By Gary Phillips
Before a recent game, New York Mets outfielder Mark Canha gleefully acknowledged the drink in his locker.
He didn’t elaborate on the tea in his paper cup, but it was clear that he appreciated its availability in the Mets’ clubhouse. The same went for the food.
“Every meal in here is unbelievably good,” Canha said. “Quality food, every single meal. It’s just been amazing. I feel blessed to be here, honestly. It’s been easy to play here.”
Canha, 33, found himself discussing the differences between life with the Oakland Athletics, his first team, and the Mets. He didn’t have many perks during the first seven years of his career in Oakland, where Moneyball tactics have frequently kept the A’s competitive despite a minimal financial investment in the team.
Now, after signing a two-year, $26.5 million deal with the Mets in the offseason, Canha plays for a team on the opposite end of baseball’s spending spectrum.
The Mets’ $264.4 million opening day payroll, financed by owner Steven Cohen, trailed only the Los Angeles Dodgers’ $280.8 million, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. The A’s, after trading multiple prominent veterans, opened with a minuscule payroll of $47.7 million under the ownership of John Fisher. Only the Baltimore Orioles, at $43.6 million, had a smaller budget.
Money doesn’t always equate to wins, but the Mets had the best record in the National League East through Tuesday after pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the roster. Canha’s former squad was in last place in the American League West.
“It’s very difficult to contend when you don’t spend the money,” Canha said. “What the A’s and the Rays have been able to do is admirable, but usually the teams that spend, especially nowadays, are the ones that are at the top.”
Canha, who was hitting .287 with a .758 on-base plus slugging percentage, three home runs and 13 RBIs before Wednesday’s scheduled game against the St. Louis Cardinals, is one of three current Mets who played for the A’s last season. Outfielder Starling Marte also signed as a free agent, while Chris Bassitt, an All-Star right-hander, became one of several Athletics to be traded in Oakland’s latest penny-pinching pursuit. Pitcher Sean Manaea and infielders Matt Olson and Matt Chapman were also shipped out of town.
“I understood the direction I thought they were going to go,” Bassitt said at the time of his trade. “So I wasn’t surprised.”
The A’s have moved in this direction before, but this particular period in franchise history has brought about grievances that extend beyond the departures of fan favorites. The A’s are last in average attendance at Oakland Coliseum, a product of not only discarded talent and a downtrodden stadium, but also increased ticket and parking prices, public distrust of the team’s management and lingering questions over what city the team will call home in the near future.
For a Bay Area native like Canha, it hurts to see his former team stuck in a state of uncertainty. He loved his time in Oakland, but he started to feel the “cloud of mystery” that covered the club toward the end of his tenure.
“It’s just kind of sad, and it jades the whole experience because my time with the A’s was so special, and I’ll always have that and I’ll always remember it fondly,” said Canha, who was born in San Jose, California. “I always wonder what the hell is going on. What’s going on behind the curtains with all this stuff? Because they say a lot of things in the media. There’s so much reporting on the stadium stuff and where the team’s going to be located and all this stuff, but it’s so much noise that you don’t know what’s really going on.”
Canha added that the Athletics’ reputation is well known throughout baseball and that the team’s aversion to spending and its limited resources are not exactly attractive.
“It hurts them in that regard because players hear stories and they’re like, ‘OK, I’m not going to Oakland unless I have to, unless it’s my only choice,’” Canha said. “I don’t think it’s a desirable destination for a lot of players for that reason.”
Funding is not an issue in Queens, not for roster upgrades or for refreshments in the players’ lounge.
“Whatever we want, we’re getting. He wants to win,” Bassitt said about Cohen when he joined the team. “We all want to win, so we all have a common goal from literally the very top to the bottom.”
While Canha did not know the team was negotiating with Eduardo Escobar and Marte at the same time the Mets were working out a deal with him, or that Max Scherzer would eventually be brought on board as well, he said that after meeting with Billy Eppler, the general manager, and Sandy Alderson, the team president, he understood what to expect.
“They conveyed that they were planning to spend and be competitive,” Canha said.
Needless to say, the A’s never did business that way.
Now, watching from afar, Canha cannot help but feel sorry for those who used to cheer him.
“I know a lot of fans are really disappointed in the organization,” he said of the A’s. “It’s a situation that’s kind of disappointing from my perspective, as someone who grew up in the Bay Area.”