Distant cousins on opposite ends of the offseason spending spectrum put their new looks on display for Opening Day when the Oakland Athletics visit the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday afternoon.
Since transitioning from the Philadelphia A’s to the Kansas City A’s in 1955 and then to the Oakland A’s 13 years later, the franchise has met the Phillies in interleague play just 18 times, with Oakland holding a 10-8 advantage.
The last time a team called the A’s played on Opening Day in Philadelphia, they were the home team in a 6-4 win over the Boston Red Sox in 1954.
Nearly 70 years later, the A’s budget has increased, but not nearly as much as most other major league teams. In fact, the A’s will begin the 2022 season with the second-lowest payroll in baseball at $32.5 million, ahead of only the Baltimore Orioles.
That’s less than 15 percent of what the Phillies will be paying their players when the team’s duel for the first time a 6-3 A’s win on the same field in September 2017. The Phillies are fourth in baseball with a $221.7 million payroll.
Three of the A’s starting infielders that day were first baseman Matt Olson, shortstop Marcus Semien and third baseman Matt Chapman. But they are now employed by the Atlanta Braves, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays, respectively, where they are scheduled to make a cumulative $52.5 million this year — far exceeding what the A’s plan to pay a full squad.
Coincidentally, the A’s starting pitcher five years ago in the series finale against the Phillies was left-hander Sean Manaea, who was likely to get the Opening Day call this time around until he, too, was dealt the week before the campaign. He went to the Padres last weekend for two minor-leaguers.
With Manaea no longer an option, the A’s have given the Opening Day assignment to right-hander Frankie Montas (13-9, 3.37 in 2021), who is scheduled to duel Phillies ace right-hander Aaron Nola (9-9, 4.63).
“We’re establishing our identity from the starting staff,” new A’s manager Mark Kotsay said in making the Opening Day call. “Frankie Montas is going to lead this group. He’s been there; he’s had success.”
Montas, whose name remains active in trade rumors, has never faced the Phillies in his six-year career. The 29-year-old has gone 3-5 with a 6.42 ERA in 15 interleague games, including 12 starts.
Montas does have a history against some of the Phillies’ top hitters, a group that increased in the offseason with the acquisitions of Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber. Castellanos, a former member of the Detroit Tigers, has two doubles and three RBIs among 10 previous plate appearances against Montas.
Castellanos and Schwarber were added to help holdover J.T. Realmuto protect star Bryce Harper in the lineup. Harper won the National League MVP Award last season after managing 35 home runs and 84 RBIs, while drawing 100 walks.
The opener also figures to be the major league debut of Phillies prospect Bryson Stott, a shortstop who has been moved to third base in the spring in order to play alongside Didi Gregorius.
The 24-year-old has no complaints about the move to a new position.
“Obviously I want to get to the big leagues and help this team any way I can,” Scott said during spring training. “If it’s at third, short or wherever it may be, it’s obviously not up to me. I’m going to catch the ball wherever I play.”
Several newcomers could be making their A’s debuts Friday, including third baseman Kevin Smith, acquired in the Chapman trade, and center fielder Cristian Pache, who was picked up in the Olson deal.
Nola has never faced the A’s in his career, but does have knowledge of Pache, having struck him out twice in previous head-to-head matchups. A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty, a former member of the St. Louis Cardinals, has gone 2-for-8 in his career against Nola.
–Field Level Media