If I was A’s General Manager for a Day

Introduction

The Oakland Athletics are currently slogging through a horrible season, carrying a record of 31-60 with two games remaining before the All-Star break this week. Although they started out the year all-right, the team’s June swoon (5-21 record) killed their faint hopes of competing. Now, the A’s, owners of the worst record in the American League, sit almost 30 games back of the first place Houston Astros and have a legit shot at matching or surpassing the franchise’s 1979 squad that lost a 162-game season franchise record 108 games. However, always the optimist when it comes to my beloved A’s, there is a tiny bright spot with the team performing a bit better as of late, going 5-5 in their past ten games. Nonetheless, with the season unsavable, following are some moves I think the team should make to salvage any positives from this season and prepare for the future.

Baseball transactions

  1. Release Stephen Vogt and Jed Lowrie. These guys are two of the most notable and well-liked players to wear the green and gold over this past decade. Stephen Vogt is such a fan-favorite that A’s fans made the chant “I believe in Stephen Vogt”. Lowrie, who has returned to the A’s a couple times after being traded away, used to provide average defense and reliable hitting. In 2017, he set the A’s record for most doubles in a season. Yet, both Vogt and Lowrie are now in their late 30’s, not as good as they once were, and serve no purpose for this rebuilding team.
  2. Releasing Vogt would allow the A’s to call up catcher Shea Langeliers, their top prospect whom they received in the Matt Olson trade and is just about ready for his Major-League debut. In fact, he is playing in the Futures game today alongside other top baseball prospects. I would also recall Cristian Pache (the other big name in the Olson trade) soon with the hope that his recent offensive performance at Triple-A will carry over to the big-leagues to match his defensive prowess.
  3. Decide what to do about veteran shortstop Elvis Andrus who triggers a $15 million option for next season if he accumulates 550 at-bats. He is currently half-way there. He seems to bring a good attitude along with veteran experience, and he has been relatively solid both offensively and defensively. However, at age 33, it might be time to let him go and invest the resources (which Fisher seems so unlikely to part with) in younger talent. Speaking of which, I would continue giving Nick Allen playing time as he is outstanding defensively at both shortstop and second base and shows some offensive ability. Although he has been doing a good job at 2nd, he could replace Andrus as the starting shortstop starting next season.
  4. Trade at least Frankie Montas by the August 2nd trade deadline to fully complete the roster teardown. With the A’s out of contention, teams will be lining up to try to trade for the A’s ace pitcher provided that his shoulder injury doesn’t cause him to miss any more time. A’s President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane should try to get as many top prospects as possible for him and any other traded player. For instance, he might consider Dodgers pitching prospect Bobby Miller or Cardinals prospect Michael Mcgreevy 

Non-baseball transactions

  1. The majority of home games are 95% empty as no-one goes to see this losing stripped down team play in the decrepit Oakland Coliseum. So, lower the cost of tickets and parking and maybe more people will attend games. Regarding the new stadium project at Howard Terminal, A’s ownership should do whatever it takes to come to an agreement with Oakland leadership so that this historic franchise can stay in Oakland forever.
  2. Speaking of A’s ownership, owner John Fisher is a super private person who won’t talk to the media, spend money to retain key players, or even partake in the Howard Terminal meetings alongside team President Dave Kaval. In the meantime, Joe Lacob, the super successful owner of the NBA team Golden State Warriors, apparently has a standing offer to buy the A’s. I, and many other A’s fans, wish that Fisher would sell the team to Lacob or any other person who is more willing to invest in the team on and off the field. Unfortunately, Fisher doesn’t seem to be in the mood to sell, therefore the A’s will likely continue to just be the farm team for every other MLB club for the time being

