OAKLAND — An overcast day at Jack London Square lit bright with Kelly green and gold.
Across the grass at the main stage, a mightier Oakland A’s fan contingent roared for their team, a team that’s returning mostly intact and with highly anticipated (to put it mildly) reinforcements.
Something special is in the air, a spritz of confidence that this team is in a rarified window of contention. A host of the players that took the stage in Oakland on Saturday afternoon participated in back-to-back 97-win seasons with early postseason exits, the new guys that joined them on that stage could very well take them over the hump.
Here are some takeaways an nuggets from A’s FanFest.
“The stars are aligning, 2020 is going to be our year,” president Dave Kaval said.
Stability and high expectations
Fans with questions for A’s on main stage kept things team specific, for the most part. Savvy ones Melvin if he’d consider bunting against the shift more often, his favorite memories at Cal. Some provided president Dave Kaval of the dates Mercury would be in retrogade… in order to prevent bad luck on the new ballpark’s development.
Executive vice president Billy Beane wore Ray Bans and his typical sense of humor. He fielded a question about his protégé across the Bay, Farhan Zaidi.
“He’s our double agent over there,” Beane joked.
There was just one awkward moment, when a fan asked if former A’s pitcher, mired by injury, Jharel Cotton would have a shot in the rotation this year. He might have a shot with his new team, the Chicago Cubs, General Manager David First informed him. If anything, this was a reminder that A’s fans didn’t have to deal with too much loss this year.
“We’re known for turnover, when we get to a period where we are now, it’s important to keep your guys,” Melvin said before he took the stage.
Beane said the tepid turnover reminded him of the early 2000s teams.
“It was probably the quietest offseason we had,” Beane said. “Normally, I’d say that’s not a good thing, but in this case it’s a good thing. It’s an ode to the stability we have.”
The most frequent question among fans: Who will play second base this season? Some asked if Chad Pinder might have a chance. Others wondered about Tony Kemp’s role.
Melvin put the question mark into perspective.
“There’s no perfect team,” Melvin said. “Whether it’s the Yankees or Astros, where they aren’t looking at a position or two and saying, ‘we can improve.’ For us to be where we are, it’s a credit to Billy (Beane) and David (Forst) with our payroll. To be where we are and just have a couple question marks, if I were to bring (second base) up I would be nitpicking a little bit.”
We can start to clarify this second base picture, though. There are a few moving parts: right-handed bats Franklin Barreto and Jorge Mateo and left-handed bats Vimael Machin and Kemp.
The A’s traded for Kemp mostly because of his positional versatility and left-handed bat. Kemp could platoon with Barreto or Mateo, but if Machin hits in spring training the way he’s been hitting in winter ball — .333 average with a .838 OPS with the Caguas of the Puerto Rican League — he could be a platoon option at second base, pushing Kemp into more of a platoon option in the outfield. And, certainly, the 26th roster spot opens the opportunities for versatility.
“We have a pretty good idea of what the guys will be, we just have to break down what the playing time will be,” Beane said.
Mike Fiers’ warm reception
As FanFest commenced, the player contingent was introduced individually on the big stage. After two-time Platinum Glover Matt Chapman’s loud ovation, the fans managed to get even louder for Fiers. They were clearly aware and in support of his whistleblowing the Houston Astros organization for sign-stealing.
His team, Melvin and Forst reiterated their support for Fiers, adding now that they weren’t surprised by the MLB investigation’s findings. Fiers was mum on the matter post-investigation, preferring instead to move beyond the issue. A’s broadcaster Chris Townsend nudged him a bit though while seated on stage along with Sean Manaea, JB Wendelken and Chris Bassitt.
Townsend: “So what have you been doing this offseason?”
Fiers: “Staying off the internet.”
Fans greeting Fiers on his way to the stage. pic.twitter.com/5SmVhQomoe
— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) January 25, 2020
Beane was take aback by the blowback Fiers received.
“I’m a little bit perplexed as to why there would be any blowback whatsoever,” he said. “It just baffles me that, whenever I hear any negative on what he said, I’m actually blown away that more people didn’t step forward. I don’t know how you can possibly defend this.”
Fiers got a couple “MVP” chants as he took the stage and walked by autograph seekers. One fan in attendance wore an interesting shirt in support.
As seen at FanFest pic.twitter.com/bUDDxFkaPf
— Shayna Rubin (@ShaynaRubin) January 25, 2020
Kaval fielded multiple questions about the new ballpark proposed at Howard Terminal.
Bottom line: Kaval was strident that the new ballpark’s approval will be signed off this summer.
“Get the shovels ready,” he said to the cheering fans.
The latest step — the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to approve the city port agreement, which permits an environmental review.
— Dave Kaval (@DaveKaval) January 22, 2020