challenge; Justin Duchscherer, if he’s healthy; Trevor Cahill, if he keeps improving; and Andrew Bailey, Josh Outman and Brad Ziegler, the A’s appear to have a greater chance of succeeding that way.
“Our payroll’s in the mid-50s,” said Beane. “Some of our competitors in the league are four times that.”
Manager Bob Geren can only work what we has, a reality as evident as the bucket in the middle of his office at Phoenix Stadium.
“The roof leaks,” said Geren.
For the A’s, better the roof than the bullpen.