A Few Things I am Following in the Sports World Today

Major League Baseball

The 2022 Major League Baseball (MLB) season is hurtling right along. After half the season (81 games played), the contending teams have for the most part separated themselves from the pretenders and tankers. The teams expected to contend (New York Yankees and Mets, Houston Astros, and Los Angeles Dodgers) are all in first place in their respective divisions. The Yankees (58-23) are living up to their Bronx Bombers nickname thanks to an explosive offense led by Aaron Judge who has already smashed 29 home runs in the final year of his contract. The San Francisco Giants are widely rumored to be one of the main suitors for the northern California native if he decides to not re-sign with the Yankees in free agency. Speaking of the Giants, they are finding it difficult to put together another strong season after last year’s 107-win campaign in which everything seemed to go right. The loss of Buster Posey to retirement has proved to be a major blow as his successor, Joey Bart, the number 2 overall draft pick in 2018, struggled so much that the team sent him back to the minors. The Giants are 40-39 and find themselves in third place behind the San Diego Padres and Dodgers. Yet, they are not as bad as their Bay Area rivals, the Oakland Athletics, who trail the major-league with an abysmal 28-56 record. Their performance is expected given that the team held a fire sale before the season trading star players like Matt Olson and Matt Chapman. Sadly, things won’t change for A’s fans until the team gets a new stadium and hopefully a new owner who is willing to invest in players to retain them for more than a couple of years.

Basketball/Hockey

Both the National Basketball Association (NBA) and National Hockey League (NHL) are in the offseason having just crowned new champions last month. The Golden State Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight seasons defeating the Boston Celtics. The Colorado Avalanche won their third Stanley Cup in franchise history, disappointing the Tampa Bay Lightning who were seeking a three-peat. The NHL free agency is just getting started with the draft scheduled for this week, while NBA negotiations have been going on for a few weeks. Although the Warriors managed to re-sign starting center Kevon Looney, they couldn’t keep their other free agents, losing Damien Lee to the Phoenix Suns, Gary Payton II to Portland, and Otto Porter Jr to Toronto. They signed Donte DiVincenzo, are expected to give an extension to rising star Jordan Poole and will likely consider making additional signings or just giving roster spots to other young players.

College Sports

Like everything else in sports and society, money seems to control college athletics. While colleges have many athletic teams, their marketing and financial resources have largely focused on men’s teams, particularly football and men’s basketball. Although last month marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we clearly have a long way to go before there is parity between men’s and women’s sports.

In the meantime, two of the biggest issues facing college sports right now are the impact that Name Image and Likeness (NIL) has on college recruiting and conference realignment. With college student-athletes now able to profit from playing sports, the recruitment algorithm has shifted. Schools like USC, which are in a prime area and have a long history of football success and a deep fanbase, are able to attract top recruits by offering sponsorship deals or other attractive ventures. For instance, Caleb Williams, the top quarterback in the 2022 transfer portal, landed multiple NIL deals after deciding to follow his head coach Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma to USC.

Conference Craziness

Speaking of USC, their recent announcement set the internet and the PAC-12 conference ablaze. In the latest sign of where the power lies in college sports conferences, USC and UCLA decided to leave the PAC-12 for the Big-10 in 2024. This landscape altering move comes on the heels of Oklahoma and Texas announcing last year that they would be moving to the SEC in 2025. In addition to the Big-10 and SEC being seen as the two best conferences, they generate the most revenue and have the best television deals. By adding USC and UCLA, the Big-10 will get even more revenue thanks to the lucrative LA market. However, I wonder what USC players will think when they have to fly across the country to play Maryland, or when they have to play football in freezing cold Wisconsin in October/November. Also, as someone who grew up going to Cal football games, this realignment could mean the end of the PAC-12 and a nail in the coffin for Cal Athletics if the conference collapses and they are unable to get into the Big-10 or another conference. Fortunately, the conference still has legs as the Big 10 has expressed no interest in adding more teams. I hope that the conference stays together, perhaps with a few new teams, because realignment just destroys long-standing rivalries and related activities that fans look forward to every year.

And you can look forward to more on US men’s and women’s soccer coming soon. 

The Fate of the Oakland A’s Continues to Hang in the Balance

For the past 10-15 years, the Oakland Athletics’ attempts to build a new stadium have been stunted by incompetent ownership, local officials, and rival teams. They are now down to their final strike with the project along the Oakland waterfront (Howard Terminal) representing the franchise’s last hope of remaining in the city that they have called home for more than 50 years. 

