Billy Beane's willingness to gamble has kept the A's in playoff contention the past two years while the Giants, defending World Series champions, have fallen into the NL West cellar this season.
Beane has never had much money to deal with. Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann ran a tight ship, though Schott would spend for players in midseason, if necessary. Lew Wolff and moneyman John Fisher have consistently had payrolls at or near the bottom of Major League Baseball. This year, the A's payroll is roughly 2½ times smaller than that of the Giants.
So, Beane has had to find young, cheap players. When he realized the minor league system was short of quality players two years ago, he traded All-Star closer Andrew Bailey and his top starter, Gio Gonzalez, for prospects.
Can you imagine Sabean making that kind of move? His idea of a trade was the one last season of Nate Schierholtz and prospects for Hunter Pence; though Schierholtz has had a breakout year with the Chicago Cubs this year, he was never more than a fringe player for the Giants.
Beane has good scouts and they found good players, so he got value in the trades for Bailey and Gonzalez. Josh Reddick, who was a big factor in last year's A's run, came in the Bailey trade. Pitcher Tommy Milone and catcher Derek Norris were two of the four players in the Gonzalez trade. Milone has been in the starting rotation the last two years and Norris, when he's been healthy, is a regular at catcher.
The A's have also been able to pick up players without big reputations who have been important to them. Brandon Moss is a perfect example. Moss was an outfielder who had never played first base but he proved to be a perfectly competent first baseman, though he's now spending some time back in the outfield with the recall of Daric Barton.
Most important, he hits home runs. Despite the talk about working the count, the A's have won when they've hit with power. The 1988-'90 teams had Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. The teams in the early part of this century had Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada, though Tejada never got a mention in “Moneyball,” book or movie.
Last year, they had Moss, Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes. Reddick has struggled this year because of wrist injuries and Cespedes has, too, but Moss has hit a career-high 25 homers and Josh Donaldson has also had a breakout year. The A's lead the league in walk-off wins, usually with home runs.
The Giants don't have anybody with as many homers as Donaldson's 19, let alone Moss' 25. The Giants like to blame the park, but it wasn't a problem for Jeff Kent or Rich Aurilia, who hit 37 homers one year. The 2002 team, which should have won the World Series, had four hitters with at least 20 homers. This year's team may not have even one.
The A's also have a park that can be difficult for home run hitters at night, and they have a small payroll, but Beane has assembled a group that doesn't worry about playing conditions. They just find a way to win.