San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller knew Bob Melvin would be a difficult get to fill their manager vacancy. Still, the A’s manager of 10-plus seasons was at the top of their list.
Preller’s first attempt to land an interview with Melvin last month met resistance. Oakland A’s president of baseball operations Billy Beane wouldn’t hear it.
“First thing he told me was, ‘No chance, go to hell,’” Preller told reporters on Monday. Ordinarily, the Padres’ pursuit would have ended there. But with a grim financial outlook, this will be no ordinary offseason for the Oakland A’s. Beane changed course, allowed the interview and, within days, Melvin signed a three-year deal to manage the talented, underperforming Padres.
“I’m probably as surprised to be here as you all are,” Melvin said to reporters at his introductory news conference in San Diego.
Surprise it was, but Melvin’s reasons for choosing San Diego tell us all we need to know about why he had to leave Oakland: The Padres have everything the A’s do not.
First, the job itself is inviting. Not only is Melvin a highly respected baseball mind capable of blending old-school managerial skills with keen adaptability to new-school analytics — he is beloved by players as a father figure. In Oakland he was known for being the glue in a clubhouse in constant threat of erosion. The Padres boast a roster ripe for World Series runs, but clubhouse dysfunction that played part in tearing their postseason chances to shreds last season called for new, strong leadership. A team with Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and an eye-popping assemblage of pitchers in the National League may be Melvin’s best chance at winning a World Series ring.
“Just how passionate they were to win. That’s where I am in my career, too,” Melvin said about the Padres’ future. “This could be my last stop.”
When the A’s picked up Melvin’s 2022 contract option last spring, the 60-year-old manager said there was “no place he’d rather be” than Oakland. The team’s economic outlook changed that perspective. With the payroll to be greatly reduced in 2022 and the coming years, there’s no guarantee that Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Ramón Laureano, Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea or any of the current core players will be back in Oakland next year.
A’s owner John Fisher hasn’t shown a willingness to do, or spend, what it takes to win now — or ever. Team spending goes beyond the roster, and the A’s dearth of resources (technology, staff, equipment) is creating separation from other teams. Plus, by not extending Melvin last year, ownership hasn’t even shown a willingness to keep their three-time Manager of the Year in the long term.
“It’s all about winning at this point,” Melvin said, asked what drew him to San Diego. “When you have a roster like that, and all the people that give you the resources and backing to do it, I don’t know that there is a better destination in baseball to be able to come. I’m a lucky man.”
Uncertainty spans beyond the roster. With the Howard Terminal project moving at a glacial pace, rife with controversy, and Las Vegas propped as the alternative option, the A’s don’t even have a place to call home when the Coliseum lease ends in 2024.
With ownership preoccupied with the ballpark drama, little time and resources are spent on the fan experience. The A’s were vying for a postseason spot in front of less than 10,000 fans on a near-nightly basis at home. Lack of fan support is a detriment to the on-field product, and the fans are not to blame if they have no reason to show up. The A’s doubled season ticket prices for the 2022 season in order to make a marginal profit, so those small, loyal crowds may even shrink.
That won’t be an issue for the Padres at Petco Park, a ballpark the A’s could dream of modeling their new one after. The crowds didn’t go unnoticed when Melvin visited Petco this season with the A’s.
“We came here on a Tuesday night and there was 40,000 people here and it was electric, you would have thought it was the playoffs,” Melvin said of the Padres home dynamic. “It resonated with everyone in the dugout. We’re all looking around at each other going, ‘Wow.’ The ballpark is fantastic, it’s a true destination.”
The logical next question: Why did the A’s let Melvin go under contract? Beane could have stuck with his first response — or at least requested compensation for losing Melvin to the Padres. But after 10-plus seasons, Beane and Forst had to do right by the touted manager. For an owner in Fisher keen on cutting the slimmest costs, saving the $4 million on Melvin’s contract was an added bonus. (Melvin’s deal with the Padres reportedly is $12 million over three years.)
With all that mutual respect, why lock Melvin into a sinking ship? Beane eventually granted the interview out of respect.
“He was open-minded, and in a very competitive industry,” Preller said. “His main thing was, ‘I’m going to do what’s best for Bob.’ Which you don’t hear a lot in this industry.”
All those pieces came together to cut Melvin’s reign as longest-tenured manager in baseball. All the pieces fit.
“Sometimes it becomes time,” Melvin said. “I was lucky enough to manage a team for 10-plus seasons. I was the longest-tenured guy. I grew up in the Bay Area. It was a hometown team of mine. I was as fortunate as you can be to manage that team, but there comes a time where you know it doesn’t go forever. Billy and David were nice enough to realize that too. Understanding the opportunity I had here. It was a surprise, I didn’t expect it. Once I was given the opportunity to listen to the people here, it became clear pretty quickly this was the place for me.”