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It was pretty clear that what the A’s did with their offseason was egregious even as it was happening. In reaction to winning 86 games in 2021, having the postseason expand from 10 to 12 clubs, and being authorized to receive revenue-sharing payments once again under the new collective bargaining agreement, Oakland started trading away its desirable players making more than the minimum salary. Oh, and they also kept raising their ticket prices, too. Maybe they thought all that salt in the wound would cauterize it.
It’s all bad enough that now you’ve got a few anonymous MLB owners leaking to Jon Heyman that the A’s behavior bothers them:
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.”
Heyman doesn’t reveal who any of these quotes came from, but it doesn’t take much brainpower to realize that all of these owners are likely ones who control clubs that pay heavily into the revenue-sharing pool. Bob Nutting, Stuart Sternberg, and Bruce Sherman aren’t about to start criticizing the A’s for failure to spend revenue-sharing dollars as intended. And I don’t even just say this as a quip: they’re all part of an ongoing grievance the Players Association filed against the Pirates, Rays, Marlins, and A’s for similar behaviors, so, you know. Go team and all that. No, revenue-sharing recipients aren’t about to start pointing fingers, not when they would like to keep the option of simply not spending the money — or claiming the money is being spent on other, off-the-field necessities, no you can’t see the books why do you ask — open for down the road, just in case.
We’re not here to play guess the owner, though, as much fun as it would be to try to link Hal Steinbrenner to the correct anonymous quote. No, the question that we’re here to answer today is this one: And? There are clearly owners unhappy about the A’s behavior, and they should be unhappy. But what are they going to do about it, besides anonymously whine to the press about how the A’s are exploiting the loopholes in a system that is very easy to exploit, and also was constructed and/or upheld by the lot of them?
The league is a few months into the new five-year CBA, so, nothing is going to change for some time, if it’s ever going to. The league and its owners also rejected any kind of change to the revenue-sharing mechanisms during the last negotiations, outside of reinstating the A’s to help them through their stadium-based agonies. Solutions to the exploitable revenue-sharing model were offered up during collective bargaining, and were met with answers found on a spectrum between, “No.” and “Well we’d love to do that and we agree that this is an issue, but, no.”
When the time comes for the clubs paying into revenue-sharing to complain in a way that helps to fix the model, they’ll all get real quiet about it. They’ll fall in line, as they have done ever since former commissioner Bud Selig trained them to do so, and teams like the A’s, Rays, Pirates, and Marlins will be able to continue to do what they do best, which is whatever they feel like doing without anyone stopping them from doing it. Whining to Heyman or whomever about it anonymously is just another form of “We tried.”
We already know what MLB’s take on the issue is, because it’s included in Heyman’s piece, too:
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.”
MLB supports what the A’s are doing. MLB immediately reminded the rest of the owners that they agreed to create a situation where this could happen, which is part “fall back in line” and part “this is for the good of all of us.” The owners will hear the message loud and clear, and probably won’t even complain to the media about the issue again for a while, if at all. After all, it’s just a temporary, multi-year pocketing of funds while the A’s demoralize a fan base we’re talking about here.
Surely there’s no permanent damage that will arise from intentionally creating a situation where the A’s are the only team drawing fewer than 11,000 fans per game (8,283), or from having under a quarter-million fans to this point in the year despite already playing 30 home games, whereas the Guardians, ranked 29th in total attendance, have played just 22 of them so far. It’s just probably not good that the A’s are closer in average game attendance to the 2021 Triple-A Nashville Sounds (6,721 per game last summer, 438,868 total despite pandemic-related downturns in attendance across the minors) than they are the next-worst MLB club.
A new stadium will fix all of this, though, definitely. Just like it did for Miami. After all, they’re not last in attendance anymore.