NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — A’s officials at the winter meetings carried heavy hearts Tuesday following the death of minor league video coordinator Mark Smith.
Smith died unexpectedly Monday in Arizona at the age of 41. No cause of death was known, a team spokesperson said, and the A’s traveling contingent at the meetings were still processing the news Tuesday night.
“We’re still sort of absorbing this whole thing. As you can imagine this came as a shock to everybody,” said Billy Beane, the A’s executive vice president of baseball operations. “He had such a commitment to the organization and was such a diligent worker. He’s a tremendous loss. Everybody thought the world of him as an employee, a person. It’s shocking.”
Smith worked for the A’s for eight years and was instrumental in creating the team’s minor league video department in 2009. Manager Bob Melvin, who crossed paths with Smith every spring at the team’s minor league training complex, said Smith went above and beyond the expectations of his job to help everyone in the organization.
“He was the first guy you saw,” Melvin said. “Just a great guy that everybody felt close to. He couldn’t do enough to help wherever he could. … He’d send me video during the year of guys he thought I might see at some point, and I never even asked for them. Just a hard-working guy who was very aware of what each guy he was working with was looking for and needed.”
Funeral services are pending.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Are the A’s searching for a center fielder?
Will they trade Sonny Gray?
Time will tell.
Those are the main talking points surrounding the current state of this team as the winter meetings unfold along the shores of the Potomac River. But clearly, the future is also on the mind of Billy Beane, the rest of Oakland’s baseball staff and ownership.
Beane said he’s had numerous conversations with A’s principal owner John Fisher, who took over managing partner duties after Lew Wolff stepped down. The result is a big-picture focus in which Beane says more money will be directed toward scouting, player development and international efforts. And that’s a mentality Beane says he truly believes in — it’s not a directive coming down from Fisher.
The goal is to be ready to field a contender, and have the financial capability to retain players, by the time the A’s hope to be moving into a new ballpark.
“It has to be in the back of your mind that if you’re going to rebuild and you’re going to have a (new) venue, you make sure you have a good young team that’s sustainable,” Beane said. “Finding players has never been a challenge for us, it’s retaining them. And we’re operating with the idea that we’re going to be able to retain them.”
If this storyline sounds familiar, it should.
Beane talked of a similar philosophy in years past when the A’s held hopes of building a ballpark in San Jose, which proved to be a false start. But Beane, addressing reporters Tuesday at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, said he senses a purpose behind the A’s current ballpark search that has a different feel to it than past attempts.
“It’s my 29th year here, and I would say right now as much as anytime I feel a real internal momentum that they’re trying to get something done in Oakland,” Beane said. “It’s not something I’m working on — I’ve got my hands full trying to find a center fielder. But I can tell you there’s a real commitment of trying to figure something out.”
A’s fans know to view any ballpark optimism with caution given this odyssey has extended more than a decade without a single pile of dirt being moved. And the reality that Major League Baseball is stripping the A’s of their revenue sharing, a result of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, can’t be ignored. It figures the A’s weren’t going to start spending wildly on big league payroll in light of that news.
But it appears the A’s will invest more in their scouting and player development.
Beane and general manager David Forst said it was too early to gauge what the 2017 payroll would be. The A’s badly need a center fielder and are engaged in trade talks involving Kansas City’s Jarrod Dyson. They could also use a veteran starter, though Beane considers that a secondary task.
What he does feel is vital: Fortifying a scouting department that he claims has languished at the bottom of the majors in terms of manpower.
“There’s a real commitment to invest long term into the operation, and some of it’s gonna be based on David’s and (my) recommendation,” Beane said. “If I personally felt there were one or two players that put us (over the top), I think we’d have full support with the major league payroll. I’m not quite sure we’re ready, so I think maybe some of that investment is better served in building out the operation.
“I just don’t think we’re one player away yet.”
That won’t exactly fire up a fan base that’s waiting for the day the A’s splurge on the major league roster like so many other franchises do. But if you’re worried about Gray being the latest big-name player to be traded, it’s no certainty that will happen.
“Where we are right now, I think we have to listen, consider everything,” Beane said. “What we would like to do long term as much as possible is hold on to the group of our younger players just now starting to get to major leagues. (As far as) a player being untouchable, it’s all sort of relative.
“(But) we didn’t come down here with the idea to trade Sonny Gray. That wasn’t on our to-do list.”