by Bill Moriarity / A’s Farm Editor
Each year, A’s FanFest not only offers an opportunity for fans to meet some of their favorite players, but it also offers a chance to get a look inside the organization’s plans for the year ahead.
Of course, the biggest question about the A’s future surrounds the team’s quest for a new stadium to call home. On that subject, team president Dave Kaval offered some very clear public remarks, and then we had the opportunity to explore the subject a little further with A’s Chief Operating Officer Chris Giles.
Regarding the team on the field and the young players the A’s are currently counting on, Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane offered an array of interesting comments, and then we had the chance to chat with and get to know one of the team’s newest young arrivals, reliever Emilio Pagan. You’ll find more on both Beane and Pagan below. But first, let’s start with the all-important stadium issue…
Kaval’s & Giles’ Stadium Plans
In his introductory remarks to fans gathered for the morning’s player introductions, team president Dave Kaval took the stage and emphatically stated that the organization remained committed to opening a new, privately-financed stadium in Oakland by 2023, and he then went on to mention the three previously-discussed sites – Howard Terminal, the Coliseum and Laney College – as potential options.
In a small interview session just shortly after Kaval’s remarks, we had the opportunity to dig a little deeper and get some insight from A’s Chief Operating Officer Chris Giles. He discussed the team’s thinking after the Peralta Board of Trustees rejected the A’s overtures to open negotiations on the team’s preferred site adjacent to Laney College. And Giles echoed Kaval’s comments that the organization felt that all three sites still remain in play.
“I think we feel like there’s still three viable sites [Laney College, Howard Terminal, the Coliseum]…and we continue to look at all three of those possibilities. We’re going to build here – it’s just a matter of where,” he said.
After having their initial advances spurned by the Peralta Board of Trustees, Giles indicated that the team was still eager to talk about the Laney College site but admitted that the ball is really in their court at this point.
“It’s really up to them. I mean, we’re giving them the time to kind of wrap their heads around that site and really figure out if that’s something they want to engage with us on. We’re willing to engage. But we view ourselves as a citizen of this community, and we want to find a place that’s not only good for the team but also great for the community as well.”
It’s clear that each of the three options currently under consideration has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses. But regardless of the particular hurdles that any of the current options might present, Giles seems to feel that they each represent legitimate options.
“I would say none of them are impossible, but also none of them are without their challenges. If there was just one that checked all of the boxes on day one, we would just go that route. But there’s lots of different factors that we have to consider…We’ve got transportation, we’ve got weather, we’ve got the revenue potential – we’ve got all these different pieces.”
Last year, Kaval promised that the organization would name a stadium site by the end of 2017, which it did when it stated its intention to acquire the Laney College site. Giles indicated that the A’s would be a little more circumspect before making another public pronouncement on the stadium issue, though the team does still have a general timeline in mind for the next announcement.
“Our goal is to get a site deal for land and naming rights and all the different business components of getting it done sometime in the next 12 to 18 months. We’re very careful to make sure that we explore all of the different options but also that we’re very confident about the plan before we release it.”
Despite the recent setback with the Peralta Board of Trustees, Kaval still promised that the organization was committed to having a new stadium ready to go by 2023, and Giles concurred.
“As we think about the timing of what we’re trying to accomplish, our timing is still 2023. We laid out a time frame where this year was designed to be a consensus-building year, an exploratory year – there were lots of different bodies we had to work with when we were on the Peralta path. So, based on a lot of the conversations that we’ve had…we’re still very confident that that 2023 timeline makes sense.”
Beane’s Youth Movement
During the first onstage question-and-answer session of the day, A’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane offered some interesting comments while fielding questions about the A’s constant roster turnover and the team’s current youth movement.
Beane made it clear that the organization was committed to sticking with the team’s core of young players going forward. He seemed to brush off the notion of signing veteran free agents, not wanting to take away playing time from the team’s talented young players.
Beane claimed that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman would love to get back the three young players the A’s acquired from New York in the Sonny Gray deal. He was referring to center fielder Dustin Fowler, shortstop Jorge Mateo and pitcher James Kaprielian, and stated how difficult it was to acquire such top-tier prospects. Further comments made it clear just how much the front office values Mateo and how quickly he could find himself with the A’s, especially if he starts the year “just a phone call away,” as Beane put it, at Triple-A Nashville.
When it comes to the team’s top pitching prospect, former 1st-round draft pick A.J. Puk, Beane said he still needs a little more time in the minors, but he also added that “it wouldn’t surprise me” to see Puk as part of the big league staff at some point in 2018.
Meeting Mr. Pagan
Acquired this offseason from Seattle in the Ryon Healy deal, right-handed reliever Emilio Pagan may not be a familiar figure to most A’s fans, but he’s expected to be one the team’s key setup men this season. Pagan was a highly efficient member of the Mariners bullpen last year, walking just 8 batters over 50 1/3 frames while posting a 3.22 ERA and stingy 0.93 WHIP. According to the 26-year-old, his minimal walk total in his first major league season was due to a couple of key developments.
“I just got to a point where I was able to repeat my mechanics more. And when you can repeat your mechanics, it gives you a better opportunity to be in control of your body,” Pagan said. He then added, “I stopped going out of the full windup without runners on base, which I traditionally used to do, and just lived pretty much out of the stretch all year. And that seemed to work, and so I stuck with it and had a pretty good year.”
He said he was surprised when he got the call from Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto to let him know that he’d been traded to the A’s for Ryon Healy.
“It was humbling for me to know that Oakland was willing to give up a guy like that to get me. So, obviously, I’m going to try to be the best version of me I can be each and every day going forward and help Oakland win a lot of games and hopefully get in the playoffs here soon.”
Pagan indicated that he was well aware of the youth movement currently underway with the A’s and that he already has some experience with some of the team’s top young stars, whom he now looks forward to competing alongside.
“I’m super excited. I know a lot about the young core. I’ve played against a lot of these guys coming up through the minors. [Matt] Chapman and [Matt] Olson obviously jump to the top…There’s a lot of talent…We were talking last night at dinner. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and we’re going to try and shock some people and try and make a run at it, because I know there’s a lot of talent and we’re all very eager to get started.”
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