Howard Terminal Ballpark Design: Credit @mickakers twitter

Their current home, the Oakland Coliseum, is decrepit and full of leaky sewage and possums due to decades of deferred maintenance. From the stadium’s opening in 1966 until 1995, onlookers were able to see a view of the Oakland hills beyond the ballpark, and the team had a lot of success, most notably winning three straight championships from 1972-74. However, to accommodate the return of the Raiders to Oakland in 1995, city officials added to the stadium a 20,000-seat section known as Mount Davis, completely altering the Coliseum experience for baseball. 

Just a few years ago, three professional sports teams played in Oakland. Now, the A’s are the only ones left in the wake of the Warriors’ move to Chase Center in San Francisco and the Raiders now calling Las Vegas home. 

Like their former neighbors, the A’s have fiddled with the idea of relocation over the past decade. From 2012-14, the team was interested in moving to San Jose, but the San Francisco Giants blocked the move on the belief that they controlled the territorial rights to that city. So that plan died. Since then, the team’s leadership has pursued potential locations in Las Vegas as a parallel path alongside Howard Terminal. On June 29, 2022, Major League Baseball (MLB) made the potential move easier by announcing that the A’s would not have to pay a speculated relocation fee of as much as $1 billion. However, despite all the research the A’s have done, it seems abundantly clear that Las Vegas is plan B at the moment as the team has not even publicly revealed a chosen site. 

Meanwhile, Howard Terminal continues to inch closer toward becoming a reality. The A’s $12 billion proposal would radically transform and improve the Oakland waterfront. In addition to the main attraction of the privately financed $1 billion, 35,000-seat ballpark, the development would create more retail and commercial space, hotel rooms, and public access to the waterfront. The project received another key vote on June 30 as the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (SFBCDC) voted in an overwhelming majority (23-2)  that the A’s could build on Howard Terminal after determining that it is not needed for any other purpose.

While this is good news for the A’s organization, the divisive project still has hurdles to climb. Among the biggest is a final city council vote, which is expected to happen in the fall. Councilmembers Noel Gallo and Carroll Fife have been especially outspoken in opposition to Howard Terminal. They both voted against approving the project’s environmental impact report in February. Gallo held a rally before today’s vote calling for the A’s stadium project to be put on the ballot for voters in November to decide whether or not the city should commit public funding to this project. As of last year, the A’s were seeking $855 million in taxpayer money to support the infrastructure associated with this ballpark.

Even if the Howard Terminal project moves forward, it remains unclear if a shiny new stadium will be enough to bring fans back to games after the A’s hideous start to the season in this first year of yet another rebuild brought about by owner John Fisher’s unwillingness to invest and keep key players. The team enters today’s game with a 25-52 record, the worst in the major leagues. They are on-pace for the worst home record ever, and their anemic offense is putting up historically bad numbers. At least the A’s dwindling die-hard fan base can rest assured that the team’s Oakland ballpark plan is still alive for now.

Sports During the COVID pandemic

While the COVID pandemic shut down most of American society for virtually all of 2020, US professional baseball, basketball, football and soccer managed to compete in a reduced format. Their seasons were played or are playing now (in the case of football) in the midst of a pandemic that has ravaged the whole entire world and so far killed around 290,000 Americans. After being postponed for a few months, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA)  successfully completed their 2019-2020/2020 seasons by playing in well-controlled bubbles in Florida. The Los Angeles Lakers (NBA) and Seattle Storm (WNBA) emerged from their league’s respective bubbles as league champions.

Normally, the Major League Baseball (MLB) season consists of 162 regular season games from April to September. Yet, this year, players on MLB teams like the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants only played 60 games and had to follow strict COVID safety protocols after an initial shutdown when COVID-19 hit America towards the end of MLB spring training. Players preparing for the coming season had to return home until July when league officials and players finally decided to start an abbreviated schedule with no all star break and expanded playoffs. Star players such as Buster Posey and David Price chose not to play, possibly a wise decision given that several teams had to stop play for a period of time after experiencing a spread of coronavirus. After the Dodgers took home the World Series following this strange season, MLB franchises are now firmly in offseason mode. In recent years, the best free agents in baseball have received massive contracts by teams desperate for their help. For instance, last year the New York Yankees gave top free agent pitcher Gerrit Cole over $300 million. Yet, due to the condensed schedule and overall drastic financial losses that many teams are facing, 2020 free agency is moving very slowly. Many teams are employing cost-cutting procedures and, as a result, many of the best available players have not yet signed new contracts.

