The Oakland A’s, as if it hadn’t been made clear already, is not a team worth watching, let alone a team with its eyes set on the division, after being swept by the Texas Rangers—a direct reflection on the team’s general manager, Billy Beane.
The A’s were shut out for the 10th time on Thursday night, the first of a crucial four-game series with the AL West leading Rangers. They followed that up with being shut out for the 11th time on Sunday, and the A’s fell to 39-53 and are now 12 games back of first place.
Under normal circumstance the opportunity to face the division leader with a chance to end up four or six games back at the All-Star break is more than enough to get excited.
But it’s not. Not even close.
These A’s provide a different set of circumstances, making the talk of “contending,” or buying as opposed to selling, during this series somewhat laughable, leaving me either feeling intellectually perplexed or fighting off salty discharge from my eyes, depending on what kind of mood I’m in.
The A’s—and their dwindling fan base—are made to believe they are still contenders by way of their relatively close proximity to first place, a complete and utter farce directly attributable to MLBs absurd division alignment that has left one division with four teams (the AL West), while all other divisions have either five or six teams.
This commitment to mediocrity by all four teams in the AL West obscures the monumental shortcomings of this year’s A’s team, and thus the front office’s shortcomings for years.
Indeed, winning 7 out of 9 games will get the A’s right back in the thick of things, but the A’s team—evident to anyone who has a pulse and is breathing—has shown nothing that offers a scintilla of evidence to presume such a streak is on the horizon.
Though A’s fans—including myself—would have preferred taking three out of four, or goodness gracious a sweep, of the Rangers so that we could enter the All-Star break feeling good about the team and the rest of the season, it perhaps only would have prolonged the inevitable (that the A’s are not good enough to stick around and contend, even in the AL West), prolonged the agony for fans, and been detrimental to next year’s team.
After the team’s struggles in April, Beane told Joe Stiglich of the Mercury News that there was no need to be concerned—unless it continued all year.
“These guys have a track record,” Beane said “I don’t think you press any panic button in April. If you were asking me this question in June, I might have a different answer.”
It’s July, Billy. And your team has not gotten better. It’s gotten worse.
You could argue Beane has already pushed the “panic” button—he sent down 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff and 1B Daric Barton, once the future at 1B, to Triple-A Sacramento last month—but he was clearly not convinced of making any considerable moves to upgrade the roster prior to their miserable month of June (8-17). This may have been to the good, as this series with Texas showed the A’s are false contenders, not just by way of now being 10 games back, but also by way of not having nearly enough means to be successful. Mortgaging whatever future the A’s may have in the coming years to improve this insufferable team may have been ill-advised. Though, it could be argued, had Beane been proactive, he could have helped the team avoid their spiral into oblivion.
It’s conceivable that Beane and Co. are stirring after this weekend’s poor showing, putting themselves in a position to sell their most valued veteran assets—free agents-t0-be Josh Willingham, David Dejesus, Coco Crips, and relievers Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes and even closer Andrew Bailey—before the July 31st trade deadline. If they’re not, I have no idea what they are doing, and I don’t particularly care. What else should they be doing?
It’s becoming redundant, but the A’s, still, rank in the bottom five in MLB—not just in the American League, but in MLB—in all significant offensive categories: runs, BA, HR, OBP, and SLG. This is eerily similar to last year’s team, one that featured a lineup full of major- and minor-league journeymen (or those bound to fill those roles), yet managed to finish the season at .500 (81-81).
The A’s have been in some form of rebuilding mode since their 2006 ALCS appearence with no gradual improvement to speak of. The A’s performance since then is usually grounds to dismiss the GM. Not in Oakland. What would certainly get other, even proven, GMs canned has not even been mentioned about Beane.
The first column ripping Beane in recent memory—in my life, actually—was Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, citing Geren’s firing as a direct indictment of Beane. And he’s right.
What was an easy managerial choice to A’s fans, baseball fans, and the autistic and illiterate communities after Ken Macha’s dismissal after 2006 between then third-base coach Ron Washington and bench coach Bob Geren became an eye-opening display of an unprofessional favoritism that is profoundly unacceptable. (And remember that Beane only fired Geren once it became public that current and former players didn’t care for him at all.) I concur with Beane’s rational devaluation of baseball managers (and closers too), but, as Cohn pointed out, Geren’s incompetence was apparent as a bench coach.
