It was a day that reminded us who plays baseball on a street called King and who plays in a ballpit with rats and sewer spillage. The Giants, now winners of three World Series in SIX years, held a press conference Monday in which they said they’ll increase their payroll … and even kidded about it.
“The payroll concluded with everybody getting paid, I think, in their last check,” general manger Bobby Evans said of a franchise now valued at $2 billion-plus. “We’ll see a rise in the payroll.”
And the A’s, on a day when Billy Beane was given a bigger job title that looks like an eventual exit strategy, saw the Supreme Court formally end any hope of a Silicon Valley stadium.
“Listen, it would be great to have a new facility,” said Beane, now the executive vice president of baseball operations as David Forst inherits the title of general manager. “The facts are the facts. We do our best with what we have.”
So there you have it, further confirmation that this princes-and-paupers narrative will continue in Bay Area baseball for the foreseeable future. The Giants will flaunt their wealth and sellout streak in prosperous San Francisco, armed with the benefit of any consumer doubt thanks to their championship credibility and incomparable ballpark experience. The A’s will keep telling us how poor they are in troubled Oakland, even if majority owner John Fisher comes from Gap Inc. money and has a net worth of $2.7 billion — and they’ll keep telling us about Beane’s cost-efficiency brilliance, even if the “Moneyball” mantra never seemed more hokey and worn after his trades of Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes, two of the sport’s most valuable players this season.
The Giants want more trophies. “The aim is to return to championship caliber of play, get back to the playoffs and win,” said CEO Larry Baer, who interrupted a question to Evans to make sure that point was heard. “That’s the organizational aim. … We’ve got a good, well-functioning organization and a well-functioning model. Business as usual.”
The A’s just want more profit margin for Fisher while waiting for a municipality to help build them a new ballpark, which now will have to be in Oakland or some far-flung suburb if they want to remain in this metropolis. “The court’s decision, while significant, has no impact on our intense and unwavering focus on solving our ballpark issue and providing A’s fans the first-class experience they deserve,” A’s co-owner Lew Wolff said in his usual statement. This miserable way of doing business doesn’t have to be, of course, if Fisher and Wolff simply would instruct Beane to keep a few of his star players for the long term. But Beane’s ego is too far gone to turn back — he’s still living off “Moneyball,” still making lucrative speeches at seminars everywhere — and this allows Fisher to bank ungodly sums each season via Major League Baseball’s revenue-sharing and television fortunes.
It’s still astounding how this 21st-century dichotomy came to be, knowing that the disparity between haves and have-nots isn’t nearly so wide in other two-team markets (Southern California, New York and Chicago). Once upon a time, when Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were buttocks-shooting PEDs in bathroom stalls and Candlestick Park was decaying, the A’s ruled the Bay back in the Tony La Russa era. If only the Haas family had the foresight not to be so agreeable when Bob Lurie, then the owner of the Giants, threatened a move to Florida. Before anyone knew about Mark Zuckerberg or even Steve Jobs, the Haases agreed to let the Giants have territorial rights to Santa Clara County. A few years later, Baer and Peter Magowan led the civic-love-in/money-raising charge to build a private new stadium in what then was a hellish China Basin. The A’s sat still in the deteriorating Coliseum.
Thus, with the prototypical beautiful ballpark matched with their city’s grandeur and the added clout of an emerging Silicon Valley, the Giants flipped the script. They used the sleaze of Barry Bonds to do so, but they became one of baseball’s mightiest franchises while the A’s slipped into “Moneyball” mode. They’ve wanted dearly to move to a park in San Jose, in the bosom of a county with the nation’s highest median income. But because the Giants won’t budge on turf ownership and the Supreme Court refuses to overturn the power of baseball’s exemption from antitrust laws, which dates back to 1922, the A’s are stuck. No wonder the BART overpass to the ballpit is completely covered with fencing. It’s enough to make an A’s fan want to jump.
Beane isn’t long for the job. He has made noises about shifting his passions to soccer, but with Forst continuing as his sidekick, you figure he’ll attempt one more overhaul and try to reach the postseason by 2017. He’s not going to win a World Series — “My s— doesn’t work in the playoffs,” he famously said — and, by the looks of his current roster and the underwhelming returns in some of his giveaway trades, it’s difficult envisioning a winning team anytime soon. If he trades Sonny Gray this offseason, you’re better off watching Canseco and Tony Phillips play for that independent club in Pittsburg.
As for the Giants, Baer and Evans were peppered with questions about a pitching rotation that was battered, broken-down and erratic beyond Madison Bumgarner. Much as they continue to bemoan the flurry of 2015 injuries, it was the rotation that truly cost them another postseason excursion. What I want to know, like everyone else, is whether the payroll hike will involve a serious bid for prized free agents David Price or Zack Greinke, both of whom will want more than $200 million for six or seven years. These are the types of deals the Giants don’t like to make with pitchers who are 30 or older, but they made such a bid last offseason for 31-year-old Jon Lester.
Can we expect a legitimate offer for a major difference-maker to pair with Bumgarner, remove some of his burden and give him a No. 1-A the way Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers have Greinke?
The bosses aren’t saying no, though proud of how they’ve developed so many players internally while the Dodgers recklessly throw around money.
“Yes, there will be some very excellent candidates on the free-agent market,” Evans said. “We’ll pay a lot of attention to them. I don’t want to be focused on them only, because there’s a lot of different ways to improve this rotation.”
He mentioned that he expects Jake Peavy and Matt Cain to be in the rotation. Peavy, yes. Cain? Haven’t the Giants learned from being too sentimental and loyal to the team-high salary they’re paying him? Evans also said Chris Heston is a possibility, with prospect Clayton Blackburn. Wait, don’t they want to keep up with the Dodgers?
“We don’t want to keep up with them. We want to pass them,” said Evans, never afraid to issue throwdowns about the team Down South.
So, knowing how contenders value multiple aces in a pitching-rich era and seeing the young guns assembled by the Mets, aren’t the Giants forced to spend big money to “pass” the competition? Aren’t they obligated to the fans who’ve created the valuation and the sellout streak? Please don’t say you’re going to settle for Mike Leake or Jordan Zimmermann, leaving the rotation without a true No. 2. Finally, the answers were more forthcoming.
“The higher end the better, right?” Evans admitted. “We’ll ultimately take the best guy with the best deal and the best timing that we can get it, if that’s the market we choose to play in. There will be other options with trades and even in the international market. But we will go as far as we can to get the best rotation together that we can.”
Said Baer, looking fidgety without a postseason game to prepare for: “I think we’ve shown over the years that we’re in the ‘deal flow,’ so to speak. We may or may not push the button. There may or may not be the right fit in terms of years, dollars, culture. But we’ll look exhaustively at the market.
“Anything is possible.”
They’re playing coy. They have earned the right.
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.