So the baseball season is something that happens to other people now, is it?
I mean, it doesn’t have to be that way, of course. Playoff baseball is the best, as long as one team doesn’t score a lot early and bore the game into submission. You know, like the New York Yankees did to Oakland Wednesday night.
But now that the offseason has been forced upon you, it is time to examine both local teams in tandem because, as we are about to learn, the massive gaps in interest between the Giants and A’s are closing, and are going to continue to close. This has at least a small chance to finally be more than just a split-cap rivalry.
Given that, this is a massive offseason for both teams, for vaguely related reasons. Allow us a moment here:
THE FRONT OFFICE/THE OWNER
In Oakland, John Fisher has to get off the contractual dime with Billy Beane, David Forst and Bob Melvin, a seeming no-brainer given the results (the A’s have outperformed the Giants by 36 games since the All-Star break of 2016, which is the demarcation line for the freefall of the Giants and therefore the one we intend to use) but a question mark because Fisher has overseen change in all the non-baseball areas of the franchise as the annual revenue sharing gift from Major League Baseball is now half of what it has been, and will vanish in two years.
And we're not even asking him to say and do something public like submit to a press conference. We know better than that.
In San Francisco, Larry Baer, who is not a baseball guy and never can be, has to make an important baseball hire and have his name slapped all over the result. Being a face of the franchise in good times is easy work, but in lean ones can be its own path to doom. Baer has to decide whether the baseball side needs a complete cleanout or an incremental one, pick the right person to oversee that, and let said person run with his backing. The history of struggling franchises is of owners/presidents deciding they are experts in things they are not expert in is almost uniformly disastrous (see Jerry Jones for further evidence). Baer either makes a brilliant hire and leaves said hire to do what must be done, or he is doomed to repeat that history.
In Oakland, the time for unfocused blathering and stammering is long past over, and Fisher has to pick a site for the park he has always believed would be the franchise’s lifeline to independent profitability. The latest signs point toward Howard Terminal, especially with the new legal fast-tracking done in Sacramento, but a remodeled Coliseum was fast-tracked, and Peralta was fast-tracked, and San Jose was fast-tracked, and Fremont before that. The argument about where to put the park has gone on for far too long, to the point where most folks have simply lost interest. It is time for Fisher to actually put on a yellow hardhat, pose for a silly photo with a bunch of vacant-looking city big shots and look like there is an actual plan upon which action will be taken.
In addition, their average crowd rose only by 1,200 this past year, though it was nearly 3,800 better from first half to second. They need to find ways to connect with even more people in the town in which they claim to be rooted. Maybe they sign Marshawn Lynch to work out of the bullpen.
In San Francisco, official attendance figures have dropped by 2,700-plus since the last World Series honeymoon in 2015, and nobody expects that figure to do anything but decelerate further. The illusion of ticket scarcity is a tough one to lose, and even after you acknowledge that official crowd counts are routinely inflated and otherwise not indicative of actual filled seats, the Giants are now a ridiculously easy and inexpensive ticket to get and after two monstrously bland/bad years, that is only going to increase.
THE PITCHERS MOUND
In Oakland, the A’s need at least one starting pitcher from the outside world and full-time health from injured alums like Jharel Cotton and Andrew Triggs and prospectissimos Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk. They’ll also need to thin out a bit of their bullpen herd, though picking the right time to do that depends on how quickly they can repopulate the rotation. Bullpenning is charming and all, but it is not yet as effective as starters who last past the first trip to the restroom.
In San Francisco, where the ballpark demands pitching to be the greatest asset and most crying need, the need is hyperacute. Dereck Rodriguez might be the real deal, but the second most noteworthy issue is whether to retain Madison Bumgarner or go in full-on housecleaning mode and use him as asset attraction. The Giants lack pitching across the board, which nearly matches their absence of hitters, but everyone agrees that task will take multiple seasons. The rebuild they denied they needed is now well into Defcon 1.
THE REST OF THE ROSTER
In Oakland, Beane has to announce loudly and aggressively, “These are our guys. It’s safe to buy their jerseys. Honest. This time I really mean it. We’ll sign guys before we need to, just to show you how tied to this team we really are. Josh Donaldson is the old way of doing business.”
And then he has to hope people believe him this time.
In San Francisco, Executive X has to announce loudly and aggressively, “Other than Buster Posey, who is on scholarship, we are SO open for business. If you can’t make us an offer, we’ll make one to you. Plus, free delivery. You’ll barely recognize us in two years. Hell, I barely recognize us now.”
And then he or she has to hope not to be overruled by the nostalgia wing of the franchise.
In Oakland, the A’s have worn their defensive posture as The Team Nobody Looks At for longer than is considered appealing. It is time to say in a clear, loud voice, “If you want baseball, you come to us. It's not even a choice any more. No more whining about the park, or the city, or anything else. We’re where the cool kids are going to hang out next year.”
You know. Swag it up a bit.
In San Francisco, the Giants have worn their smug posture as The Happiest Place With Bases On Earth for far longer than is considered appealing. It is time to say, “The World Series years are beloved but gone, mined clean, played out, and we’re not going to reference those days again until we fix these days.”
In the meantime, the divisional series begin tonight. That is, for those of you who are done pouting that your seasons ended too early.