College and professional football teams are playing their seasons now. The NFL started its 2020 season on time and has marched right along, cancelling very few games despite a seemingly endless number of  teams being forced to temporarily close facilities due to players testing positive for COVID. Recently, they moved the Baltimore Ravens v.Pittsburgh Steelers game to Wednesday, December 2 rather than cancel it. This decision was made following a massive COVID outbreak in the Ravens’ organization that halted the game from being played on Thanksgiving as scheduled. 

In college football, each conference began playing at a different time. The Southeastern conference (SEC) and Big 12 started at the normal time of early September. Whereas, the Big 10 and Pac 12 conferences began playing at the end of October/early November. Just like in professional football, there have been many COVID-19 cases in college football. However, likely because college players are still amateurs and schools are wanting to avoid the team’s outbreak spreading on campus, college teams and schools have been more likely than the NFL to cancel games.

While I am thrilled that sports has given me a source of entertainment during this challenging and dreadful year, I can’t help but wonder if they are  contributing to this ongoing pandemic. I also think it is a little unfair that professional athletes, coaches, and other officials get tested for COVID daily when many ordinary people are experiencing challenges getting a COVID test. Moreover, I agree with Ann Killion of the SF Chronicle who wrote an article expressing the hypocrisy that the Golden State Warriors get to hold full practices indoors while the rest of Californians have to abide by new restrictive stay at home orders enforced by CA Governor Gavin Newsom.

With a safe and helpful COVID vaccine on its way soon, hopefully 2021 will be a better year and sports and society will be able to return to a semblance of how it was before the virus  destroyed the world.

A’s Current Homestand

The Oakland A’s have an impressive record of 71-53. Over the past few weeks, they have been playing good baseball keeping themselves right in the thick of the wildcard race. The A’s current homestand, which began this past Thursday, is arguably one of the most important and challenging of the season given the teams they are facing  (Astros, Yankees, and Giants) and the fact that any loss coupled with a Rays win would push the A’s farther back in the wild card hunt. 

The Astros came to Oakland these past four days to kick off the potential season-altering homestand. The A’s, who prior to the series had not had much success against Houston this year, changed that narrative by winning the first three games of the four-game set. They won each game in a different way. On Thursday night, the A’s outslugged the Astros 7-6 in a game that felt like a home run derby. Each team bombed five home runs, but it was Matt Chapman’s tie-breaking and game-winning home run in the bottom of the 8th inning that was the most significant. Normally in Oakland, the ball doesn’t carry as much due to the marine layer and overall cooler temperature than other places. However, the weather on Thursday night was significantly warmer than most Bay Area nights which might explain why there were so many home runs. On Friday night, the A’s managed to win a game in which their longtime pitching nemesis Justin Verlander started. Recently acquired Tanner Roark held the Astros mostly in check and the A’s, in turn, got to Verlander for two solo home runs. Giving up home runs has been Verlander’s lone weakness this year. The game dragged on and on until finally, in the 13th inning, the A’s broke the 2-2 deadlock on a Robbie Grossman walk-off single–the first of his career. The following day, the A’s knocked around a pitcher making a spot start for Astros co-ace Gerrit Cole who was out with hamstring tightness. Amazingly, they managed to score eight runs and win 8-4 despite not hitting a single home run. To illustrate how much the A’s rely on the home run to win games, the win on Saturday improved their record to 3-26 for games in which they don’t hit a home run. Unfortunately, despite a Semien home run in the bottom of the 4th, the A’s came up short yesterday failing to complete the four-game sweep of arguably the most complete team in the American League.

Tomorrow, trailing the Astros by 7 for the division and the Rays by 1-and-a-half games for the second wild-card, the A’s will welcome the Yankees for a three-game series. It will be the first meeting for these two historic franchises since the Yankees defeated the A’s in last year’s AL Wild Card Game. The Yankees, whom many believe are the Astros’ main competition in the American League, have had a fantastic season despite getting no contribution from big-money injury-prone slugger Giancarlo Stanton and injured ace starting pitcher Luis Severino. Despite losing one regular after another to injury, the Yankees just keep on winning. It will be another tough series and thus another chance for the A’s to prove that they can beat a potential playoff opponent while keeping pace or hopefully passing the Rays for that second wild card.

