People say “Moneyball” is dead. People say it worked once. Maybe that is true, but Billy Beane is not dead, nor is he done doing what he can to build Oakland a winning team.
While those years of winning teams may still be a couple of seasons away, he’s been planning for them for sometime.
Has he had to make some very — no, extremely — unpopular decisions in recent years? Sure he has.
The biggest one is probably his decision to dismantle the core of the team after their second-half collapse in 2014. Most controversial was the trade of the reigning AL MVP Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays for third baseman Brett Lawrie and minor leaguers Kendall Graveman, Franklin Barreto and Sean Nolin.
Beane traded five of the A’s seven 2014 All-Stars after the collapse of 2014. The A’s were by and large the best team in all of baseball during the first half of the season. By the end of the year they barely made the postseason as a second wild card and they lost the one-game playoff to the Kansas City Royals.
Beane’s decisions to trade away five All-Stars in the offseason and a sixth at the 2015 trade deadline for mostly prospects have been criticized by both experts and fans.
But were Beane’s moves really all that wrong? They’ve definitely appeared to be, as the A’s have had their two worst seasons since Beane took over as the team’s general manager after the 1997 season, in 2015 and 2016.
However, what if, after the collapse of 2014, Beane had a plan. While every prospect will not become a major league-caliber player, there will be ones that excel.
Sometimes they will be the ones you expect, like Barreto, who had been highly-touted and is already tearing it up in Triple-A at the age of 20.
Other times, especially from the outside, you may not even see a future star coming. Ryon Healy, 24, a third-round pick of the A’s in the 2013 amateur draft, jumped from Double-A Midland to the being the A’s everyday third baseman this July. Since then, in 58 games with the Athletics heading into Sunday, Healy is batting .311 with 10 home runs and 29 RBI while posting a 1.7 WAR.
Through both the draft and the trades that began with the dismantling the 2014 team, Beane has cultivated a group of talented, young players who will soon be not just MLB-ready but experienced big leaguers.
Beane has noted on more than one occasion that he’d like a team that emulates the Cleveland Indians’ team when they moved into their new stadium, Jacobs (now-named Progressive) Field in 1994. They came into their new home with a young-but-ready team of now well-known names, names like Kenny Lofton and Albert Belle who were still in their mid-20s.
By the end of the following season, Cleveland went on to break a 41-year postseason drought, making it all the way to the World Series for the first time since 1954. They won the AL Central every year from 1995 through 1999.
With the A’s new stadium’s arrival finally appearing on a distant, but still visible, horizon, Beane is building a similar team that he hopes will be in a new stadium no later than the year 2020.
They will be a team of still young, but no longer inexperienced, players in their primes. His hope, along with that of the fans, is that that team will go on to dominate the league the way the Indians did in the mid-late 1990s, the way the A’s did in the late 1980s.
It appears that Beane may have known what he was doing all along; despite the distinct outrage of the fans and little to no help from the owners, he has built a team of the future for Oakland.
Of course there are variables, things could go wrong with the stadium plans or an injury could occur but those things cannot be counted upon to go one way or the other.
Beane’s plan seems as solid as one could possibly be in a game where anything can happen.