Catching up on all things A's with owner Wolff
ANAHEIM -- Spend a little time around A's owner Lew Wolff and you discover a few things: He's deeply involved with the day-to-day operations of the club -- even on the baseball side -- although he cedes most of those decisions to general manager Billy Beane.
The A's, despite having an interest in moving to San Jose, are deeply ingrained in Oakland, where negotiations to remain at least short term in the O.co Coliseum are ongoing. The A's have played in the facility since moving west from Kansas City in 1968.
"We're willing to sign a five-year lease with three one-year [club] options at a much higher rate than we're paying now," Wolff told MLB.com during a lengthy interview this week as his A's played the Angels at Angel Stadium.
"But more importantly, we're willing to pay more than we have the last five years, only because they need money to buy a new scoreboard and fix up the facility. And we're willing to offer that money up front. It's a negotiation that's hopefully coming to a close soon. The delay on a decision about moving has even limited those options."
Wearing a lime-green A's polo, the silver-haired 78-year-old Wolff sat behind the A's dugout during Tuesday night's 3-0 loss and signed a few autographs for A's apparel-clad fans. When one teenage girl sitting nearby asked if he could get her a baseball, Wolff messaged long-time traveling secretary Mickey Morabito, who magically appeared with a box of untouched baseballs still individually wrapped in white paper.
Wolff, a St. Louis native transplanted to Los Angeles, distributed the balls to delighted youngsters sitting nearby. Another fan crouched next to Wolff in the aisle and, whispering in his ear, thanked him for a season in which the A's clinched their second consecutive American League West title to head back into the playoffs.
"He told me that if I kept the team in Oakland, he'd buy me a beer," said Wolff, who once had a significant ownership stake in the NBA's Golden State Warriors.
MLB.com: So congratulations on another great season. Was this one a little bit more expected than last season?
Wolff: We knew we had a solid, competitive team. When you start the season considering the salaries of our competitors, it's a little scary. We persevered and then ran away from our division, got some distance between us and Texas. That was exciting and fun. It's our turn.
MLB.com: It didn't hurt you either that the Angels, Seattle and Houston were never players in the division this year.
Wolff: Yeah, I was quite concerned about the Angels. I thought if I were a pitcher looking at the lineup, it would be kind of frightening. But [Albert] Pujols got hurt. I think it was very brave, the way he tried to play through it. You could see he was hurting. It's amazing the way it worked out.
MLB.com: You have spent money strategically on this team now with Yoenis Cespedes, Bartolo Colon and Coco Crisp. It's not like this was a rag-tag roster that you put together.
Wolff: No, no. We've always wanted to be competitive, so this is not what "Moneyball" is supposed to look like. We're not the bottom of the salary list. Strategically, we make investments where Billy and his guys think we need them. Like Cespedes, like Colon. Brett Anderson has a contract. We're not paupers by a long shot.
MLB.com: I think that's a misnomer. This is not a Moneyball team. What Billy had to do a decade ago under different ownership to compensate for star players who had left is not what you're doing now.
Wolff: It's much different. Two things have happened: Being part of baseball's revenue-sharing pool, even though it's evenly dispersed, gives us additional funds. And what we wanted to do was work backwards from what Billy needs. He establishes the Major League salary, which we try to keep at about half of our projected revenue. That's not $200 million, but it's not a small number, either. Then the key is: what do you do with the money? How do you spend it? Billy and his guys really understand what they're doing. They do rely on using data in a very interesting and creative way, not just for the sake of having it. And then [manager] Bob Melvin and his crew bring their years of baseball knowledge. It all works well together.
MLB.com: I've always thought that Billy, as an ex-player, has an eye for talent. He can use the data, but he's very adept at picking out a player.
Wolff: You hit the nail on the head. [A's president] Mike Crowley will tell you, all of us will tell you, that when it comes to recognizing talent, Billy is tremendous. It's an innate ability, and I think it comes from two things: his playing, obviously, but also he likes intelligent information to make subjective decisions. You're right, though. He has a unique talent for looking at a player.
MLB.com: That's why many of his acolytes have gone out into baseball and haven't had similar success using the same data tools.
Wolff: I haven't thought of that, but I think you're right. He knows what it takes to be a player.
MLB.com: So how far do you think this team can go this year?
Wolff: I'm not predicting anything. I take every day out there, every win, every run as it comes. Everybody is going to say the same thing, but I think we have the talent. In a short series, the probabilities, the vicissitudes all change. And there is no dominant team, at least that I can see, that's going to steamroll anybody, including ourselves. So I think we have a good chance.
MLB.com: Last year, with the great second half and that come-from-behind win on the final day of the season, there was a "just glad to be here" feel to it going into the playoffs. This time, as a dominant, 94-win two-time champion, it's a lot different, don't you think?
Wolff: I think you're right. Actually, prior to last year, we were gunning for this year and next year. We were building up a team. I didn't think it would come along as fast as it did. Then again, you boil it down to the last game [in 2012], and it was exciting. I think the progression of what we've done, giving up certain players and getting others, the movement of players every day, is brilliant. Everybody deserves a lot of credit, Bob Melvin especially.
MLB.com: After the 2011 season, you traded a lot of a lot of key players, including Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill. Then the first of the year comes and you sign Cespedes and Colon, and re-sign Crisp. Why did you decide to go for it all of a sudden? Why did it happen in that way?
Wolff: The divesting was to get players, not to reduce salary. We wanted younger players at certain positions, pitching especially. You have to always give up something to get something in this business. And that was a strategic move, very, very vigorously determined by Billy and his people. I sat in and listened at the meetings. It wasn't like the second half of the offseason we decided to work harder. It wasn't at all that way. That was the plan. And frankly, we all thought it would mature this year, not last year.
MLB.com: You say you sit in on meetings -- how much are you involved in these baseball decisions?
Wolff: Look, we've got a very sophisticated group of people and also a very experienced group. As long as we don't have any wild budget situations, there aren't any problems. We tried to sign Adrian Beltre at one time and I accompanied Billy to meet with Beltre and [agent] Scott Boras. Those are things I like to do. He includes me. He doesn't have to, because you're not going to tinker with success. I'm just a pretty face, a great personality.
MLB.com: But you like to be involved?
Wolff: I like to be involved, but I don't want to micro-manage. Billy voluntarily involves me. We talk at least once a day. He likes to express his logic for doing things, and I enjoy listening to it. It's fun for me.
MLB.com: Well, the A's have also overcome this stadium situation in Oakland, too, which has gotten a lot of publicity this season because of plumbing problems.
Wolff: It's an old building, and I don't get quoted fairly all the time. The sewage thing has been made much bigger than it really is. And when there is a problem, the Coliseum people and our people get together and work it out. We're not the angry tenant. It's like the tarps. I don't know why these things get so much publicity, but they do. I've always been criticized for tarping the third deck. But that's kind of gone away, and we're going to untarp it for the playoffs.
MLB.com: You learned that lesson last year, because you had the tarp on for the first round of the playoffs and people criticized you.
Wolff: People were complaining, but we didn't sell out the rest of the stadium. If we really needed to satisfy demand we would have done it. We just didn't have the demand.
MLB.com: So where are you now in your negotiations with the Coliseum to extend your lease?
Wolff: We're still negotiating. It's been a while already. Now they've appointed an attorney to negotiate for them, a pretty good guy. We're getting closer to that, I think.
MLB.com: Where are you on moving?
Wolff: There's the lawsuit that the city of San Jose filed. Right now, my focus is on having a totally successful season. Although if it ended today, I'd consider it to be very successful. I think things are coalescing along well, but I'm really not going to think about that issue until after the season.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.