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To help out the bullpen, today the A’s promoted their 2nd best prospect: left-handed pitcher AJ Puk. Puk, a 2016 first-round draft choice out of the University of Florida, is a classic power pitcher who throws an upper 90’s fastball complemented with a nasty slider. Puk pitched well in spring training of 2018 and was expected to make his MLB debut last year, but unfortunately had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He has been rehabbing from surgery in the minors as a reliever to conserve his innings, but is expected to return as a starting pitcher next year.

I’m looking forward to an exciting series and hope fellow A’s fans show their support by packing the Coliseum to cheer on the green and gold the next few days. 

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AJ Puk

Update on the Remarkable 2018 Oakland A’s

Currently, as we near the end of August and march towards September, the Oakland A’s find themselves in control of their own destiny as they are in possession of the second wild card slot. The A’s are five games ahead of the Seattle Mariners for the second wild card position and second place in their division. If the postseason began today, the A’s would go to NY and play the Yankees (the first wildcard) in the wildcard game for the right to presumably face Boston in the next round. However, the A’s don’t want to just settle for the wild card as this young upstart group has played so well since the middle of June that they have caught up to the division leading and reigning world champion Houston Astros. The A’s enter tonight’s opener of a three game series only 1 and 1/2 games back of first place so they have a prime chance to surpass the Astros in the standings if they are able to win at least two of these last three games that they will play against the Astros this season. The A’s enter tonight’s pivotal season defining series against the first place Astros coming off a series win in Minnesota in which they lost the first game, but then bounced back to win the final three games of the series against the underachieving Twins thus continuing their remarkable run of winning baseball.

Matt Chapman continues to improve his all around super stardom as every game he seems to make a huge impact offensively and an unbelievable play defensively.  He is now hitting 280 on the season with 20 home runs and 50 runs batted in to go with gold glove defense at third base. Watching the A’s best hitters Chapman, Lowrie, Davis, Olson, and Piscotty go up against the Astros best hitters Correa,Altuve, Bregman, Springer, and Gurriel should be a treat as these are two of the best lineups in the American League. Regarding pitching the Astros probably have a better starting rotation as they have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, but the A’s have a superior bullpen and the A’s makeshift starting rotation has been doing better than expected. However, Sean Manea, the only member of the A’s rotation left from opening day and one of the A’s best pitchers this year just landed on the disabled lift with shoulder soreness. This is a big blow to the A’s rotation, but the A’s have the depth to cover for him and I hope that Manea will not miss much time with this injury.

If fans of the A’s have not been tuned in, then now should be the time as this team that is doing way better than anyone expected is entering into the stretch run with a strong chance to make the playoffs for the first time in four years. They are widely entertaining and are one of the best stories in MLB this season.

Also, I want to rub in the fact that while four players on the A’s (Khris Davis, Jed Lowrie, Matt Olson, and Matt Chapman) have hit 20 or more home runs, nobody on the Giants is even close to the 20 home run mark as McCutchen is their team leader with 15 long balls. Khris Davis has hit twice as many home runs as the Giants team leader!! Now, I know that the Giants stadium is an extreme pitchers park, but so is the A’s as they too are affected by the Bay Area marine layer and deep dimensions. What separates the A’s though is that unlike the Giants, the A’s are adept at hitting home runs on the road as this year they have hit way more home runs on the road than at home.

I am looking forward to a great and exciting last month of the season and postseason

