The writing has been on the wall for a while now, but Tuesday brought an official report on the topic: The Oakland A’s ballpark plans might be affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
To this point, the A’s have remained steadfastly committed to a 2023 opening date for a new, privately financed stadium at Howard Terminal in Oakland, no matter how difficult and complicated the project might seem nor how many roadblocks it meets along the way. However, with the pandemic interrupting so much of our society, including but not limited to the 2020 MLB season, that plan might finally require an update.
“The timeline may be adjusted due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Catherine Aker, A’s Vice President of Communications and Community, in an email to Scott Ostler of the S.F. Chronicle. Click that link for Ostler’s full writeup, including a thorough look at the various factors surrounding the project and the reasons why many doubted it’s likelihood even before the pandemic began.
That’s unfortunate news on its own, but the implications run deeper than just how long fans might have to wait to enjoy a beautiful new venue. The A’s long-term payroll plans are tied to this project, as they have long explained publicly that their notoriously frugal spending can’t be increased until they’ve got a park that can draw more revenue than their current home at the Coliseum.
Specifically, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, two crucial cogs of the team’s current winning core, will become eligible for arbitration after 2020 and for free agency after 2023. But for decades now, the A’s have built a reputation of trading away their stars when they get expensive, or at best letting them walk in free agency, with almost no exceptions. Any hope of seeing the team break that cycle with the two Matts likely rests on the extra revenue that the new stadium would bring in — and indeed, a 2023 opening would line up perfectly with the trajectories of the Matts, right as they would potentially be demanding gargantuan long-term contracts and could serve as the faces of the new park.
But if Howard Terminal gets pushed back another couple years? Maybe the A’s would have to push reset one more time between then and now, trade away the 2018-19 core, and start over around a new core of, say, Jesus Luzardo, A.J. Puk, and Sean Murphy — not such a terrible proposition itself, but still far less attractive than one that includes that trio and the Matts (among others).
All of this is still 100% theoretical. The only real thing here is Aker’s statement, which itself is merely a maybe, and the rest is just imaging a worst-case scenario that could result. But it’s troubling how realistic of a worst-case scenario it is.