Nevius: Should we forgive A's for tightwad approach?

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OAKLAND — Those barnstorming Oakland A’s are the perfect tonic for the dog days of August. As pitching arms grow weary, scores climb into double digits and positions in the standings calcify, baseball can appreciate the diversion of an unexpected upstart.

The Athletics have delivered. On June 15 they were 34-36 and 11 games behind Seattle in the wild-card playoff race. They then put together an unignorable hot streak, shot past the Mariners into postseason position and captivated the pundits.

And now, with Seattle arriving Monday for a three-game stint, they’ve brought the playoff race home. It has been an unexpected gift to the Bay Area.

And it raises an important question:

Can we forgive the A’s?

Is this, in other words, enough to make up for a laundry list of cynical decisions and a skinflint payroll model?

It has been a bitter relationship. Ownership has shipped out talented, fan-favorite players because they were due for a significant salary bump. Sometimes they have gotten prospects and sometimes a bag of magic beans. Nor have they been willing to spend for promising free agents.

And, as minuscule crowds — second-lowest attendance in MLB in 2017 — rattle around in the dreary Oakland Mausoleum, we are reminded that not only do they not have a location for a new ballpark, we haven’t heard about one in months. What more is there to study at Jack London Square? This looks suspiciously like a project going nowhere.

But c’mon. The team is winning. (And almost as good for the A’s, the Giants are not, so attention isn’t diverted.) This is the most excited people have been about the green and gold since the latest playoff run in 2014.

How can you not appreciate a team that finished last in its division in the previous three years and now has caught lightning in a bottle?

Can we just let bygones be and forgive the A’s?

Sure. Certainly as far as what’s happening on the field, sign me up for a big foam finger. But, spoiler alert, there’s a “however” coming.

I remain a fan of manager Bob Melvin, who has soldiered on through the roster churn, the shabby conditions and the tiny crowds. Occasionally, after another starter was shipped out in a late season fire sale, Melvin had the look of a man who wished he hadn’t eaten that second hot dog.

But overall he’s been steady and supportive. If he gets this team to the playoffs with this bare-bones payroll, BoMel better start clearing a space for his third Manager of the Year trophy.

As for the players, designated hitter Khris Davis not only hits home runs, he does it in big moments. In his first full big-league season, third baseman Matt Chapman — called “the biggest playoff race superstar you know nothing about” by Bleacher Report — is so comfortable in interviews that Melvin jokes he is thinking “another career path.”

Outfielder Mark Canha started the season wearing a face warmer because it was cold in Seattle. He hit a home run, so he wore the lucky scarf for another week, just for the potential positive juju.

In short, this is a roster that could grow on you.

Now, at some point the argument may be made that this is what the A’s could have done all along. That if they’d held on to top players and augmented them with top draft picks like Chapman, they could have been winning like this consistently.

Nope, don’t buy it. Winning isn’t easy. Many teams try very hard to win every year and it doesn’t work out.

However … that’s my gripe with the A’s. They weren’t trying.

You know the deal. Until MLB changed the accounting, “small market” teams could be included in revenue sharing from the league. In 2015, for instance, the A’s reportedly collected $34 million.

The team then kept payroll woefully low and used the group revenue as a bonus. It was so blatant that in 2016 baseball designated the A’s a “major market” team and shut off the faucet.

Even now that they are off the dole, the team isn’t spending. While the Giants struggle to stay under the $197 million luxury tax limit, the A’s rank third from the bottom among all teams at about $77 million, according to Spotrac. Ownership simply refuses to pay to play.

So no, I’m not going to forgive and forget that this franchise has been badly run and has treated its fans poorly.

But you’ve got to be pretty flinty not to like this group. The players seem fresh-faced and happy to be here. It’s a good vibe.

When pitcher Mike Fiers arrived last week in a trade, he said he had been “hoping (the deal with Oakland) would work out.”

That’s two surprises. First, that the A’s are adding pieces to the roster in the last months of the season, rather than shipping them out. And second, that this would be a destination franchise, a place where an established big leaguer would want to come.

Let’s take the optimistic view and say this could be the start of something. Maybe a consistent playoff team. Perhaps — let’s dream big — a World Series contender.

It’s been a long, dispiriting trek in the baseball wilderness. And now, the team looks like it is finding its place.

Maybe there’s a there here.

Contact C.W. Nevius at Twitter: @cwnevius.

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