Signing off for now

Ben

My thoughts on the Oakland A’s

By defeating the Houston Astros today by a score of 7-1, the A’s have completed their ascent up the standings as they are now tied with the defending champion Astros for first place in the AL West. Earlier in the season no one saw this coming as the A’s entered the middle of June floundering below 500 and 12 games out of first place. Yet, since the middle of June, the resilient A’s have used a never say die attitude to constantly come back from deficits late in games and snatch victories away from their opponents. The A’s have won 15 of their last 18 series and are 40 and 13 since June 16th. That is one insane winning percentage! The A’s have achieved this remarkable success in large part because of a dominant bullpen that was recently fortified with the additions of talented veteran relievers Jeruys Familia and Fernando Rodney who bring additional closing experience. Familia and Rodney team with Treinan and the rest of the A’s relievers to give Oakland one of the best bullpens in the MLB that is deep and talented enough to carry the A’s through a deep postseason run. The A’s have also gotten better than expected starting pitching performances from Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Edwin Jackson whom they initialy signed as depth because of so many injuries to starting pitchers but have impressed so much to earn permanent spots in the team’s five man rotation. Sean Manea has stayed healthy and developed into a dependable and consistent starter. Lastly, I have to talk about the A’s offense which has continued to be an all around force that is capable of scoring runs off any pitcher at any point in the game. The A’s continue to be good at hitting home runs and getting the clutch hits late in ballgames. The A’s offense especially seems to wake up in the late innings as they have staged late inning comebacks so many times during this incredible run. Khris Davis continues to be a force of nature in the middle of the lineup having accumulated 34 home runs and 95 runs batted in already. With a month left in the regular season, it is a certainty that Khris Davis will eclipse 40 home runs for the third straight year and match or set his career high in runs batted in. Matt Chapman has heated up over the past few weeks at the plate as he continues to cement his claim as the A’s best all around player. Chapman is already the best defensive third baseman in the majors so all he needs is a little more consistency and production at the plate to stake his place as one of if not the best third baseman in the majors.

All these positives are a big reason why the A’s are currently tied for first place in their division and in contention for the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season. I am excited to watch how the last part of this season plays out. This season has been a success no matter how far they go in the playoffs as they have surprised everyone in baseball and silenced the haters yet again. With their roster mostly composed of young controlled players (Olson, Chapman, Piscotty) as well as a stacked farm system consisting of high celing talent such as pitchers AJ Puk, Jesus Luzardo, and catcher Sean Murphy, the A’s are set up for success this year as well as for the next couple of years.However, I would be over the moon in excitement if the A’s would be able to reach the playoffs, slay the teams in their path, and ride this wave of success all the way to a world series championship to cap off a magical 2018 season. I will be watching the season wind down while I still am at home before I leave for college and I implore fellow A’s fans to also pay attention to the exciting team.

Sports vs Society

In this blog entry, I will address what happens when things in the sports world intersect with mainstream US society.  Both the NFL (National Football League) and the MLB (Major League Baseball) have earned a prominent place in recent headlines. Rather than expected stories about what’s going on in the games, the headlines that have gotten the most attention have revolved around happenings not related to action on the field.

This country that we call America was founded on the ideals of equality, rights, opportunity, democracy, and liberty. Yet, our nation today is one that, even with all the societal, economic, and technological advancements, still marginalizes certain portions of the population whether its by treating them un-equally, denying them equal opportunities as others, or by not giving them the freedom and liberty that they deserve. Some of these groups that suffer through this horrible treatment are LGBTQ+, racial and religious minorities, immigrants, and people who are mentally or physically disadvantaged.

Athletes in America, especially at the highest levels of their respective sports, are looked upon by others as role models whether through their performance on the field or what they say/do off the field. So, it’s telling of the direction toward which our society is free falling when homophobic or racist tweets from four MLB players (Josh Hader, Trae Turner, Sean Newcomb and Sonny Gray) were recently exposed to the masses. The leak of these tweets has caused a lot of drama with people imploring MLB to take action, but nothing has been done yet. This is not surprising given that baseball is a predominantly white sport with very few African Americans in the league and a history of exclusion to minorities,taking around 50 years before Jackie Robinson finally broke the color barrier. I hope that this will be the last we hear about the MLB twitter crises.

Meanwhile, the NFL has made even bigger headlines regarding its whole anthem ordeal that started a couple of years ago when Collin Kapernick, then quarterback for the SF 49ers, started kneeling for the national anthem in an attempt to protest the social injustice and police brutality toward African Americans in the US. The protest of Kapernick and teammate safety Eric Reid kick-started a league wide movement as they encouraged players on other teams to kneel or sit during the anthem. This NFL mutiny culminated last year when President Trump said that any player who sits, thereby disrespecting the flag, should be fired. The NFL responded with an act of unity by holding a league wide day of protest in the games that following weekend.

