The Oakland A’s are perhaps one of baseball’s most questionable franchises.
Since instituting “Moneyball,” a term coined famously by long-time A’s GM Billy Beane, the A’s have made moves that leave fans, analysts and baseball officials scratching their heads.
“Moneyball,” of course, is the method that Beane constructed with assistant Paul DePodesta in order to build a winning productÂ despite not having the resources to do so. Instead of signing big-name free agents to lucrative deals, the A’s, who were (and still are) one of the poorest franchises in baseball, signed cheaper players that were often overlooked. The reason for the signings of these players? They had statistics that fit Beane’s model for “Moneyball.” It was a model that proved to be successful for the A’s in the early 2000s. However, once other teams began to discover and follow “Moneyball,” the A’s fell back to mediocrity.
It’s been an interesting off-season for the American League’s Bay Area team. They traded two of their best starting pitchers in Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill in blockbuster, prospect-loaded deals with the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks respectively, as well as dealt All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to the Boston Red Sox. A few weeks ago, Beane received a contract extension that runs through 2019. The A’s have also been negotiating with Major League Baseball to move from their dreary stadium, the O.co Coliseum, to a new home in San Jose, California – a process that looks like it may just work out. For a while, it looked like the A’s were going to go into rebuilding mode and stock up on prospects in order to have future success.
But perhaps it’s the A’s most recent two moves that have left others wondering: just what is the longest tenured general manager in baseball doing?
The first of these two moves was the A’s signing of Cuban defector and prized free agent outfielder, Yoenis Cespedes.
Cespedes, who first made news with his nearly 20 minute long YouTube work-out video, signed a 4-year, $36 million contract with Oakland just a few weeks ago. Throughout the off-season, Cespedes was known to be coveted by the New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, Miami Marlins, and other teams who wanted to harness the 26 year-old’s talent. The A’s were never seriously mentioned as a possible landing spot for the potential five-tool star.
For a player of Cespedes’ caliber, it’s a questionable signing by the A’s. For one, this is not a traditional “Moneyball” approach by Beane and his higher-ups. The Oakland A’s are not known as a team that spends very often. This signing is even more questionable seeing as the A’s, reinforced by their moves this off-season, are notÂ a win-now team. They had just traded arguably their two best starting pitchers and closer, and seemed destined to begin a rebuilding process with the high-quality prospects they received.
A player who bases his game on power and contact, Cespedes led the Cuban baseball league in home runs with 33 in just 90 games (the length of the season in Cuba), equivalent to 59 home runs over the course of MLB’s 162 game season. Cespedes is going to see a significant drop in his power numbers playing in Oakland’s cavernous ballpark. The A’s home run leader last season, OF Josh Willingham (who has since departed for the Minnesota Twins), had 29 last season – only 15 of which came at home. Heck, we don’t even know if Cespedes can play at the major league level yet. There has been talk that he may spend the first month of the season at Triple-A to learn major league pitching, which is significantly better than the competition in Cuba. Cespedes could be a great signing for the A’s, or he could be a bust. He could be an All-Star or a no-name. It’s an un-orthodox signing by Beane to say the least.
The other headline-making move was the recent signing of the formerly-retired, Manny Ramirez.
Ramirez, who started the 2011 campaign with the Tampa Bay Rays, retired five games into the season after allegations about his use of performance-enhancing drugs began to circulate again. It was reported that Ramirez had failed yet another drug test, and would be required to serve a 100-game ban, this after serving a 50-game ban for steroids the season prior with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rather than serve the suspension, Ramirez retired.
Or so we thought.
Midway through the off-season, Ramirez filed for, and was granted, reinstatement into baseball. However, he would have to serve a 50-game suspension at the beginning of the season if he were to sign with a team.
Enter the Oakland A’s.
With aging free agent veterans such as Johnny Damon (38), Hideki Matsui (37), and Vladimir Guerrero (37) – who all played in 2011 and had somewhat productive seasons – on the market looking for jobs as designated hitters, there were a plethora of strong DH candidates the A’s could have chosen from. Instead, the A’s opted for the 39 year-old Ramirez, who only played in five games last season, retired, and now has to miss 50 games at the start of the 2012 season.
Explain that logic.
Perhaps it was the asking price of the other players, seeing as Oakland got Ramirez relatively cheap. A one-year, roughly $500,000 minor-league contract is an insignificant financial risk for the A’s, and could present a somewhat high-reward. Is it likely that Ramirez will be the player he once was before his retirement? Probably not, especially since he’d be playing in a not-so hitter friendly park. For the A’s, it also doesn’t commit to a roster spot, meaning that during spring training, if he underperforms, he can get cut without it being an issue. However if he performs well, he simply can be added to the roster. It’s a win-win situation for Oakland.
The Manny Ramirez signing, contrast to the Cespedes signing, is Beane’s “Moneyball” plan in full effect. Sign a washed-up player who is, for lack of a better term, running out of fuel, to a cheap low-risk, high-reward deal. If Ramirez becomes a somewhat solid player, he could be a hot commodity come the trade deadline for an Oakland team that certainly will not be in contention, and net a decent reward. Perhaps last season’s escapade was just another episode in the long-time running sitcom that is “Manny being Manny,” and Ramirez can help Oakland out.
However, the moves do create somewhat of a logjam. The A’s currently boast an outfield that consists of six outfielders, those being Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Collin Cowgill, Jonny Gomes, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith. Before the signings of Cespedes and Ramirez, Gomes figured to be the A’s starting DH, with a starting outfield of Smith in left, Crisp in center and Reddick in right. Now it appears as though Cespedes will take over one of the corner spots from either Smith or Reddick, and Ramirez, once his suspension is served, will take over DH duties from Gomes. It will be interesting to see how manager Bob Melvin and his staff platoon their team, and who will be around come the July trade deadline.
As for Beane, the moves he has made are exactly the strategy he has been preaching for almost a decade now. Sign low-cost contributors such as Ramirez, Gomes and Crisp, trade big-name players for star-potential prospects to build a strong minor-league system that could produce cheap, productive players and find a way to incorporate it all into team success. Beane has been at this point before, after he lost three of his star players in the winter prior to the 2002 season, and first began to use the “Moneyball” approach in Oakland. One has to imagine that he knows what he’s doing, and is setting the team up for future success with the moves that he has made.
It’s going to be a fun summer in Oakland.