Sixty degrees and sunny, nary a cloud int the sky, with only the calmest breeze sweeping through Jack London Square off the Bay.
The weather was perfect — for Athletics fans to show up in droves and ask only the hardest hitting question of those representing the green and gold.
Manager Bob Melvin, who joined VP of Baseball Operations Billy Beane on the stage for the first session, said of the A’s FanFest Q&A:
“We always get some good questions. We have a fan base that’s very aware of what’s going on. Some times they can ask tough questions and you just defer those to Billy.”
FanFest is about more than getting a Matt Olson autograph and a free Cajun fried chicken sandwich. It’s about fans requesting information like “who will be the starting center fielder on Opening Day.” The questions that have seemed at be a constant at this event for well over a decade, though, have revolved around the massive shifts in the Oakland roster.
Beane has held a post within in the Oakland front office for 20 years. In that time he has been forced to bid adieu to All-Stars, MVP and Cy Youngs. Perhaps the most famous roster purge, resulting in an award-winning book and Hollywood film, came in 2001, a purge he addressed, saying retaining that roster would have costed the club upwards of $300 million.
The A’s didn’t have that kind of money, and they would still prefer not to spend that type of money — the team’s Opening Day payroll in 2017 was just over $64 million.
Melvin addressed the obvious frustration conveyed by the Oakland fan base, a frustration shared by the front office:
“It’s not like Billy wants to trade them, it just gets to a point sometimes where you have to, or we’re not going to be able to withstand it, payroll wise.
“We want to keep people here. And hopefully that’s what the next narrative is going to be.”
Part of reaching that narrative involves development of a new stadium, and with in new revenue streams, which took a hit when the Peralta Community College District put a halt on the A’s plan to build a new stadium on their property near Laney College.
That hit has forced team president Dave Kaval back to the drawing board in his search for the perfect site of a future stadium, which has not yet been given a timetable.
One positive that comes from the A’s constant need to move their high-priced talent, moves that Melvin said understandingly draw the ire of his club’s fan base, is the flood of much younger talent that comes in return. A flood that has put Melvin, Beane and company in control of a major league-ready roster of players in their mid-20s, and several more just shy in their readiness.
“Now, you look at our system. Not only do we have a younger group here at the big leagues, that’s being impactful already, there’s a whole host of them that’s in the minor leagues, coming. This is probably the best (situation) our organization has been in going forward.”
Another hot topic — though not nearly the temperature of the roster changes — had to do with possible changes coming from the league involving pace of play.
Melvin, a serial pitcher-changer, has said in the past that proving coaching staffs an allotment of mound visits will only hurt the game. He did, however, point to the allowance of catchers unlimited mound visits, saying that limiting the number of times a catcher is allowed to visit the mound is something the league should look into.
Another option that has been floated is the implementation of a pitching clock. Something else Melvin is in opposition of.
“You know, I’ve always loved baseball for the reason that it is the only timeless sport — there’s no clock. But it does get to a point that it can bore some people.”
“Bore” is a word that the most devout baseball fans have had lobbed at them for decades. That, Melvin said, is wherein lies the league and players association is the worry — that maintaining the intrigue of younger fans could be difficult with words like boring used to describe the way the game is played.
Though he remains unsure where exactly the changes will come, the skipper, who along with his affinity to swap hurlers represents the epitome of superstitious sportsman, is quite sure of two things: that changes will come, and that those changes will be toughest on established players who have long since developed their own routines:
“My guess is that something is going to be implemented this year to try to speed it up. And I understand the reasons for it, it’s just finding the right (ways) that may be difficult.”
One thing holds no uncertainty. And that is, with the warming weather baseball season draws nearer. And while their fans riddle Melvin, Beane and the team with questions now, the guys in the jerseys will be made to provide answers soon enough.