The A’s master plan is falling apart because of what’s happening off the field, not on it.
The A’s blueprint has been clear: Kiss off much of the current fan base, rebuild the organization to provide a consistent winner from 2011 on and build a new park in Fremont to attract rich fans from Silicon Valley.
The first part of the plan has worked perfectly. They couldn’t have done a better job of alienating their current fans if they had planned it.
They’ve closed out the third deck, which had cheap seats and great views. They raised ticket prices this year while fielding what is essentially a Triple-A team. They have a network of radio stations which have a reach of about 10 miles. They have continually pitched tickets for their mythical Fremont park, at a site which would be difficult to near-impossible for many of their current fans to reach.
The second part of the plan is problematical. A’s general manager Billy Beane has done an excellent job of corraling top prospects in his trades, but players develop evenly. At this point, two outfielders stand out — Ryan Sweeney, who has been consistent all year when he’s been healthy and will be a solid major leaguer, and Carlos Gonzalez, who was optioned to Sacramento when he fell into a long hitting slump, but has all the tools to be a star. Among the pitchers, Brad Ziegler and Joey Devine have been very impressive in relief, and starter Sean Gallagher has shown a good arm.
Otherwise, it’s been a season-long audition, and it’s likely to remain that way for at least another season, and possibly two, because many of the A’s best prospects are still in the minors.
The Giants are in much the same position, but the Giants at least trot out Tim Lincecum, who seems to be starting a Hall of Fame career every five days. He’s certainly worth the price of admission, even with the Giants’ high ticket prices.
The A’s have nobody like that. Beane believes winning teams bring out the fans, not star players, and I agree — but I also know that fans like to see star players. With the A’s, there’s been a steady stream of stars leaving as free agents, and that has been one of the primary reasons their attendance has dropped so far from the days when the late Walter Haas owned the team.
Meanwhile, the Fremont fantasy appears all but officially dead. The plan — having a “village” of shops and homes surrounding the park — is a good one, but only if it’s in an urban area. There was never any reason to think business owners and home owners would flock to what has been a wasteland.
It was strictly a real estate deal for owner Lewis Wolff. He deserted Oakland because city politicians wouldn’t help him buy up the land north of 66th Street cheaply so he could build there. He also rejected the site proposed by City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente just north of Jack London Square because there was no land for him to develop.
Now, with the falling market, the Fremont plan isn’t even a good real estate deal.
So, Wolff had better go to Plan B. You mean he has no Plan B? That’s what happens when an owner thinks real estate, not baseball.