In nearly one season, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane took the linear-thinking baseball world and threw it into a Mixmaster, inflaming the passions of baseball traditionalists while embracing a statistics-based metric system – known as sabermetrics – that drives talent evaluation in baseball today.
Beane had guts; he also had no choice.
As chronicled in Moneyball (either the book or the movie, take your pick), the small-market A’s didn’t have the payroll to compete with Goliaths like the Yankees and Red Sox in the American League. But sabermetrics gave David more than a slingshot. The idea of a small-market team winning a World Series was no longer considered a miracle. Now, it was a possibility.
Of course, it’s remained a possibility to this day, because Oakland and Beane have yet to win a World Series together.
While small-market teams rely on a solid prospect-development pipeline to continually compete, big-market teams can move young talent at the trade deadline to improve their roster. They can throw checks around like loose-leaf paper during free agency to add at the major league level. Teams like the A’s need to be more judicious with their spending.
But as baseball begins its second half on Friday, the A’s sit atop the American League West, and, at 59-36, have the best record in all of Major League Baseball…which means they’re forced to face a conundrum common to small-market teams in a pennant race: Do we risk our future for to get better for singular run at a World Series?
For Beane’s A’s, that answer is a resounding “yes.”
Beane traded away some of the top prospects in the A’s organization for frontline pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to anchor a rotation that will have to contend with the surging Los Angeles Angels (can’t forget the “of Anaheim” bit), who are 1.5 games behind Oakland in the division and lead the league in runs scored.
We won’t know whether the trade actually sacrificed future seasons of competitive baseball for years. What we do know, with a large degree of certainty, is that the A’s will remain in the playoff hunt – and likely beyond – for the remainder of the season.
The A’s are second in baseball in runs scored, ERA and opponents’ batting average. They’ve done all the small market things too – leading baseball in walks, ranking fifth in on-base percentage and sixth in OPS.
To someone who didn’t know any better, they have the look of a big-market team on the field. Ironically that makes them the second-half favorite.