Home News Oakland Athletics’ season preview: 5 things to watch

Oakland Athletics’ season preview: 5 things to watch

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The Oakland A’s will host the Cleveland Guardians at the Coliseum on Thursday evening, officially kicking off what could be a fascinating season.

Fascinating off the field, at least.

Their planned move to Las Vegas is full of potential pitfalls. They have a fanbase that’s revolting, a ballpark that’s crumbling and no home stadium to play in for at least three seasons, if not more, until the proposed ballpark in Vegas can open.

This won’t be any ordinary season at the Coliseum.

Some storylines to keep an eye on:

1. What happens in Vegas (if they ever get there)

When sports teams announce relocation, there tends to be excitement in the city that’s about to get a new team. That wasn’t the case last month, when A’s owner John Fisher completed a short interview at the Vegas Chamber, then a speaker came on stage to ask the crowd, “The Las Vegas A’s, we like the sound of that, right Vegas?” The crowd was silent. “Are we alive back there?” the speaker asked. No applause. Nothing.

Last month, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman went on the Front Office Sports podcast and said what A’s fans have been screaming from the rooftops all winter: Building this stadium “does not make sense.” She thought the A’s would want to develop far more land, not a tiny 9-acre plot on the landmark Tropicana Hotel that can’t even fit a stadium with a retractable roof. She later clarified her comments saying that she believed that Fisher prefers to stay in Oakland and build a new waterfront stadium in the East Bay. Las Vegas should be Fisher’s backup plan, she said.

Also in February, a political action group made up of school teachers filed a lawsuit that claims SB1, the Nevada bill that will provide the A’s with $380 million in public funding for a new stadium, is unconstitutional. The teachers believe the state constitution requires a two-thirds vote to pass any bill that adds new taxes, but SB1 failed to meet that standard, passing without a supermajority (25-15 in the Assembly and 13-8 in the Senate). The teachers are simultaneously working on a petition that could send some of that funding to a public vote in November.

So, does Las Vegas really want the A’s? Stay tuned.

Oakland Athletics' season preview: 5 things to watch
An Oakland Athletics fan wears a “SELL” during the Detroit Tigers game against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

2. Will any fans show up to the Coliseum this season?

Three years after the pandemic-shortened season prevented most teams from having any fans in the stadium, MLB once again saw a strong uptick in attendance. On average, teams increased their home attendance by about 2,500 fans per game from 2022 to 2023.

The A’s increased theirs by only 427. And their average per-game attendance of 10,276 was more than 4,000 fewer than the 29th-ranked team, the Miami Marlins. It’d have been even lower without the 27,759 who showed up on a Tuesday in June for a reverse boycott.

This season, fans are again planning to boycott. The Oakland 68s and Last Dive Bar fan groups have encouraged fans to show up to the Coliseum parking lot on Opening Day but not to buy tickets. They’ve also encouraged fans to cancel season tickets and instead donate to the Nevada school teachers. They hosted their own fan fest on Feb. 24, seeing as the A’s haven’t had a fan fest since 2020, and saw more than 10,000 people show up.

Desperate to get people in the seats, the A’s seemed to respond to the Opening Day boycott with a limited-time offer so bizarre it might be the first and only time you ever hear one like it: Buy an Opening Day ticket, typically one of the most sought-after tickets in the sport, get one free.

In an apparent attempt to crash the party before it got started, the A’s announced last week they wouldn’t open the parking lots until two hours before game time. Last year, they opened four hours early.

3. Are the A’s actually trying?

It is believed the A’s long-term plan is to sign some star players just in time for their new ballpark. Team president Dave Kaval and Fisher are both on the record saying the A’s will have a competitive payroll when they get to Vegas. For now? Forget about it.

Last year, their $57-million payroll ranked dead last. They’re on track to have a payroll of around $63 million in 2024.

Shohei Ohtani, the highest-paid player in the sport, makes on average $46 million with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The A’s highest-paid player will be right-hander Ross Stripling, who is making $12.5 million, some of that paid by San Francisco after the teams made a rare trade that sent the former Giant across the Bay Bridge.

Via free agency, the A’s signed lefty Alex Wood, another former Giant, to a one-year, $8.5-million deal, and reliever Trevor Gott to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. Last week, though, it was announced Gott will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the season.

The veteran presence of Stripling and Wood on a roster that also includes a number of young pitchers should provide the A’s with much-needed leadership, even if they don’t add any wins. The two of them combined for -0.1 fWAR (wins above replacement) last year.

The A’s will try to improve upon their 29th-ranked 5.48 ERA from a season ago. On offense, they didn’t add any impact hitters, but they can’t do much worse than their .669 OPS and 3.61 runs per game, both worst in baseball last year.

Oakland Athletics' Esteury Ruiz (1) looks back at fans as he walks onto the field in the third inning of their MLB game against the Texas Rangers at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
Oakland Athletics’ Esteury Ruiz (1) looks back at fans as he walks onto the field in the third inning of their MLB game against the Texas Rangers at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

4. Are there any players to keep an eye on?

Plenty, perhaps none more than second baseman Zack Gelof, who led the team with 2.6 WAR despite playing only half the season in the big leagues. Ranked by WAR, he posted the best season by a rookie with 300 plate appearances or fewer since the Mets’ Jeff McNeil in 2018 and Oakland’s Matt Olson in 2017.

He hit .267 with an .840 OPS to go with 20 doubles, 14 home runs and 14 stolen bases in just 69 games. The sky is the limit for the 24-year-old former second-round pick out of the University of Virginia. And considering he won’t be eligible for free agency until 2030, Gelof could end up being the first star player the A’s lock up to a long-term deal after moving to Las Vegas.

Esteury Ruiz (67 stolen bases last year), Shea Langeliers (22 home runs) and Tyler Soderstrom (former top prospect) are a few of the A’s young hitters to watch.

There are a few exciting pitchers, too.

General manager David Forst deserves some credit for landing a trio of pitchers — JP Sears, Ken Waldichuk, Luis Medina — for Frankie Montas two years ago. Sears will be the club’s No. 3 pitcher this year while Waldichuk and Medina will both begin the year on the injured list, though all three look like they could be mainstays in the rotation at some point in the future.

Joe Boyle, acquired from the Reds in exchange for Sam Moll, has electric stuff. His 98-mph fastball and hard slider ranked him near the top of MLB pitchers in velocity, chase rate and barrel percentage during his 16-inning debut in 2023. He’ll be the club’s No. 5 starter.

Mason Miller is another power right-hander to keep an eye on, though elbow trouble limited him in 2023 and he’ll be used out of relief this season.

5. Are there any future stars down on the farm?

A team constantly trading All-Star players like Olson, Matt Chapman and Sean Murphy, among others, should have one of the game’s best farm systems, but the experts don’t see it that way.

ESPN and Baseball America recently ranked the A’s prospect pool 25th in MLB, while The Athletic ranked the A’s dead last.



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