In 1997, the Florida (now Miami) Marlins won the World Series, bringing joy and enthusiasm to the team and its fan base. Days later, the destruction of the team began as management shipped off nearly every high-priced veteran it could to save money.
The excuse was that the team couldn’t afford such a large payroll without a larger fan base, and more fans would come only if the team got a new stadium. Well, it took nearly 15 years, but that new stadium is finally a reality, and it looks to be a stunning ballpark, though the structural integrity and financing of the facility have been called into question.
In 2011, the Oakland A’s went 74-88. There were no victory parades, but the team’s teardown has been as thorough as the Marlins’ was 14 years ago.
Starting pitchers Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez have been shipped off to the Diamondbacks and Nationals, respectively, in return for a gaggle of hot prospects. Middle reliever Craig Breslow joined Cahill in the move to Arizona, while closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney were just sent to Boston for three more promising youngsters.
Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, Coco Crisp and Hideki Matsui—all solid, if unispiring, offensive contributors—will not be returning to Oakland. The roster has been stripped so bare that at one point Sweeney was listed on the A’s official Web site depth chart as the starting outfielder at all three positions.
Like the Marlins, the A’s say they need a new ballpark to compete. And with the Angels signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, and the Rangers coming off back-to-back World Series appearances and acquiring the rights to Yu Darvish, they certainly need something to keep pace.
Rumors abound that the team soon will be allowed to move to San Jose, though Bud Selig’s Blue Ribbon Committee that has been studying the issue for a few years now has not made any formal proposals. Given how long the Marlins waited for a new facility, A’s fans shouldn’t hold their breath.
When the Marlins tore things down, they shaved massive financial commitments from their books, but at least they had a title to show for their investment. The A’s are dealing away young, cheap, cost-controlled talent for even younger, even cheaper, cost-controlled potential. And they have nothing to show for their efforts other than the possibility of being the cheapest, most anonymous ball team since the 1998 Marlins.
Things were awful in South Florida in ’98, as the team fell from 92 victories the season before to a mere 54 wins. The A’s starting point is 74 wins. An equal 38-game dropoff would yield a 36-126 record that would make the 1962 Mets look like world beaters.
Oakland is unlikely to be quite that bad in 2012 and beyond, but it’s going to be horrendously ugly for the next few years. It may even be so bad that this monstrosity will look good by comparison.