This anthem issue still persists as the 2018 NFL season nears its start. During the off-season, the owners agreed on a policy requiring players to either stand on the field for the national anthem or wait in the locker room. If a player violates that policy they could be at risk of a fine or suspension. I believe that is constitutionally wrong as it is taking away the players’ freedom of speech, which is guaranteed to them as it is to all Americans. I hope that eventually the NFL will allow its employed players to use their voice and be able to stand up for what they believe without fear of potential consequences. I also hope that, in the absence of political leadership, our professional athletes can lead us toward a more unified and humane country that reflects the principles on which it was founded.

 

The Amazin A’s

Before I begin, I want to go back to the year 2012 when coming into the season expectations were low as the A’s had had many losing seasons in the years before and were not predicted to challenge, let alone win the division.  However, the A’s managed to defy the odds and shock the baseball universe by making a magical second half comeback in which they ascended up the standings of the Al west and then wound up winning the division on the last day of the season when they beat the Texas Rangers. This team was just a bunch of spare parts that down the stretch combined breakout talent, luck, and excellent team chemistry to make the playoffs. The team was led by mainstays Coco Crisp, Grant Balfour, and Josh Reddick in addition to breakout stars first baseman Brandon Moss, third basemen Josh Donaldson, and the Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes in particular began to get league-wide acclaim with his prodigious power, fantastic defense, and success in the home run derby.  The A’s used power, clutch hitting, and a good bullpen to make up for having a bunch of young unknown pitchers in their rotation. Unfortunately, this team fell short against the Tigers in the playoffs, yet this magical team set the foundation for what would be three straight years of making it to the playoffs (2012-2014).

From 2015 to 2017 the Athletics languished in last place in the AL West. During these three years, the A’s focused on rebuilding which meant trading the good players they had left for prospects and then developing the traded prospects as well as the homegrown young players.

This year (2018) the Oakland Athletics were not expected to contend as baseball pundits questioned whether the A’s young core of talented young position players and pitchers was ready to take the next step and start helping the team win games. Yet, just like 2012, the 2018 A’s have defied the odds and ridden their strengths to a 62 and 46 record. The A’s at the end of July are 2 back of second place Seattle and 5 back of the first place team who happens to be the reigning world champion Houston Astros. The A’s were around the 500 mark around the beginning of June but since then have been the hottest team in baseball winning game after game most of them via crazy comebacks to make a huge rise up the standings.

The A’s have defied the odds this year despite having a remarkable amount of starting pitchers go down with injuries this year. Four starting pitchers in Oakland’s organization have gone on the shelf with Tommy John surgery including young highly touted flame throwing lefthander AJ Puk. It has gone so extreme to the point that Sean Manea remains the only starter left from the opening day starting rotation. Speaking of Sean Manea he has taken a big jump forward this year proving his durability and seemingly pitching well in the majority of starts he has had this season. Who knows where they would be if pitchers Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Edwin Jackson had not stepped up to help out Manea and eat up some innings.

Nevertheless, starting pitching has not been the A’s biggest strength as the A’s have often had to rely on the team strength of hitting for power to help them come back from deficits. Khris Davis is having his third straight monster season at the plate with 28 homeruns and 81 runs batted in. Jed Lowrie is having a career season at the plate and is once again providing great veteran leadership. Matt Chapman (third baseman) and Olson (first basemen) have impressed with their all around play in their first full seasons in the majors with Chapman already rated by defensive metrics as one of if not the best defensive player in the whole entire MLB. Stephen Piscotty had an underwhelming start to his tenure in Oakland, but has really turned it on over these past two months becoming a huge contributor to the A’s offensive attack.

Then, I have to mention the A’s bullpen especially the late inning trio of Trivino, familia, and Treinen. Thanks to these three guys, the A’s are undefeated this year when leading in the seventh inning or later.

This A’s team is right in contention for the wildcard as the last two months of the season approach and I would be thrilled if they can work their magic and make a deep run in the playoffs this year. Yet, I have a feeling that this is just the opening of their window of contention as the A’s still have a loaded farm system full of impact young players. Also, the A’s payroll remains one of the lowest in the majors so there is financial room to add impact talent via free agency if ownership finally decides to up the team’s payroll.

