For A's GM Billy Beane, Greatness is All That Matters
With the Oakland Athletics in contention for a playoff spot this year, Billy Beane shocked all of us a week ago when he decided to trade Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Chicago Cubs. So a week later, it came as no surprise when A's fans learned that Beane had made yet another trade, sending pitcher Joe Blanton to the Philadelphia Phillies for more prospects.
"Is he crazy?"
At least, that is the main question that is being floated around the baseball community right now. And the answer to it--well--is rather complicated. In most cases, making a trade like the two deals that Beane made last week could mean the end of your job if you were the GM of any other team. In fact, we've seen it before with Beane's protegé Paul DePodesta when Depodesta took over as the general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"I want to be great for a long time. Not have a nice, little month and make it interesting. If we have assets, ultimately, we have to turn them into more assets. This is the way we have to run the business. For us, as a small-market team, the turnover is a lot greater."
- A's GM Billy Beane
DePodesta traded Paul LoDuca, Juan Encarnacion and Guillermo Mota to the Florida Marlins for Brad Penny and Hee Seop Choi. And while the move didn't benefit the Dodgers immediately that season, it has paid off huge dividends for the team in the years that followed. Unfortunately for DePodesta, he was greatly criticized for the move and was run out of town by the Los Angeles media. That's just how it works. New Dodger GM Ned Colletti has made terrible signings like Andruw Jones, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Schmidt, Juan Pierre, and Randy Wolf, yet because Colletti didn't trade away the core of the team, he hasn't faced nearly the same amount of criticism that DePodesta did while being in the same city.
However, in a city like Oakland, where Billy Beane has made it to the postseason in five of the past eight seasons, all anyone can ever do is trust his reputation. As most Oakland fans would say.....
"In Billy We Trust!"
Despite losing all-star pitchers such as Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, Dan Haren, Jason Isringhausen and Keith Foulke and losing solid position players like Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Damon, Ramon Hernandez, Ray Durham, Carlos Pena, Jose Guillen, Milton Bradley, and Nick Swisher the A's still compete. Even as a small market team Billy Beane defies the odds. Since 2000, only the Yankees in the American League and the Cardinals in the National League, have made it to the playoffs more than Beane's Oakland A's teams.
"I want to be great for a long time. Not have a nice, little month and make it interesting. If we have assets, ultimately, we have to turn them into more assets. This is the way we have to run the business. For us, as a small-market team, the turnover is a lot greater," Beane said a few days ago after pulling the trigger on the Joe Blanton deal.
And such is the way Billy Beane has been able to keep the A's contenders. We saw this principle applied last offseason when Beane traded All-Star pitcher Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Greg Smith, Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, and two other minor leaguers. By trading away one player, Haren, Beane managed to find two quality pitchers to fill his rotation, a future superstar outfielder in Carlos Gonzalez, and some other solid minor leaguers to give the team some organizational depth.
The philosophy has kept the A's winning ballgames year in and year out, but it has grown tiresome to many of the fans who come to the ballpark because of the team has no player loyalty whatsoever. Many casual A's fans can't name a single player on their team anymore. Others, can only name a few stars like Huston Street, Bobby Crosby, and Eric Chavez. But with Chavez sidelined for most of the year, and Street and Crosby likely to be traded before the July 31st trade deadline, the A's attendance will surely drop off even lower than it already is. With the A's set to move to Fremont in 2011, no one will care about this team anymore. At least, not in the east bay area.
Billy Beane's trades of Rich Harden and Joe Blanton were meant to stock up the farm system with great prospects for the years to come. They weren't meant to keep the A's in the playoff race this season. As Beane has been quoted saying in the past, "You're not a contender unless you're in first."
While most teams would be looking to add players to make a run at the playoffs if they were in the A's position, Billy Beane decided that most likely outcome for the roster that he has now, would result in the team missing the playoffs. So instead having faith in the club he has now, Beane is constantly looking to the future.
As Beane said earlier, he wants his team to be great. Not just good for a short period of time. Beane is trying to make the A's what they were at the turn of the century. A team filled with superstars like Giambi, Chavez, Tejada, Dye, Hudson, Mulder and Zito. He wants his team to be like the team in 2001 that won 102 ballgames or the team in 2002 that won 104. You don't see that anymore in baseball. Now that the A's will have money with a new ballpark, Beane will be able to keep the future superstars around for a long time. And while everyone in Oakland is mad that Beane is looking to the future when the present team is exceeding expectations, Beane is taking the right step for the long term success of the ballclub.
Looking back at the trades, at least the Oakland fans can be happy with what they got back in return. While Rich Harden can be the best pitcher in baseball, his injury history has prevented him from doing that yet. The A's only had him locked up for two more seasons and would have been paying him a decent amount of money to pitch next season. If he would have had one more injury, the A's wouldn't have gotten anything in return and been stuck eating his contract.
Sean Gallagher is solid right hander that, like most Cubs pitching prospects, hasn't been handled right in their farm system. He has number two pitcher upside and can rack up a decent amount of strikeouts. Eric Patterson has been very good in the minors and with everyday playing time, he should develop nicely at second base for the team. Matt Murton is another underrated outfielder. Murton has a career .290 batting average, but the biggest knock on him was his lack of power. He'll make a solid 4th outfielder for the A's in years to come. As for Josh Donaldson, the former second round pick has struggled in the minors so far, but the A's needed organizational depth at catcher after Jeremy Brown retired and Landon Powell's constant injury problems.
The Joe Blanton deal might actually help the A's in the short run as Blanton was having a terrible season so far. The A's have to be happy with their return after trading a guy that is a 12 game loser and has era of around five. All that while playing one of baseball's best pitchers parks. However, Blanton is an innings eater that should help the Phillies bullpen and is a sure upgrade over Adam Eaton.
The A's have chosen to start Dallas Braden in Blanton's spot for the short term, but if Braden struggles, the A's might consider calling up top pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez to fill the void. Gonzalez has been lights out this past month for AAA Sacramento.
The prospects the A's got back from the Phillies are pretty solid too. Adrian Cardenas is one of the best second base prospects in the game and pretty much guarantees that Mark Ellis won't be with the team next season as the A's also signed first round pick Jemile Weeks. Left hander Josh Outman is a great pitching prospect and the A's will likely turn him back into a starter, where he has had the most success at in the minors. As for Matthew Spencer, he probably has no chance of making the A's roster anytime soon. The A's are overloaded at the outfield position in their minor league system and their are plenty of internal options that would be ahead of him on the depth chart. It would take Spencer a lot of commitment to move up the depth charts.
While some A's fans can be mad at Billy Beane for not making a run at the postseason this year, he is the reason the A's stood a chance this year in the first place. Billy Beane might be the most hated person in Oakland right now. He is in a world of his own right now. However, if Beane's moves pay off in the near future, he will be further cementing his legacy as the greatest GM in the game.
"In Billy We Trust!"
That's all Oakland fans can do.