The tale of the 2022 Major League Baseball season, which belatedly opens Thursday, can largely be told in the fortunes of two California cities. On Sunday, the Oakland A’s traded pitcher Sean Manaea to the San Diego Padres. The deal was a metaphor for baseball’s haves vs. the have nots.
Since the 99-day lockout ended March 10, the A’s have traded four key players worth $46 million in present day contracts for 12 prospects. Moving the left-handed starter Manaea to the Padres for two lower-level minor leaguers was just the latest. The Padres have largely tried to bolster their expensive star-studded roster.
The trade reunited Manaea with Bob Melvin, who left Oakland to manage the Padres after last season. Outfielders Mark Canha and Starling Marte subsequently departed to the New York Mets as free agents for a total payout of $104.5 million.
“Well, we’ve gone through this,” said Mark Kotsay, the rookie manager who replaced Melvin and has also recently lost pitcher Chris Bassitt, first baseman Matt Olsen and third baseman Matt Chapman. “It’s part of the process.”
The day of the trade, the Padres were scheduled to play a Cactus League game against the A’s in HoHoKam Stadium, Oakland’s spring facility in Mesa, Ariz. Manaea was informed about the trade several hours before the game when his old manager called and told him he’d be starting for the Padres against his now former teammates.
“Just stay there. We’ll come and get you,” Melvin said.
Manaea packed up his locker, said goodbye to some friends and walked from the A’s clubhouse down the right-field line to the visiting clubhouse behind third base, his baseball equipment stuffed in a shoulder bag. Confused fans stood witness as they began to filter into the small spring training ballpark, watching as Manaea strode past concession stands starting to sell beer, hot dogs and A’s gear. In the game, he wore his brand-new Padres uniform with his A’s green mitt and yellow cleats.
Manaea said he felt a bit displaced as he opened facing Tony Kemp.
“It was kind of like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this,’” Manaea said.
The game played out at the end of an offseason during which MLB’s higher spending teams dished out in excess of $3 billion to free agents, $1 billion since the lockout. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Mets go into their openers as two of the biggest spenders.
The A’s, according to Spotrac, have a 28-man roster earning $32.6 million, 29th out of the 30 MLB teams. Only the Baltimore Orioles at $30.2 million are behind them.
In contrast, the Padres are fifth overall at $208 million. Only the Dodgers ($277.8 million), the Mets ($252.4 million), New York Yankees ($240.3 million) and Philadelphia Phillies ($221.7 million) have spent more.
Last year, the Dodgers and Padres were the only teams to go over the $210 million luxury tax threshold. This year the threshold is $230 million, and the Padres are at $233.9 million. As the A’s have undergone another fire sale, the Padres have continued acquiring proven talent. Since the lockout ended they’ve traded for Manaea and designated hitter Luke Voit from the Yanks without making a dent in the starting lineup.
“We’re always juggling a lot of different options,” Padres owner Peter Seidler said earlier in the spring. “I love our roster the way it’s constructed, but we’re always looking to improve.”
The spending has helped capture the interest of sports fans in San Diego, particularly the 14-year, $340 million contract the team gave Ferndando Tatis Jr. last year, which has so far had more public relations than on-field value. Tatis last year tried to play through an injured left shoulder. This year he’s already out three months after surgery to repair a fractured left wrist suffered this past offseason in a motorcycle accident.
But the net result is that the Padres have broken their club record with more than 19,000 season tickets sold, surpassing the old mark set in 2004, the year Petco Park opened.
Seidler told the Padres players as camp opened that the surge in interest gives them an enormous amount of responsibility.
“I did comment about the immense trust the City of San Diego and the fans have in the players,” he said. “We were No. 3 in attendance last year in a loud, rocking building. Given the players we have, I expect that to continue.”
Meanwhile, the A’s are torn between building a $12 billion stadium and real estate project at the Howard Terminal in west Oakland and exploring a possible move to Las Vegas. On the field they are rebuilding with prospects once again in the Oakland Coliseum, where last season they averaged 8,767 fans per game, second lowest in MLB.
It’s not a stable situation in Oakland. In the wake of the Manaea trade, Kotsay announced that Frankie Montas, one of their last remaining young stars, would start the club’s opener Friday at Philadelphia. The obvious question was whether he was sure Montas would still be there.
“I am, absolutely, that’s the way we’re going to approach this year,” Kotsay said. “We’re here. They’re part of a 28-man group breaking camp, and we’re going to go out and win baseball games.”
As of now, Montas is still on the trading block with rumors having him going to Boston. Welcome to opening day. Welcome to MLB in 2022.