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Image result for oakland a's 2018

Justice for Jed Lowrie and Blake Snell

Yesterday, the results came out for who made it to the American League and National League all-star teams for the upcoming annual all-star game on July 17th in our nation’s capital. The starting nine position players for each league get voted in by the fans while the reserve position players, as well as the pitchers, get voted in by the players and the commissioner’s office. This year, the talent level among the players voted into the all-star game is one for the ages as many of the game’s greatest will be showing their talents in front of thousands of fans in Washington D.C.  Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Freddie Freemen, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, JD Martinez, and Mookie Betts are just some of the incredible players that will be participating.

The SF Giants will be sending their fabulous shortstop Brandon Crawford (starter) as well as their incredible catcher Buster Posey (reserve). The A’s will be sending their flame throwing closer Blake Treinen who, through the first half of this season, has used his 100 mph devastating sinker and filthy slider to emerge as one of the best closers in the MLB. Treinan has the best ERA (earned run average) among all MLB relievers (0.81) and has converted 22 out of 24 saves including a remarkable 19 in a row. Thanks to Treinan and setup man Lou Trivino locking down the late innings, the A’s are an MLB best 34-0 when leading after 7 innings thus showing how big of a part these two have played in the A’s midseason emergence as a potential contender for the second wildcard in the American league.

However, with all the incredible young talent and only room for 32 players on each side, there was bound to be some highly controversial snubs this year, and that sure was the case. Arguably the two most controversial snubs are A’s second basemen Jed Lowrie and Rays’ staff ace Blake Snell. Jed Lowrie had a career year last season as he stayed healthy and accumulated an A’s single season record of 49 doubles. This season, Lowrie has remained healthy and taken his whole game to another level. Jed Lowrie has been the A’s most consistent and clutch hitter seemingly always coming up with big hits to spur the A’s late inning comebacks, which are becoming common place this season. Lowrie has already tied his single season career high in homers of 16 to go along with 61 runs batted in, a high batting average at .290, and steady defense at second base. Jed Lowrie is the heartbeat of the A’s lineup and he is one of the major reasons why the A’s find themselves 10 games over 500 and in contention for the wildcard for the first time since the 2014 season. Yet, despite the incredible season he’s been having so far, and the fact that due to his age of 34 this might be the best shot that Lowrie has to become an all-star, the players inexplicably voted for the Yankees’ rookie 21 year old second basemen Gleyber Torres who has been playing well since his call up yet does not have the offensive statistics to match Lowrie, has played worse defensively than Lowrie, and is currently on the disabled list with a hip strain. This is the epitome of a popularity contest. The Yankees are like the starting high school quarterback as they are the most popular team in baseball, have one of the biggest payrolls, and are one of the most talented. Whereas the A’s are not as known around baseball and have one of the smallest payrolls, yet they have some players who are just as good if not better than their counterparts on the Yankees.

This same analogy applies to the Rays who often get put in the same boat as the A’s (are widely viewed as the east coast equivalent to the A’s). The Rays’ young staff ace Blake Snell has put together a breakout sophomore campaign and currently leads the American League with a 2.09 ERA. Yet, he was inexcusably left off the pitching roster while other pitchers who are more well-known made the team despite having nowhere near the same success that Snell is having. The Rays also encountered the common problem that most small market teams face. Every team is required to send at least one representative to the midsummer classic, and the Rays catcher Wilson Ramos was voted in by the fans as the starting catcher for the American league thus filling the spot of the Rays’ one required representative.

In the end, Lowrie will probably replace the injured Torres, and Snell will probably replace Verlander or one of the other pitchers who gets injured or pitches on Sunday and therefore is not allowed to pitch in the All-Star game. Nevertheless, this is not okay as both of these outstanding baseball players should have been put on the roster in the first place.  As a result, I along with Chris Archer of the Rays (teammate of Snell) demand that players pay more attention to the voting and that the process gets changed if needed.

In conclusion, I look forward to the all-star game and watching all of the game’s biggest stars converge in Washington D.C.

BTW, I pick Belgium to win the World Cup out of the four teams left.

Signing off for now.

Ben Wiley

 

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