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A's Might Have Perfect 2020 Vision

In what will be their most important offseason in decades, the A's are working to build a new Oakland ballpark and bolster a deep roster so young and talented it could make them baseball's Team of the Twenties.

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I know you're still feeling the pain, fellow A's fans. I am, too.

The Wild Card loss to Tampa Bay on Oct. 3 ended another promising A's season with a familiar, heartbreaking thud. It also forced us to endure another round of petty gloating from San Francisco's sports media.

Then, as many of you already know, it somehow got worse.

Countless news stories since the playoff loss have focused on the Oakland City Council's lawsuit against Alameda County over a proposed sale to the A's of the county's share of the Coliseum complex. The ill-advised suit reportedly aggravated the A's front office and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who told council members that the litigation might lead the A's to leave town. That jumpstarted yet another round of relocation rumors and hand-wringing from Oakland fans already scarred from exits by the Warriors and Raiders. So, right when we all were dealing with the heartache of another early October exit, East Bay fans were handed something worse: an existential crisis that painfully reminds them that cities from Montreal to Las Vegas to Portland would love to steal the A's franchise.

Sigh.

To quote the immortal Crash Davis: We're dealing with a lot of shit.

But this is no time for pity parties because — and this is the most important part — hope is on the horizon. Simple solutions, indeed, can be found to the vexing problems listed above.

Let's start with the simplest issue: the baseball roster. This A's team is stacked for years to come. You know the youthful lineup's biggest names. Chapman, Laureano, Murphy, Olson, Semien, and several others. Also, the pitching rotation is deep, young, and absurdly talented. The opening day ages of next year's likely starters — Luzardo, Manaea, Montas, and Puk — range from 22 to 28. If the A's add just a couple of good arms to the bullpen, the team's surprising weakness this past season, they will be a surefire World Series contender. The team's on-field product looks locked and loaded for the foreseeable future.

The off-field issues? Well, this is where things get dicey.

First, the Oakland City Council should not have sued Alameda County. Likewise, Manfred should not have replied with relocation threats. They never help.

Next, the City Council and Alameda County supervisors must solve their dispute quickly over the Oakland Coliseum land. The politicians should find a sale price they can live with and then get out of the way.

The A's are trying to buy Alameda County's 50 percent share of the Coliseum complex. The team also would like to own the city's share. Once that land is sold, the Coliseum Authority — also known as the JPA — should take urgent steps to dissolve itself.

During the JPA's 24-year history, its members have tried their best. Far too often, though, I've seen the JPA live in the past and re-litigate old battles they lost, rather than focus on winning the next ones. By all measures, the JPA has been a failure. No need to point fingers. The city and county should just acknowledge it. Learn from it, sure, but end it without hesitation. And never return to it.

Also, if the politicians are mad at the Raiders and Warriors for deserting The Town, then take it out on those teams' owners. Yes, both of those teams did Oakland dirty. However, the A's are another story.

Namely, the A's still want to privately finance a ballpark in Oakland. And Manfred, unlike his predecessor Bud Selig, still believes Oakland is a viable baseball market. As Mayor Libby Schaaf said on KTVU News last week, there's still a good pathway to building the waterfront ballpark at Howard Terminal.

Whereas the Raiders' Mark Davis and the Dubs' Joe Lacob deserve our anger and disappointment, A's President Dave Kaval and the team's front office have earned our cooperation. Ever since Kaval replaced Lew Wolff as the face of the front office, the A's have been sincerely working hard to stay in Oakland. So, the City Council and the community should work with them to get the best possible deal for Oakland.

The public nature of pro sports means you can pressure the franchise and MLB, via the media, to deliver on affordable housing, community benefits, toxic cleanup, and other issues.

But we in the community can pressure the A's only if we're working WITH them. That doesn't mean we say yes to all their requests. But it would be dumb and self-destructive to reflexively say no to everything just because we're mad at Davis and Lacob — which is what I suspect is happening here.

It's an old cliché but it seems apt in this case: "The perfect is the enemy of the good." In other words, if all parties here are willing to compromise just a little, then we can find a pretty good solution that works for nearly all.

It was just a few years ago that people trying to steal this team from Oakland were saying that no MLB owners would privately finance a new Oakland park. Those naysayers, of course, were wrong. In fact, the A's still plan to privately finance the Howard Terminal ballpark, as well as pay to create at least one transit option — the proposed tram that would connect downtown BART to the Oakland waterfront. The ballpark also might attract other much needed transit options to Jack London Square. (I can't believe there is no ferry route between Marin County and Oakland, for example.)

And the Howard Terminal ballpark might be the long-missing business anchor that Jack London Square has always needed to ignite it as the entertainment hotspot for which city planners explicitly zoned it.

As for the Coliseum complex, several things are achieved by selling that 120 acres land for close to $200 million ($85 million for the county's half plus whatever the city's asking price is).

Such a sale would wipe away the stadium debt and lead the JPA to dissolve. Most importantly, it would allow the A's to develop the Coliseum land in ways that fulfill terms of the area's specific plan, which the city completed and approved a few years ago. The A's propose to build housing, a hotel, offices, and maybe youth fields, among other things — not because of some developer's crazy dream, but because most of those ideas are in the city's Coliseum Area Specific Plan.

To anyone skeptical about the A's' intentions, this is where we as a community can use the very public nature of a pro sports to hold the franchise's feet to the fire. In other words, we can lean on the A's to ensure that they keep their promises. Also, there's so much land surrounding the Coliseum complex that, if the community wants other ideas implemented to temper what the A's are doing there, then we can pressure council members to do just that.

None of this stuff has to be as difficult as it has seemed in the past three weeks. Land-use progress is slow and arduous, but it doesn't have to be this complicated.

All parties involved should cool down and then get back to work on this great idea: an eye-catching waterfront gem that could provide the A's the ballpark they've long coveted, transform Jack London Square and the Oakland waterfront, and give The Town the public win it sorely deserves.

So, keep the faith, Oakland fans. You've endured a lot of adversity over the past quarter-century. But there still is much about which to be hopeful.

The A's are just a player or two away from rising to the top of MLB, making them baseball's best team of the coming 2020s. Meanwhile, the city and county are just a smart decision or two away from keeping the green and gold forever in The Town.

If key progress is made on both fronts this winter, it'll be remembered as the best offseason in the history of Oakland baseball. And not a moment too soon.

Chris De Benedetti, a co-founder of Baseball Oakland, writes a regular sports column for the Express.

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