There are plenty of storylines for the Oakland Athletics this offseason, but unfortunately none of them have anything to do with their on-field product. Maybe that’s for the best, though, because the on-field product looks like it’s going to be terrible.
The Athletics have made plans to relocate to Las Vegas in 2028, but still have a number of items that must be checked off before that happens. The team received approval from MLB owners for the move in November, and plan to build a stadium on the nine-acre site of the Tropicana Las Vegas. However, no updated renderings of the proposed $1.5 billion stadium have been released. The franchise secured $380 million in public money to help with the project, but that faces opposition from a local group called Schools Over Stadiums, which is pushing for a referendum that would put the funding to a vote. If the referendum succeeds at diverting the money, relocation would suffer a substantial roadblock. In addition, the Tropicana isn’t even closed yet, much less demolished — closure is set for April. If many of these details aren’t worked out soon, a potential opening of a new stadium in 2028 could be in jeopardy. Additionally, a teacher-backed political action committee recently sued and are challenging the legality of the bill that granted the $380 million in public money for the stadium in Las Vegas. So, this situation is far from settled.
All of that sets up a big question: where in the world is the team going to play between 2025 and 2028? While they’ll stay in Oakland for this coming year, the team’s lease at the Coliseum expires at the end of the season. Things have become so frosty between Athletics ownership and the City of Oakland that an extension is unlikely. The team has explored playing its games in Sacramento at Sutter Health Park, which is a Triple-A stadium. They have also explored the idea of moving to Salt Lake City, Utah where a Triple-A park is being constructed.
The state of Utah hopes to land an MLB team down the road, and would jump at the chance to host the Athletics as a way of demonstrating sufficient local interest to welcome an MLB club long-term. The idea of moving across the Bay and playing some games at the Giants’ Oracle Park has been discussed, but would likely be a scheduling nightmare, even if an agreement was possible. (That, and, the Giants haven’t exactly been forthcoming aid-wise to their regional rival during this whole saga.) A more obvious possibility would be moving to Las Vegas in 2025 and playing home games at the Triple-A ballpark located in Summerlin... but, playing in an open-air stadium in the summer heat doesn’t seem like a desirable solution. (Is it really worse than the Coliseum right now, though?)
And, then, we get to everyone’s favorite problem issue: TV money. Another thing holding up 2025 planning is that while the Athletics will reportedly receive about $70 million in TV money next year from NBC Sports Bay Area, that will likely have to renegotiated if they aren’t in Oakland. Even a close move to Sacramento would not satisfy their current contract. John Fisher’s ownership of the Athletics has made a habit of counting every penny; the TV situation will play a huge role in making the relocation situation break one way or another.
So, just to recap everything before we get to the on-field product. It’s a mess. The clock is ticking. Fun stuff. Anyway, on to actual baseball things.
Where were they in 2023?
Begrudgingly or not, the Athletics spent the year in Oakland and lost more than 100 games for the second straight season. That marked the first time that the franchise posted back-to-back 100-loss seasons since 1964 and 1965, when they were in Kansas City. The only other 100-loss season since moving to Oakland came in 1979. The results aren’t that surprising, though, when you consider they ran an Opening Day payroll last year of $56.8 million, per Cot’s Contracts — dead last both in terms of 26-man, Opening Day payroll, and also on an average, 40-man roster, Competitive Balance Tax-eligible basis.
If you are looking for something to be excited about on the field, then it probably starts and ends with second baseman Zack Gelof. Gelof didn’t debut until July 14 and ended up leading the team with a 133 wRC+ and 2.9 fWAR in just 69 games. There is hope that Gelof will be a part of the next good Athletics team, but given everything I detailed at the start of this article, you have to wonder if that will happen before he reaches free agency. He’s also in a bit of a weird place in terms of future outlook — he’s hit pretty well everywhere but didn’t receive glowing scouting grades and has middling offensive projections — and yet he did manage a .333 xwOBA (that he outhit a bunch) anyway. Could he be an instant star? It’s not out of the question, but the sad thing is, even if he just slides into a decidedly average producer role, he’s still probably the best thing on this roster.
Elsewhere up and down the roster, you pretty much just have a bunch of role players. Journeyman Brent Rooker finally found his groove in Oakland and put together a 30-homer season with a 127 wRC+ and 2.0 fWAR, but has limited value because he’s essentially a bat-only guy. Ryan Noda turned out to be a Rule 5 Draft success story with a 2.0 fWAR season of his own, but again, is a good bat, no-field guy. Esteury Ruiz broke the franchise rookie record for stolen bases with 67, but played weak defense despite his speed, only managed a .309 OBP and 86 wRC+, had a very sad xwOBA below .275, and still has major fourth outfielder vibes. There are other, non-horrible, depth pieces on the position player side, but aside from Gelof, it’s not clear that anyone else is a surefire starter on many other teams.
