A’s fire sale drawing criticism from some MLB team owners


At least a few rival MLB club owners are annoyed at the Athletics for conducting a major fire sale to enhance their bottom line soon after being added as a new revenue-sharing recipient in a vote by owners.

“The idea of revenue sharing is not to make money, it’s to field a competitive team,” one rival owner complained Thursday during the owners’ meetings at MLB headquarters in Midtown. “That money is supposed to go toward player salaries. [The A’s] took the money and put it in their pocket.”

Yet another owner, also upset that the A’s didn’t use the money to buy new players, but instead did the opposite and sold three major stars and drastically cut their payroll, referred to the franchise generally as “a mess.”

While Oakland is only receiving about $9 million via revenue sharing for 2022 before it bumps up to $20 million next year, and their agreement stipulates that the monies will go away entirely in 2024 if they’re unable to reach a new stadium deal, at least some owners are almost as upset with the A’s as their fans appear to be. The newly stripped-down A’s are drawing fewer than 3,000 fans some games.

The A’s traded Matt Chapman (left) and Sean Manaea during the offseason.
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MLB people point out the A’s have spent considerable sums on the Howard Terminal and other projects to try to land a new home in Oakland, and that even with the monies they now receive from the league (plus the loot saved from the multiple star players they traded), they are still losing money. They also stress the temporary nature of the deal, originally approved by a three-quarters vote of owners to override the rule disallowing major-market clubs from being recipients, as a way to tide them over while they are in stadium “limbo.”

Commissioner Rob Manfred suggested there has been progress on the stadium front.

“There really is significant activity in Oakland,” Manfred said of the issue that has dragged on for a decade and a half.

Some owners are unconvinced it will ever get done there because both the NFL’s Raiders and NBA’s Warriors left Oakland.

“The A’s just need to move out of Oakland,” a third owner said.

The stadium issue doesn’t necessarily assuage some owners, who say it isn’t their responsibility to subsidize struggling teams. The money that went to Oakland actually comes out of funds that were to go to qualifying clubs, many that do things right, that spend on players and try to win despite low revenues.

The A’s this winter staged an all-time sell-off, turning a competitive team into a noncompetitive one, trading first baseman Matt Olson, third baseman Matt Chapman and pitcher Sean Manaea. There’s some expectation more A’s veterans, possibly including pitcher Frankie Montas and outfielder Ramon Laureano, may be dealt by the trade deadline, further gutting a 21-43 team that was 10 games over .500 in 2021 and made the playoffs the three seasons previous to that.

Oakland’s baseball operations staff has been famously successful working on a shoestring, but it will be difficult to even tread water with a payroll that’s now $64.7 million (CBT number), down 37 percent from $102.2 million last year and 29th among 30 teams. The A’s ownership has come under fire before, including for supplying substandard meals to minor league players.

Team president Dave Kaval did not respond to a message.

Manfred spoke on a number of other issues at the conclusion of the meetings. Here are some highlights:

—  The sale of a minority stake in the Guardians to 76ers/Devils co-owner David Blitzer, with the option for Blitzer to take majority control in six years was approved, pending the closing. Blitzer is buying just over 25 percent now, and can take a majority stake in up to six years, depending on current owner Paul Dolan’s preference. Blitzer may give the Guardians the chance to move out of the bottom of payroll standings.

— Manfred affirmed that the experimental use of the pitch clock in the minors has been a success (it has helped shave off 24 minutes per game), but stopped short of advocating for rules changes, including a banning of the shift. He said he didn’t want to “prejudge” anything before the newly formed competition committee makes recommendations.

— Although baseball got off to a slow start offensively this year, Manfred’s hope is to see more balls in play, and more action. “I think it has been better,” he contended.

— While they are continuing to experiment with robot umps in the minors, it’s “not an issue for this year,” suggesting it will be for 2024, or beyond.

—  Manfred endorsed the international draft (and MLB is currently in discussions about how to make it work). “We think it’s time for systemic change in the Dominican Republic,” he said.

—  The commissioner said he sympathizes with fans who have had trouble finding games following MLB’s deals with Apple TV+, Peacock and Amazon Prime Video. Manfred conceded there are fans who want to watch baseball and “don’t have an ample opportunity to do that,” and that was a big topic. Furthermore, Manfred said they intend to “step into the digital space [streaming] in particular to provide fans with greater and more flexible opportunities to watch games.”

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