Billy Beane And The Athletics Went For It And Lost. Now What?
Everything Billy Beane touches turns to gold, or so the baseball world thought until the Athletics went into a September tailspin. Nearly missing the playoffs, Oakland limped into the one game playoff against the Royals with their hired assassin Jon Lester on the mound. He allowed six earned runs in a pedestrian performance. Later, Jason Hammel (another hired hand) surrendered the game winning hit. Meanwhile, Adam Dunn didn’t play, Jonny Gomes couldn’t catch up to Eric Hosmer’s 12th inning triple and Jeff Samardzija was unavailable after throwing seven innings on September 27th. After gutting the farm system to win it all, how does Oakland and its 27th ranked MLB payroll move forward?
Heading into the winter, Oakland will lose a bevy of free agents including pitchers Jason Hammel, Luke Gregerson, middle infielders Jed Lowrie, Nick Punto and Alberto Callaspo, designated hitter Adam Dunn, outfielders Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld and catcher Geovany Soto. Plus, the organization has a number of injured players including John Jaso, Josh Reddick, Kyle Blanks, Craig Gentry and Jarrod Parker who’ll be arbitration eligible. In three months, Oakland has gone from World Series contender to team in transition — an unfortunate reality when a small market team makes a serious run and adds pieces without winning it all. And with a depleted minor league system, Billy Beane doesn’t have the pieces to reload at the MLB level.
If the Athletics are to contend again in 2015, it will be behind their slugging corner infielders Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss. The pair combined for 54 home runs and 8.7 WAR. Up the middle, Coco Crisp and Derek Norris are quality complementary pieces on a playoff caliber team, but not ones to build around.
A wild card is Stephen Vogt who crushed American League pitching immediately after being promoted. After batting .358 in the first half, he slumped to .225 in the second half and proved inept against same-handed pitching. A lingering injury negatively impacted his play, but he’s still more of a quality platoon piece.
Admittedly, Jaso and Reddick are likely to be back after receiving arbitration raises, but both have redundant skill sets to Vogt and Moss as quality platoon players who need a Kyle Blanks or Nate Freiman to prop them up. At present, it appears each will have an opportunity to earn 250-300 plate appearances, if not more. Gentry will be around too as a defensive complement to a group of outfielders with limited defensive ability. Excited yet?
A team void of middle infield options leaves Billy Beane in a bind. Eric Sogard is the only one at the moment and profiles as a poor offensive player who shouldn’t be starting at the MLB level. And with writers already discussing Addison Russell in the same light as Wil Myers (dealt for James Shields), expect the coronation of Russell to continue at the expense of the Oakland Athletics and Billy Beane.
As a player who excels against left-handed pitching, would Rickie Weeks make sense for Oakland? He’s literally the best second baseman available in this year’s free agent class. Yikes!
What Does Billy Beane Do At Shortstop?
At shortstop, Jed Lowrie would fit considering he’s already worn the uniform, but his breakout 2013 (120 wRC+) was met with a below average 2014 offensively. After their crushing 8-7 loss, turnover is expected and Lowrie isn’t going to bring championship glory. JJ Hardy would be an ideal fit, but the Yankees will be able to outbid Oakland for his services, unless Hanley Ramirez becomes serious about playing somewhere other than Los Angeles. Regardless of the middle infield option, the pickings are slim and their trading Russell will haunt Billy Beane whether warranted or not.
Fortunately, the Athletics can afford to spend whatever money they do have on bats because the starting rotation projects to be solid. A starting five of Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz is formidable until A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker return from Tommy John surgery. The bullpen is relatively set too, although Oakland always seems to add an arm or two in the off-season.
However, this isn’t a deep pitching staff by any means and it’s difficult to identify any area of organizational depth to trade from across the system. Jeff Samardzija will inevitably be dealt, but Billy Beane can mold a solid starting staff and bombers in the 3-4 hole into a team which remains a wild card contender without major upgrades.
This is the equivalent of baseball purgatory — especially for a small market team. Like the Rays of 2014, the Oakland Athletics have a roster capable of falling fast. And while Tampa Bay’s return for David Price was considered underwhelming, Billy Beane will deal Samardzija for even less. From 2007-2011, Oakland won between 74 and 81 games. And while the past three seasons average 90-plus wins have been an achievement, it’s time to wonder if teams like the Athletics, Rays and other small market teams operate under a glass ceiling where they can only be so successful before regression kicks in.
1 Oct 2014 / Mike Newman /
Categories: MLB Analysis
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