It happened a couple of times during the 2014 regular season, and it happened several times during what’s been an extremely active offseason, even by the club’s frenetic standards.
Sometimes thrilled to death, often forehead-slappingly distraught and always just plain puzzled, diehard A’s fans found themselves asking the same question time and again.
What the hell is Billy Beane thinking?
There are several microanswers.
1) Very differently than just about everybody in baseball. Beane is a great many things, a true Renaissance man of the highest order, but a conformist — a subscriber to the game’s many traditional views of how to build a winning team — is definitely not one of them.
2) Certainly NOT about the team’s much-hyped and typically undeniably cohesive clubhouse chemistry. He simply doesn’t, and never has, believed that good chemistry brings success. Quick conversely, is of the mind that good chemistry he’s a byproduct of success, and with every early postseason exit, it stands to reason that his resolve on this matter is only strengthened.
3) He’s NOT thinking about what you the fan, or the baseball establishment, or the media, or anybody else thinks of what he’s doing. He’s thinking he’s right.
And whether you want to admit it or not, look at the hands he’s been dealt over the years — stingy and/or clueless ownership, the least attractive ballpark in the business, relentless second-guessing from the outside, etc. — and look at the results. Far more often than not, when Beane has done something radical, it’s worked out pretty well.
What the hell is Billy Beane thinking? Here’s the macroanswer: The same thing he’s been thinking since you took over as general manager in 1999.
What he’s done in making over an A’s roster loaded with 2014 All-Stars and turning it into a team that will head into Spring Training needing “Hello, My Name Is …” name tags, stripped of most of those All-Stars in addition to its status as one of the trendy picks to win it all as a young club on the rise, is essentially what he’s been doing for the past decade and a half.
That is, he’s swapped out older, more-expensive guys and/or not-close prospects for younger and cheaper but big-league-ready replacements.
The only difference is that he usually does it one or two guys at a time, while this offseason he did it en masse.
Why? Because it was time. Trading Josh Donaldson was the biggest head-scratcher, but it’s important to remember the Donaldson is a lot older than most guys still under club control for four more years and thus moving out of his prime a lot quicker. Beane got four good young players in return.
The A’s had too many catchers. John Jaso, quite frankly, can’t catch. See ya. Brandon Moss has a hip issue that’s a huge question mark, and if you look at his career, it appears likely that he’ll never be better than he was in the first half of 2014. Bye bye. Jeff Samardzija was going to be a free agent after this season. Trade high what you won’t be able to afford later. And Derek Norris? More catching largesse, and rarely has there been a bigger example of the league catching up to and exposing/exploiting a player’s weaknesses as we saw unfold with this guy in the second half of last season.
Are they a better team right now as a result of all these moves? Not on paper, no. But did the 2012 team look like it was headed for the postseason on paper when it reported to spring training? It looked more like it might be headed for 90 losses, right?
We won’t know if Beane was, in fact right in his thinking this offseason for many months. But we do have a large enough sample size of his work to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Look, cliches exist for a reason. It’s because there’s generally a lot of validity to them.
So quit worrying about what the man is thinking, A’s fans. Lean on one of your own cliches:
In Billy We Trust.
It’s worked for you for a long, long time.
Mychael Urban has been covering Bay Area sports for 25 years and has worked for MLB.com, Comcast SportsNet Bay Area and KNBR (680 AM).