Unsurprisingly, the Athletics ran through a lot of pitchers during the 2023 season. Paul Blackburn overcame an injury-plagued start to his season and produced a 4.43 ERA and a 3.96 FIP in 103 2/3 innings. He looks like a potential trade candidate provided he is healthy in 2024. JP Sears started 32 games, allowed 34 home runs, but logged 172 1/3 innings for a club that needed them desperately, and might be the current staff ace, even if he’s basically a fourth starter.
In addition to Gelof, Gardner-Webb product Mason Miller is another name of interest. Miller flew through the minors and put up 0.7 fWAR in just 33 1⁄3 innings while making six starts and four relief appearances. He’s currently being forecasted as a closer type, which might safeguard his health, and could put up huge short-stint numbers. Lucas Erceg is a fun story as a former position player prospect that broke through as a reliever, but like Miller, he had a pretty iffy-to-horrible xFIP last year, so he’s more amusing and intriguing than definitively good.
Beyond that, well...
The Braves made two huge trades with the Athletics and there are a lot of familiar faces sprinkled up and down Oakland’s roster. Kyle Muller was Oakland’s Opening Day starter, and ended up outdueling Shohei Ohtani in a 1-0 win. However, it was all downhill from there, as he finished the season in the bullpen while producing a 7.60 ERA and a 6.14 FIP in 77 innings. Muller is out of options and will have to earn his way onto the Opening Day roster during the spring. Freddy Tarnok battled injury for most of 2023 and logged just 14 2/3 innings at the major league level. Joey Estes made two starts at the end of the season and should be in the mix again in 2024. None of these guys figure to be all that productive in 2024 unless they really break out. The same can be said for Sean Newcomb, who signed a $1 million deal with the club during the offseason. Old friend Alex Wood had a poor third season in San Francisco and then took $8.5 million to move across the Bay, where he figures to be yet another horse in Oakland’s stable of guys that are probably fourth starters on most other teams.
Catcher Shea Langeliers took over behind the plate after the trade of Sean Murphy and hit 22 home runs, but was below average with an 87 wRC+. He showed a good arm behind the plate, but did not grade out as a good pitch framer, which is a little baffling considering that all the prospect evaluations kept talking about his pitch framing. He also started 123 games behind the plate and appeared worn down at various stretches of the season.
What did they do this offseason?
Not much. Probably the most noteworthy move was exercising manager Mark Kotsay’s contract option for 2025. The team allowed Kotsay to interview for the Mets’ vacant managerial position, but then locked him up after he didn’t get the job.
On the field, Oakland acquired veterans Abraham Toro and Miguel Andujar. They also signed reliever Trevor Gott, who appeared in 64 games for the Mariners and Mets in 2023. Other additions include veteran arms Wood and Ross Stripling; Stripling was acquired in a rare trade between the two Bay Area clubs for minor league outfielder Jonah Cox. The Athletics also got some cash in the deal to help cover Stripling’s $12.5 million deal, which is the largest salary on the team.
Where are they hoping to go?
To Las Vegas?
There isn’t a ton of confidence to be gained from a quick glance at Oakland’s 40-man roster; a more in depth look won’t bring much hope, either. They will go into this season hoping to avoid another 100-loss campaign, but that will probably depend heavily on how some of their prospects perform. The best case scenario would be that vets like Rooker, Seth Brown, Blackburn, Wood and Stripling perform well enough that they can be packaged at the Trade Deadline for something of future value in return. This already looks like a steady 90-loss team, but if any good contributors get shipped off well... let’s just say a third straight 100-loss season isn’t out of the question.
The Athletics weren’t shy about pushing many of their top prospects to the majors in 2023. They have a glut of young players, especially in the outfield, that are either at the major league level or knocking on the door. So, it won’t be surprising to see them start to flip guys as the season progresses or just cut them loose once some of the younger players are ready.
Braves 2023 head-to-head
The Braves inexplicably dropped two of three to the Athletics in Oakland during the 2023 season. At the start of the series, Atlanta was 32-21 and had a 4.5-game lead in the NL East. Oakland had lost 11 straight games and was 10-45. So, if you want another example of the randomness of baseball, there you go. The Braves started Michael Soroka, Bryce Elder and Jared Shuster in the series. Noda took Soroka deep in his long awaited return to the majors. Langeliers was 2-for-6 with an RBI in the series.
The Athletics will come to Truist Park for a three-game series in 2024 on May 31 - June 2.