The Magic of Billy Beane


Billy Beane‘s M.O. since he took over in Oakland as GM has been betting on guys that nobody has heard of. Josh Donaldson was a throw-in when the A’s shipped Rich Harden to Chicago. Brandon Moss had never received a legitimate opportunity in the majors before winding up with the A’s. Now, both players have been traded from the team that gave them their big break.

For Donaldson, the A’s didn’t receive a top prospect. In return, they got an oft-injured third baseman to fill the void left by Donaldson and three guys that nobody in Oakland had heard of. Two of those three prospects are considered major-league ready, in pitchers Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman, with Graveman shooting through all levels of the minors in 2014 to grab a cup of coffee in Toronto at the end of last season. The key for the righty was the addition of a cutter, which was the reason for his rocketing through the minors in 2014. Perhaps Billy Beane grabbed Graveman before anyone realized who he is.

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The Brandon Moss trade has everyone scratching their heads. In return for the left-handed power bat that Moss provides, the A’s received Double-A prospect Joe Wendle, who missed time in 2014 with a broken hamate bone. Yes, that’s a real thing. According to an Indians official, via Susan Slusser, Wendle is, “a professional hitter at a young age.”

The specifics on the Samardzija deal are now official, with Oakland adding INF Marcus Semien, RHP Chris Bassitt, C Josh Phegley and 1B/DH Rangel Ravelo.  Semien has seen a little playing time in the majors, but has only accumulated 300 at-bats over two seasons, with a .240 batting average and going yard 8 times. If he becomes an everyday player, it’s reasonable to think he could accumulate 15 homers, while his average could increase slightly with regular playing time.

Bassitt will contend for a starting spot in spring training. Phegley, in some time in the majors, has thrown out 29.4% of potential base stealers. That caught stealing percentage is just a tick below Buster Posey‘s 29.8%, which was good for fifth in baseball among qualified catchers in 2014. Ravelo will likely start 2015 in Triple-A Nashville, and if he performs well, could make Ike Davis expendable at the trade deadline.

Added to all of this, Billy Beane has saved roughly $20M according to arbitration projections. That $20M could be used to add a big piece via free agency. I wrote about Jung-Ho Kang yesterday as a possibility, but there are plenty of other international free agents that could also have the same impact that Yoenis Cespedes had in Oakland when he signed in 2012. There is still plenty of time left in the offseason for Billy Beane to add a player or two that can help them in 2015, but more importantly in 2016 and beyond.

While many are seeing these trades as though the Athletics are the Black Knight from Monty Python’s Holy Grail, with the team losing limb after limb, en masse, it may add up to just a little scratch.

Most of the deals that Beane has made require a little time to see the full extent of the return, but one factor rings true for all of the acquisitions. Whether the new pieces are coming off of injury, or just not getting enough playing time, Billy Beane is betting on each and every one of these players, the same way that he once bet on Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss. Beane is composing an entire team of these players, for three guys. Add in top prospects Matt Chapman, Renato Nunez, Daniel Robertson and Matt Olson, and the future is bright for the Oakland A’s. It make take a season of despair in 2015, but 2016 could make that all a distant memory.