Athletics

Why A's young catchers excited Bob Melvin heading into 2020 season

Why A's young catchers excited Bob Melvin heading into 2020 season

OAKLAND -- The catcher position is an important one, especially for A's manager Bob Melvin.

A 10-year catcher in the bigs, Melvin knows how underappreciated the position can be. But not to him.

For the A's, however, the position appears quite young. If today were Opening Day, 25-year-old Sean Murphy would be the starter behind the plate.

Not that this would be particularly a bad thing. In 60 big-league plate appearances last season, Murphy slashed .245/.333/.566 with four home runs and eight RBI.  

"And certainly the development of Murphy," Melvin told NBC Sports California at A's Media Day last Friday. "[He] did enough last year, and certainly in his minor-league career, to have us excited."

Across three minor-league teams last season, Murphy finished with a .964 OPS, 11 home runs and 31 RBI in 41 games. 

The A's also acquired catcher Austin Allen in the Jurickson Profar trade from the Padres.

"We're excited to see Allen -- supposedly he swings the bat really well," Melvin told NBC Sports California. 

Fans appear to be excited, too.

"Jonah Heim had a great year for us, too -- he's another roster guy for us, a switch-hitting catcher who really kind of had a breakout year for himself last year, so he's another guy we'll be watching."

Heim took advantage of the Pacific Coast League with a .358/.412/.557 line in 35 games with Triple-A Las Vegas. 

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"Who knows if there's something else we do before spring, or during spring -- or whatever, but we're comfortable with the guys we have right now," Melvin added.

The A's reportedly were targeting veteran catcher Matt Wieters before he ultimately signed with the Cardinals earlier this month.

With just a couple of notable catchers left on the free-agent market, the A's could make a bid on one of them, but there's always a possibility of a trade for one of those veteran names to be a part of that squad.

A's president Dave Kaval offers stadium update after deferred payment

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A's president Dave Kaval offers stadium update after deferred payment

The A’s deferred a $1.2 million rental payment due to the Oakland Coliseum in April.

The A’s provided a statement to NBC Sports California and said the Coliseum “has been unable to make the Coliseum available for use by the A's." The team’s president Dave Kaval spoke to The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser for the first time about the payment that was due on April 1 and confirmed the reasoning behind it was due to lack of use.

“Being able to use the facility is obviously very critical,” Kaval said. “We’ve been adhering to the provisions of the lease, which specifically state the payment is due when you can actually use it. ... Hopefully, we can get in there and start training; some other teams already have been doing that and we haven’t been able to.”

Kaval also mentioned to The Chronicle there is a chance for a rent reduction if a scenario for a shortened season is played out as the current agreement is on a per-game basis. 

 “You pay the full amount and then there is adjustment based on how many games you play,” he said.

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For now, there is no final decision on a 2020 season. After roughly four weeks of negotiations between MLB and the Players Association, the union called for a 114-game season that would begin on June 30 and end Oct. 31. While there are more details to the recent proposal including the health and safety of the players, time is ticking for that date.

There’s a possibility should the season start this year, it would happen without fans which is something Kaval is aware of and fully embraces. He’s ensuring the Coliseum is adhering to safety precautions and county guidelines. 

Bruce Maxwell's Colin Kaepernick kneel still sparks hate, misunderstanding

Bruce Maxwell's Colin Kaepernick kneel still sparks hate, misunderstanding

Programming note: Tune in to "Race in America: A Candid Conversation" on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. this week on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming here.

Like Colin Kaepernick, he is a black man who saw injustice and was compelled to respond.

Unlike Kaepernick, his chosen field is dominated by whites.

Like Kaepernick, he imperiled his career over a matter of principle.

Unlike Kaepernick, he has been largely forgotten.

Bruce Maxwell is neither bitter nor regretful. He is scarred. And when he speaks, it is with a strong sense of emotional fatigue. As if he has been through the fire and accepts that the burns upon him will ache forever.

“I still have the messages,” he says. “I had a kid the other day come out on my team and just said, ‘Eff you,’ on my Instagram. He was like, ‘People like you are the problem that we have in this country.’ I had a guy reach out to me last year ... in the middle of my season, down here in Mexico, that told me that he hopes me and my family die a horrible death. I still get ...

“Three years and I still get it. It's the hate. It's the hate.”

Maxwell was speaking this week as a panelist on an NBC Sports Bay Area roundtable discussion, “Race in America: A Candid Conversation,” in reaction to global outrage after George Floyd was asphyxiated beneath the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. This was the latest example of the conduct Maxwell had hoped to eradicate.

On Sept. 23, 2017, Maxwell, a biracial catcher for the Oakland A’s, decided to bring attention to police brutality afflicting the black community. Following the lead of Kaepernick, Maxwell dropped to one knee during the playing of the national anthem before an A’s-Rangers game at the Oakland Coliseum.

“I was just going into a year in the league,” he says. “I was a nobody. I was still technically a rookie. I didn't have millions of dollars in the bank, but this was much bigger than my paycheck.”

With baseball being a sport that generally tilts to the political right, Maxwell might as well have put a bullet into the leg of his Major League career.

Maxwell finished the season with the A’s and, with 109 games on his resume, all with Oakland, hoped to compete for a job in 2018. Five weeks after kneeling for the anthem, he was arrested in Scottsdale, Ariz., and initially charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon – pointing a gun at a food deliverer – and disorderly conduct. In July 2018, after pleading guilty disorderly conduct, Maxwell was sentenced to two years' probation.

A bullet into the other leg of his career. Maxwell appeared 18 games in 2018 and saw his statistics decline for a third consecutive season. He was not re-signed by the A’s that November and has not since been signed by any of the 30 MLB teams.

Maxwell, 29, took his career to Mexico, where last season he was an All-Star, posting a .325/.407/.559 slash line, with 24 home runs and 112 RBIs in 109 games with Acereros de Monclova of the Mexican League.

Though the light that represents MLB gets a little smaller every day, Maxwell, 29, hasn’t given up. He’d love another chance at the bigs. He also realizes his social-justice moment has become a burden that can’t be rinsed off his back.

And he’s OK with that. Indeed, the Floyd tragedy causes Maxwell to relive his own experience, all while the resultant global outrage -- the rioting and looting and increasingly violent police response -- simultaneously drops a knot into his belly.

“I have so many raw emotions about this,” he says. “All I can see is everybody, including George Floyd, I can see everything that came before him. I see Breonna Taylor (an African-American EMT shot in her bed in Louisville on March 13) sleeping in her bed peacefully. I see everything. And it's so many ways to feel and you can't really put it into words.”

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What seems to bother Maxwell most is not what he might have given up, or what he might never again have. It’s the lack of progress on an issue that, in all humanity, should not be an issue at all.

“Nobody wants to see the message,” he says. “All they see is who's doing the stance. It's difficult to comprehend. It's sometimes difficult to stay on that path, but at the same time, it makes it worth the fight because these things need to happen for change to commence in the world that we live in.”

Maxwell dared to make a highly visible but inarguably peaceful protest for a cause any human must consider just. He did it on a baseball field, which takes monumental courage.

Bruce Maxwell should be remembered. Forever. As will Colin Kaepernick.