I was asked by the afternoon drive news team at KCBS this week to join them to talk about the state of the Oakland Athletics, and why more and more fans are wondering if the magic of Moneyball has totally lost its direction. I jumped at the opportunity.
First, in obvious defense of Billy Beane, the A's ownership is not small-market, in terms of its ability to spend major dollars, and yet just doesn't have the willingness to spend, until it gets a new ballpark. They are convinced that they'll never get the revenue necessary from attendance at the Coliseum, so they're just waiting and waiting until that new ballpark gets built. And I, like many, including MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, believe that if the Raiders move back to Los Angeles, that ballpark for the A's will get built.
In the meantime, Billy Beane has gone from a GM who trades his best players before they become free agents to a GM who trades his best players before they become eligible for salary arbitration. That's a huge difference. A rookie isn't eligible for free agency until he's spent six seasons in the majors, but he's eligible for arbitration after three. That's precisely why Josh Donaldson was traded last November. So, Billy can collect all the class-A minor league talent he wants, but by the time these players reach the majors, Sonny Gray likely won't be around because he'll be arbitration eligible after next season.
There is no endgame to this strategy. It can't work. If Billy continues getting rid of his best players before they've spent three years wearing green&gold, he'll never develop a winning team again.
Just one year ago, he had the best team in the major leagues. Then he began tinkering with it in a miserably failed effort to make it even better. He traded his best minor league prospect, shortstop Addison Russell, to the Cubs for starter Jeff Samardzija. Russell is now an everyday player for the Cubs, who love him. Samardzija is now with the White Sox. Then he traded his cleanup hitter--some say the heart of the A's offense--Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox for starter Jon Lester.
The A's offense went in the tank after that trade, the Angels won the AL West, Oakland barely grabbed the second wild card spot, then lost that epic extra-inning thriller in Kansas City. Cespedes is now on pace to finish with 28HRs, 98RBIs and a .290 average with the Tigers. Lester is now with the Cubs.
Shortly after the World Series, Billy sent shock waves through the organization, and Major League Baseball in general, when he traded Josh Donaldson, the best third-baseman in the game, to Toronto. In exchange, he got three players, but the key to the deal was a 19-year old shortstop named Franklin Barreto, who's now hitting .298 with 12HRs, for their class-A California League farm club in Stockton. Billy said last week that Barreto is doing better than he ever imagined. One thing he didn't mention, though, is that Barreto has made 34 errors at shortstop. That's eight more than Marcus Semien has made with Oakland. Barreto has made 88 errors in 213 minor league games.
Beane then traded Brandon Moss to Cleveland for a second-baseman who's hitting .270 at AAA Nashville, with little power and no speed. Within the last few days, he has traded Scott Kazmir, Ben Zobrist and Tyler Clippard. He's stockpiling more and more minor league talent, but no can't miss prospects. And again, if he's going to continue trading his best players before they become arbitration eligible, it won't matter. There's no endgame here.
Let's hope the Raiders move back to LA.