Sorry to burst your bubble Sabermetrics Nation, but your daddy Billy Beane screwed up.
When the Oakland A’s VP/GM channeled his inner-George Steinbrenner and went H.A.M, pulling off two blockbuster trades before the trade deadline, we were praising it as a major power move for Oakland – who at the time had the best record in baseball - and most baseball aficionados from Ken Rosenthal to MLB Network heads lauded the move as a nail in the coffin for the rest of the AL.
TSL also cautioned against the move, because losing Yoenis Cespedes without an equal replacement was risky.
“The deal marks the second time in less than a month that the first-place Athletics have made a blockbuster trade to bolster their starting pitching.
Oakland received All-Star hurler Jeff Samardzija and veteran right-hander Jason Hammel in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on July 5.
He better be right. (Jon) Lester will join a star-studded Athletics rotation that already includes Samardzija, a revived Scott Kazmir and young hurler Sonny Gray.
While the trade bolsters the A’s rotation to playoff-ready status, it was hardly a heist. Cespedes is the A’s cleanup batter and the two-time reigning Home Run Derby champion who has 17 homers and 56 RBIs this season.”
Instead of these deals being Beane’s shining moment in his career—the moment that he exhibited a genius and guts to journey outside of his comfort zone and go for the gusto—Oakland’s offense has sunk quicker than a 500-pound elephant, thrown into a 10-foot pond, with cement bricks tied to its ankles.
After Wednesdays’ 2-1 loss to the Ch-Town White Sox, the Oakland A’s have dropped 10 of their last 13 games and now sit a stunning nine games out of first place behind the LA Angels, who are another miraculous story in their own right.
Oaktown’s gone from four up to eight down in the span of 28 games.
To understand how Mike Scioscia’s guys were able to go from highly-paid pranksters to everything Artie Moreno hoped for when he spent all those chips in the ‘12 and ‘13 offseason , we must first focus on how the Oakland A’s blew the season and Beane’s trade was the tanker. Before the Cespedes for Lester trade the A’s were averaging an AL-best 5.0 runs per game. Since August 1, out of 15 AL clubs Oakland ranks dead last in batting average (.229) and 12th in runs per game (3.7), 14th in On-base percentage (.300) and 13th in slugging (.344).
Unless something miraculous occurs in the playoffs—if Oakland makes the playoffs—that trade will go down in infamy in Oakland A’s history and will be the biggest black eye on Beane’s illustrious and ground-breaking career. Right now, Oakland is 1.5 up in the second Wild Card, but Seattle in on their heels with seventeen games to go.
Oakland’s second-half meltdown is a prime example of a GM outmaneuvering himself. He underestimated the importance and offensive impact of having Cespedes in his lineup. Call MLB’s Home Run Derby what you want, but traditionally the winners of that contest dating back to the 60s when it was on weekly TV in black and white, have been the most prolific sluggers in the game, and at the tender age of 28, Cespedes is well on his way.
It’s true that pitching and defense wins championships, but power generators capture moments, become immortals and define games in postseason battle.
The A’s have a great chance to advance deep into the postseason because arms like Lester and Samardzija and Oakland’s supporting cast of arms are hard to come by. In a short series, great pitching can always prevail. Ask the 2001 Arizona Diamond backs who rode the arms of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson to a miracle upset of the juggernaut Yankees. It took two Hall of Famers and the last two guys to strike out 300 batters in a season, to accomplish the feat.
The most unforgettable moments in playoff history are provided by sluggers. Beane forgot that, thinking he could load up on arms, chuck his best player to the side and pitch his way to a chip.
Again, I’m not saying it can’t happen, but it’s unlikely and Beane has definitely lost a golden piece for the future. Let’s not forget, he also traded away best prospect (Addison Russell) and 2013 first-round pick (Billy McKinney) all for a playoff run with no guarantees. Addison Russell, the top prospect in his organization in the Samardzija trade.
As the A’s try to salvage a season that seemed destined for greatness as the franchise celebrates the 25th anniversary of Oakland’s last World Series c’hip in ’89. That ’89 team had classic arms like Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley but it also “The Bash Brothers,”Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco. I wouldn’t exactly give Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson those kinds of props.
Beane has been quiet but his movements have gone from confident, aggressive, omniscient and cunningly calculated to operation desperation. The signing of veteran slugger Adam Dunn in a waiver trade from the Chicago White Sox at the end of August wreaks of a throw it up and see if it sticks move and that’s not Beane’s game. It’s also admittance that trading Yoenis has kept him up at night.
Dunn, who hits from the left side and has 460 career homers, is in the final year of his contract and has never been to the postseason in his 14-year career, is a strikeout machine and about as feast-or-famine a player that exists. He’ll get you a big bop here and there, but you have to suffer through some hideous and non-productive at-bats until he eventually gives you a boom. That’s not Oakland A’s ball.
In the meantime, the LA Angels have regained the faith of the city. Mike Scioscia weathered the storm and proved why he’s one of the game’s best skippers by righting the sinking ship in LA and with the Dodgers shining in the NL; the two teams might be headed for an all-LA World Series collision.
In 2013 Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols combined to make up close to 23 percent of the payroll at a combined $31 million. Their combined fWAR was 2.6 -- or, about three percent of the club's win total. Pujols was still recovering from injuries and Hamilton had his usual myriad problems. While no longer immortal, Pujols has rebounded with a solid season (26 HRS, 92 RBI). Hamilton still has some pop and Mike Trout will finally get that MVP this season.
The biggest difference has been the pitching. Last season, when the Angels stumbled to a 78-84 record, they had the fifth-highest team ERA in the AL (4.23) and this season they have the fifth-lowest at 3.53. They have four starters with double digit wins led by Jered Weaver’s 16 and depth in the bullpen.
The Angels have found a chemistry and consistency that has led to a winning formula. I give Scioscia the edge as a baseball technician against an opposing manager, in almost any situation. I once sat in his office after a game and had run out of paper in my notebook. My tape recorder batteries had also died and I was trying to conduct a one-o-one interview after a tough spring training loss. He not only helped me out by providing paper, he made sure I got everything he said verbatim and treated me with much respect. His desk was a bit junky, but his mind was clean, clear and his words flowed without hesitation.
Push come to shove, my money is on Scioscia and the boys to go further than Oaktown in the playoffs, and that would be Beane’s fault for shaking up a good thing and choosing basic baseball philosophy over his usual sabermetric-based flow. He also didn’t take into account Cespedes’ overall value to the team as a person and leader. They lose a lot in the outfield without him too. Bob Melvin is an excellent baseball guy and has been a winning extension of Oakland’s culture of baseball competitiveness, but he’s never won the big one. Come to think of it, neither has Beane. Guess he’s keeping things status quo.