The Athletics have been known as a pitching first franchise for the better part of the last two decades. Of course the A’s have had offensive juggernauts (i.e. Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Eric Chavez), but when most people think of the A’s since the late 90’s/early 2000’s they think of the great pitching staffs that went out every day and gave the green and gold a chance to win. From the Big 3 (Hudson, Mulder, Zito) to the rotation today (Parker, McCarthy, Milone, etc.) the Athletics pitching has been incredible. Couple that with consistently outstanding bullpens and the A’s are at the top or near the top of the team ERA crown every season. GM Billy Beane and the scouting department are seen as pitching guru’s who can find someone’s extra arm and turn him into a productive one (Guillermo Moscoso comes to mind). Something different went on this offseason with Beane, however, and it seems like we may see it for the next few years. What is that change? The switch from a pitcher-first vision in evaluating and acquiring players to an offense-first one.
Dec 5, 2011; Dallas, TX, USA; Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane on the MLB network set during the MLB winter meetings at Hilton Anatole. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
Last year Billy Beane made some comments regarding his ways of evaluating players. He explained how he looks more into defensive value than offensive value. This usually leads to cheaper players. Within baseball context great defensive players with average offensive numbers are cheaper than great offensive players with average defensive numbers. His theory is if you can save runs by playing good defense your offense won’t need to score as many. This theory mainly translates to pitching, but with the pitching staff settled with the acquisitions of Parker, Milone, and at the time Colon, along with the organizational depth Beane finally saw an opportunity to increase the offense and increase he did.
Beane signed Yoenis Céspedes to a four year contract, resigned Coco Crisp to a two year deal, signed Jonny Gomes to a one year deal, traded for Josh Reddick (Miles Head also included), traded for Seth Smith, received Derek Norris along with Tommy Milone, signed Brandon Moss, traded for Stephen Drew, acquired George Kottaras from the Brewers, and signed Brandon Inge. That list doesn’t even include other minor league transactions and players. One calendar year and another typical overhaul of the roster, except for this one finally produced at or above expectations. Only five of the fourteen position players remain from the 2011 opening day roster and of those five only two are on the roster now (Pennington and Crisp).
Beane has really pushed the right buttons this year in the in-season transaction department as well. Some small signings have had major impacts. This includes: acquiring Brandon Inge, George Kottaras, and Stephen Drew in separate trades respectively. These types of pickups usually deal with pitching, but have been pure offensive gold for the Athletics. Acquisitions like these are the ones that help a team make the postseason.
What does this all new offensive first theory/philosophy stuff mean? It means be confident A’s fans. The recent surge of offensive signings means Beane is comfortable with the depth of the pitching staff enough to switch his focus to the other side of the ball. (Beane didn’t forget about defense though as the A’s rank 2nd in defensive efficiency behind Seattle according to baseball-reference.com.) If he can focus as much as he has the last few years on pitching as he has recently on the offense we can start to see this team really take shape and be a contender for at least a couple of years (before we have to let everyone leave because of that pesky money thing). Smith, Reddick, Crisp (who is a stopgap for Michael Choice), Chris Carter, Céspedes, and others are under contract beyond this season. With Inge, Gomes, and Moss stating they would like to return the A’s could have their offense ready to go next season.
While the A’s success this season can mainly be pointed towards the pitching staff no one can deny the effect the offense has had. Timely hitting with a bit of power and speed mixed in is the combination the A’s have needed desperately over the past six years. With health on their side and Beane continuing to make the right moves this A’s offense should continue to produce for years to come. This new philosophy signifies the organizations belief in that statement.