"When Ken Macha was A’s manager, he developed a serious bloody nose and had to leave a game. It was his job to appoint someone to manage. Geren was Macha’s bench coach but Macha appointed Rene Lachemann because he saw early what Geren was or was not. Geren has been outed all over the major leagues as a substandard manager and now he has been outed by his own team."
Cohn also noted that Geren botched a double-switch against the Cubs in Chicago that left Andrew Bailey to lead off the next inning. Public statements by Brian Fuentes and former A’s closer Huston Street affirmed Geren’s incompetence.
Cohn is right—that Geren is incompetent—but more so because all of it is attributable to Beane. Beane chose his friend over a widely respected baseball man, just like he stuck with Mark Ellis, a nice, well-liked man (just like himself), for far too long.
Everything surrounding Ellis’ job-loss and eventual departure was sadness, rather than necessary criticism towards Beane for continuing to stick with Ellis. And remember, Beane would have stuck with Ellis, regardless of performance, the rest of the season had he not gotten injured and had Jemile Weeks not proven in just two weeks that he was a far superior player than Ellis.
On the podcast Athletics After Dark, Rick Tittle expressed sentiments and a mindset that ought to be shared by a franchise that wants to win.
"I don’t understand the Mark Ellis love. I guess when a guy plays for your team for 10 years and is a nice guy, people can become attached to him. All I care about is performing and doing well…People actually talk about his defense like the other 29 second baseman in baseball can’t play any defense…The A’s franchise hit rock-bottom when they put him over at first base, a guy who hit .215 who doesn’t understand how to play over there, with one home run…I think its embarrassing as a franchise and a fan base that we bow down to a guy who was never an All-Star, who never helped us win anything…When the A’s put him at first, what they were telling their fan base is that winning is not the priority. Being nice to a guy we like is a priority. So Billy Beane hires his best man to be manger, and his best friend to play second base, and it’s hard to cut the cord and he waits three years too long to get rid of both of them."
Leave it to fans to get caught up in the emotional garbage; Beane’s priority is to field a winner and to promote players and staff based on merit.
What is unbeknown to most A’s fans is that Beane turned down a five-year, $12.5 million offer to join the Red Sox in 2002 by convincing owner Lew Wolff to give him a 2 percent equity stake in the team, worth about $8 million that essentially makes him part owner. This means Beane has vested interest in the team’s profits—as opposed to other GMs, who only have vested interest in making their team a winner—that makes it more and more conceivable that Beane is more content with sitting on a terrible product so long as Wolff continues to take hand outs from revenue sharing teams and continues to improve the net worth of the franchise. Beane himself has acknowledged the unpalatable fact that the team’s attendance doesn’t improve all that much when the team is winning. So what’s the point of bending over backwards to field—and continue to improve—a baseball team if you’re Beane, aside from your ego and competitive edge?
Beane’s personal relationship has hindered his ability to make sound adjustments regarding personnel and staff, but, ultimately, the A’s success resides mostly on accumulating young players—at about the same time—who can greatly outperform their salary. Beane has been equally terrible at this also. Their farm system has been widely considered bare for quite some time.
Local media admits to being very fond of Beane, a charismatic, intelligent, engaging man. Cohn even admitted to having hard time ripping Beane, he liked him so much.
I like Beane. I love his audacity, ingenuity, courage, and, more than anything else, his commitment to getting more value for his dollar than anybody else has ever done in this modern era of sports (albeit with a little luck and lots of steroids)—exactly the over-arching premise and narrative of the best selling book Moneyball. But much of the A’s futility since 2006 is because of Beane, not despite him. I wouldn’t argue it is prudent to can him tomorrow, but I have argued that public criticism needs to become more pervasive—professional media is a start, but cannot be counted on—in order to raise awareness about Beane’s underwhelming job performance, hopefully making dialogue regarding the A’s present and future more constructive.
It is truly ironic that when the Hollywood adaptation of the book comes out in September, in all likelihood the A’s will be wallowing in last place with unrecognizable players and Mr. Moneyball still running the show despite not accomplishing anything for quite some time.