Barber: Does Khris Davis' extension signal new approach for A's?

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OAKLAND — Five hours before first pitch at the Coliseum on Friday, most of the A’s players were seated along a wall of the Treehouse, the popular in-stadium bar overlooking left field. It looked like the bloated A’s bullpen after September call-ups last season. A’s general manager David Forst, slugger Khris Davis and manager Bob Melvin sat at a dais, facing a phalanx of media and team employees in white folding chairs.

Outside, the Coliseum scoreboards flashed a stylized image of Davis, along with the tagline, “KD: Rooted in Oakland.” T-shirts bearing the same message awaited players at their lockers.

Davis had just signed a two-year contract extension worth a reported $33.5 million, and the news was being treated with the fanfare of a coronation.

“I haven’t done a lot of these,” Forst told a smaller gaggle of reporters after the press conference. “It’s not a secret that a lot of players have left. You have to go back to Eric Chavez, basically, for people that we’ve been able to keep into free agency.”

Davis’ new deal is believed to be the second largest in A’s history, after the six-year, $66 million contract Chavez signed before the 2004 season. Forst was right. This simply isn’t a common occurrence here. And not just the red-carpet, cameras-whirring treatment that Davis got — but any extension at all.

According to data plumbed from mlbtraderumors.com, the most recent extension the A’s had doled out was to relief pitcher Sean Doolittle on April 18, 2014, exactly five years prior to the Davis deal. In those five years, every other Major League Baseball team had signed at least one player extension. Twenty-four of them had extended at least one player since 2018.

The A’s were the holdouts, which is why Davis’ new deal, though the subject of speculation for months, still felt like a thunderclap when the organization announced it.

The A’s haven’t been the team that rewards young production. As Melvin said in the dugout before the game, “The reputation here is that we kind of, once they start to make a little money, that they move along.”

The list of the missing is long and distinguished. Just in the Moneyball Era, it has included Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada, Andrew Bailey and Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson and Sonny Gray. The A’s spot talented young players, develop their skills and, on the brink of stardom, trade them for prospects, or simply let them walk when they hit free agency. The cumulative effect is a hamster wheel of a team that looks nimble but never really goes anywhere.

In this light, Davis’ extension isn’t just a two-year commitment to the reigning home run champion. It’s a signal that the A’s are willing to cast off their beggar’s rags and compete with the fat cats for talent.

Isn’t it?

“I hope it’s not overstating it,” Forst said. “All the work that’s going into staying in the city of Oakland, staying in a new ballpark — from my end and from Billy (Beane)’s end, the reason to do that is to keep our team together. It’s what we’ve never been able to do.”

The A’s have a lot going on right now, beyond hitting homers and trying to catch the uncatchable Houston Astros in the American League West. They are in the midst of a long, shifting pursuit of a new stadium in Oakland.

Their latest target is Howard Terminal, on the waterfront just north of Jack London Square. The architectural drawings are beautiful. But a powerful coalition of shipping and trucking unions has aligned to oppose the development, citing a disruption to the flow of commerce at one of the West Coast’s busiest ports.

Meanwhile, the California State Assembly is scheduled to meet Monday for a hearing on AB 1191, a bill that would allow the city of Oakland to acquire reclaimed tidelands around Howard Terminal by trading other properties to the State Lands Commission. The A’s have scheduled a public rally at the state capitol in Sacramento on Monday.

In other words, the team believes public support is crucial to its campaign for a new ballpark. And if the A’s want public support, they must convince their fans they’re making a good-faith effort to build their roster and win over the long haul.

“Billy and I feel like putting a winning product on the field is the best we can do to help that process,” Forst said.

Or as Melvin put it: “Certainly, moving into a new ballpark would help as well. But I think committing to KD kind of shows you what we hope is the strategy down the road, and that’s to sign some of these other guys, too. And I think that’s the first step to showing guys here that that is the case.”

By “guys,” Melvin meant his guys — the A’s players. And he’s right. Oakland baseball fans aren’t the only ones who need convincing of the A’s honorable intentions. This team has an intriguing core of young talent, the type of players who in the past would have served as currency in a quest for even younger, cheaper replacements.

If the A’s are really to head in a new direction, their current players have to believe their future is in Oakland.

Closer Blake Treinen assessed it bluntly.

“Look, I’m excited for KD, because that means we at least have one guy here for long term,” he said. “I’ll be more excited when other guys are locked down, too. … From a business standpoint, do they have to? No. But from a fan’s standpoint I think it would be a huge step, considering it hasn’t been the smoothest transition with the stadium. I mean, we’re all excited to see a stadium come here, but it’s also exciting for why you show up to a stadium, right? You show up to see the players.”

Treinen added, “I’m excited for Khris and his family more than anything, and the afterthought is what comes next. We’ll see what happens next. I don’t want to get hung up on one signing when they’re talking about the future, because the future is still to be played out, right?”

He might have been speaking for an entire fan base. The A’s recent actions are worthy of optimism. Their history makes you want to see further evidence of a real commitment.

As Forst’s post-presser chat broke up, I jokingly asked him, “Who’s next?”

“Give me some suggestions,” he said.

That’s the easy part, though. Matt Chapman, one of the best third basemen in baseball as he approaches his 26th birthday. First baseman Matt Olson, a star in the making at 25. Center fielder Ramon Laureano, turning heads at 24. Treinen, arguably the top closer in the game. His setup man, Lou Trivino, who has been close to unhittable this year.

The hard part is finding the money, and the will, to keep them in the fold. It always has been.

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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