September 26, 2011
Instead, the bad news is that the team says it's not going to spend any money on new player contracts until a decision is made on allowing them to move to a new stadium in San Jose.
That's according to what Willingham's agent, Matt Sosnick, told the San Francisco Chronicle:
"We gave the A's an idea of where we were, and we were told they have interest in bringing Josh back, but before they did anything, they want to see what happens with the stadium," Sosnick said. "Josh and I both made it clear he'd like to stay, but at this point, I'm pretty sure he'll test the free-agent market."
Willingham was the only batter posing any sort of offensive threat for the Oakland lineup this season, with 28 home runs, 94 RBIs and an .814 OPS that is easily the highest on the team. (The next highest is Jemile Weeks'(notes) .766 in 85 fewer at-bats.)
Bringing Willingham back would obviously help the roster, as well as offer some encouragement to fans who supported the team through a disappointing 2011 season. He could also be the type of player to trade away for prospects if and when the team decided to go into full-on rebuilding mode.
Yet general manager Billy Beane's hands are apparently tied.
If Brad Pitt, Bennett Miller and company wanted a sequel to "Moneyball," this could be the story to adapt. Regardless of whether or not MLB approves a move to San Jose and a fancy new, revenue-producing ballpark, shouldn't Beane and the A's still try to put together the best team they can? If the team's best hitter wants to stay and is willing to sign for an affordable $12 million per year — a second-tier salary for a player of Willingham's production — how can there be any expectation that the A's will compete next season?
If the plan is otherwise — to rebuild with a cheap, young roster — fans deserve to know that. Do season ticket holders get to withhold renewal on their seats until this stadium situation gets resolved? Yeah, that's what we thought.
The A's have been trying to get out of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (currently called O.co Coliseum) and move to San Jose for almost three years. The city wants the A's to play there. But such a move would require the approval of the San Francisco Giants, who hold territorial rights over the area and would prefer the A's not dig in on their turf.
Major League Baseball assembled a blue-ribbon panel to look at the stadium situation and issue a recommendation, but it has yet to render a decision.
However, the A's may now have some leverage to force a stadium deal with the ouster of Giants managing partner Bill Neukom. As the Mercury News' Mark Purdy explains, for the Giants to transfer ownership to new CEO Larry Baer, 75 percent of the 30 owners in baseball have to approve the deal. A's owner Lew Wolff could hold back his approval until the Giants relax their hold on San Jose.
If a new stadium is the one thing keeping Beane from putting together a representative ballclub next season that has a chance of scoring some runs for a young, talented pitching staff, let's hope Wolff is exerting that leverage right now. Maybe that's why the team seems confident that a decision will be made soon.