Oakland Athletics: How Covid-19 could permanently affect the team

Oakland Athletics (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Oakland Athletics (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images) /

The Oakland Athletics could be permanently affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every professional sports team in the United States, but small-market teams like the Oakland Athletics have suffered even more than most.

With reports of furloughs and pay cuts across the organization from players to executives, how will the organization function when baseball does return?

Simply put, not everything is A-ok for Oakland Athletics baseball right now.

It wouldn’t be an understatement to say that the sports world, in general, has been among the industries most severely impacted by the pandemic. After all, no live sports means no increase in revenue.

And like poorer communities in the real world, who generally receive the brunt of the worst conditions in trying times, small market sports franchises are also on the short end of the stick in this global emergency.

Count the A’s among them.

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This isn’t an outright indictment on team ownership, the front office, or the smallish size of the Oakland market. No one could possibly imagine the magnitude of the crisis we are currently witnessing.

Thus, it would be unfair to completely berate those in charge (though they aren’t guiltless either) or the factors, both internal and external, that have been so decidedly against the team’s operations through this challenging period.

However, it is fair to question how the Athletics will be able to functionally operate and with some measure of success once a shortened baseball season does commence (a whole other issue at the moment).

In the first place, the Coliseum Authority, which oversees the Oakland Coliseum where the A’s play their home games, announced that the team had missed a $1.2 million rent payment that had originally been due April 1.

The team cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason behind their tardiness. While the pandemic has been the source of many rent disputes across the country, landlords, and other property owners can’t just make rent disappear.

No home stadium, no games played there. That might present an issue when the season draws near.

For what it’s worth, we have not gotten any updates on the team’s stadium payment since that news broke. Think the A’s want the season to start soon so they can generate revenue to pay off their stadium debt? That’s just the start of it.

On Tuesday, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the organization would terminate the weekly stipend of their minor league players effective at month’s end.

Passan laid out the details in a subsequent tweet.

"“Just some rough math. Say there are 200 players in a minor league system. Paying each $400/week for June, July and August is $5,200 per player. To pay every minor leaguer would have cost the Oakland A’s a hair over $1 million.Owner John Fisher is worth an estimated $2 billion.”"

Just for context, Dennis Lin of The Athletic reported Wednesday that the San Diego Padres, another small market baseball franchise likely facing similar financial hurdles, will continue paying that same stipend to their minor leaguers through August.

Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler, who roughly equates to Fisher’s role with the Athletics, is only worth approximately $500 million.

The point? The Padres are worth even less than the A’s. But their minor leaguers will be paid this summer.

On the surface, it doesn’t appear to be a large ask for John Fisher to pay his lowest level players if Passan’s analysis serves us right.

Perhaps there are other factors that we’re not aware of with respect to the organization’s finances. But refusing to pay minor leaguers a “hair over $1 million” for an owner with a two billion dollar valuation seems awfully unjust.

Adding further insult to injury, Fisher announced Tuesday in a statement that the team will furlough a “significant” number of scouts and other front-office employees in an effort to conserve funds through the crisis.

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It seems as if the Athletics have done so much damage to themselves through these drastic measures that it could take a while for the organization to recover from their wounds.

How can they effectively carry out even a shortened 2020 season when they will be so clearly understaffed?

What about the state of the team’s future, with the daunting task of having to assemble a competitive roster for 2021 and beyond while also keeping the organization’s finances in good health?

Of course, not everything that has transpired is their fault, but the cupboards will definitely be emptier (literally) when the season does resume.

That will put them at a competitive disadvantage, especially in scouting and analytics, where the team has furloughed the majority of its employees from.

Oakland has graded out strongly in those areas over the last 20 or so years, a byproduct of the “Moneyball” philosophy of team-building preached by general manager David Forst and team executive Billy Beane.

Those aspects of the team drive their ability to succeed. Fewer talent evaluators will mean fewer opportunities to seek out young, first-class talent (which can be had for cheap) and subsequently, fewer data to reference.

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The outlook may appear grim, and the road to rebuilding the organization could be arduous, but let’s hope for a baseball season in 2020 for the sake of the Oakland Athletics, as well as for our own.