I spent most of this morning watching the MLB Network for their insights on this weekend’s dealings between the Oakland Athletics and the Rays.
In other news, I’m an idiot.
To begin my Monday by having three consecutive MLB Network shows talk about how bad my favorite team is going to be in 2015 is probably a bad idea until I had a sudden realization that this is exactly what Billy Beane wanted.
At the end of 2011, Billy Beane blew up the team, acquired a batch of players nobody had ever heard of and had an expected win percentage just slightly above the Mendoza line. In 2012, the A’s took the division in what will long be remembered as one of the most entertaining seasons in Oakland history.
Beane kept the team in tact for 2013, as much as any team can be kept in tact, and the expectation for success went relatively unchanged despite the 2012 success. Why? Because that was a fluke. That was the culmination of luck and good timing and was not representative of the team’s true playing ability. That year they improved their record, won the division earlier in the season and had some of their “no-name” players burst onto the national scene.
In 2014, Beane kept the team in tact again, more or less, and enhanced a few areas of need. With two back-to-back division wins, the expectation level was finally starting to rise for the Oakland Athletics and analysts on MLB Network, who had repeatedly written off the green and gold, were now slating the team to go all the way through October.
Out of the gate, the team surpassed every analyst’s expectation in every category. After years of relative obscurity, the Oakland Athletics were the first story on MLB Network instead of a footnote. Half of the team went to the All Star Game, Yoenis Cespedes won his second home run derby and the A’s were on their way to breaking a 25 year World Series drought. Anything short of a ring would be a failure.
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With all of this attention and expectation, the A’s record dropped, they had an epic collapse after the break and they barely squeaked into the post season. It was a failure.
Beane could have easily kept much of that team in tact but, instead, he’s blowing it up and making some very divisive moves. As of this writing, most of the All Stars are gone. In their place is an injury prone third baseman, last year’s injured catcher, an eighteen man first base platoon, a middle infield with regressive seasons in 2014, a slugger who’s stats are on decline and a couple dozen minor league players who may never get “the call”.
Now, going into 2015, expectations are low. Every analyst on MLB Network today said that the A’s are going to struggle. They say that the players aren’t good, the chemistry will be bad, and that we can’t expect a playoff team for a fourth consecutive year. And just like that, Billy Beane has the A’s right where he wants them.
There are just enough players on this team who remember what 2012 felt like and know what being the underdog victor feels like to motivate the new guys to “buy in” to Oakland’s style of baseball playing. These guys know that previous stats go out the window in Oakland. Between the coaching staff and the ballpark, averages can go up, ERA’s can go down and dWar can skyrocket and you can do it all without any of the pressure that comes along with having ESPN or the MLB Network at every game “analyzing” your greatness.
Beane took a playoff contending team with high expectation, blew it up and built a playoff contending team with low expectation. Oh, and along the way he built up a farm system that those same MLB Network types all said was too depleted to sustain the team in the future.
It’s impossible to know if Beane is aware of the narrative, cares about the narrative or is actively directing the narrative but the fact remains the same; the pressure is now off of the Oakland Athletics and when nobody’s watching, this team has a history of being the life of the party.