FOX Sports Exclusive
Beane on sidelines of trade deadline
It’s usually this time of year when Billy Beane disappears into his laboratory and cooks up another trade-deadline extravaganza. Beane has forever been to late July what Dick Clark was to New Year’s Eve — at their finest with the clock running out.
Only, there won’t be any last-minute deals this time around. For one, the Oakland Athletics have been ravaged by injuries, and virtually all their movable assets are on the disabled list. The most recent setback was having to shelve Ben Sheets, who was ready to be dealt the way Beane dispatched Matt Holliday last summer.
Instead, Sheets could be done for the year, telling the San Francisco Chronicle it’s “possible” the swelling in his elbow is serious.
“I don’t like the fact it’s so swollen,” Sheets said. “It’s been so up and sown the last two weeks, so up and down all year.”
Sheets’ injury has forced Beane to the sidelines of the trade-deadline frenzy. It’s also allowed him to take stock of how differently big and small market teams exchange talent these days.
A decade ago, cash-poor franchises invested only in younger, affordable players. The richer teams prowled for veterans with playoff experience. It was a perfect match — back then. But the salary-dumping of the early 2000s has all but vanished, as even the Yankees and Red Sox think like Beane in growing their own talent.
It’s been an awakening of sorts for Beane, whose market-IQ was once the exception. Now it’s the norm. Every club is run by geniuses and numbers-geeks, all of whom are obsessed with holding down payroll.
“There’s definitely a lot of bright people running the game and they’ve all been impacted by the economy,” Beane said by telephone the other day. “Some of the trades that were made 10-12 years ago could never happen now. That’s because teams value players in the same way. There’s much more efficiency (among general managers) than before.”
That’s the dilemma Beane faces as he tries to liberate the A’s from a loop of non-contention. They haven’t been to the postseason since 2006 and, 8 1/2 games out, would need a near-collapse by the Rangers to become contenders in the West. Even if Texas were to play .500 the rest of the way, the A’s would need a .635 winning percentage to catch them.
Realistically speaking, A’s fans are looking at another dark October, which Beane says is as frustrating for him as his ticket holders.
If Beane can be the subject of an upcoming Hollywood movie based on Moneyball — starring Brad Pitt, no less — can’t he just close his eyes, conjure a little early 2000’s magic and turn the A’s into a powerhouse again?
He’d love to, but not only is it harder for Beane to assemble another dream rotation like Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson, it’s just as impossible to retain even his budding stars. Such is life with a payroll in the mid-$50 million range.
One rival GM who once admitted he dreaded competing against Beane, now says he feels “sorry” for the forefather of the Moneyball era, who “has to keep turning over his team every two years.”
Collect the talent, develop it, export it. Repeat cycle. That’s the business plan Beane has to live with. You wouldn’t blame him for feeling burned out by the constant money-saving churn.
A younger, less established executive would be tempted to gamble at the eleventh hour — a do-something, do-anything option to keep the A’s from stagnation. But Beane hasn’t even considered that possibility.
“The biggest enemy would be impatience,” he said. “Everyone wants to be competitive every year, but you have to be realistic in this market. The fact is we have some great young pitchers. If we stay disciplined and grow from within, then we have a chance to have a really good team for years to come.
“Hopefully, once we get healthy, we can get on a nice hot streak and be in this (pennant race).”
That’s kind of sensible, clear-headed thinking Beane is known for, but he’s no robot. He does have a nostalgic streak, one which comes alive when asked to name the best trade of his career.
That’s when the glory days come rushing back at him.
“I’ve been on both sides of the fence,” Beane said. “I’ve been in the position having to move players, and I’ve also looked for that one player that would fit perfectly as the final piece of the puzzle.
“When we got Jermaine Dye in 2001, he was exactly the player we needed. He gave us a huge boost,” as the A’s went 58-17 after the All-Star break.
Fingers crossed, Beane thinks the A’s can re-capture that glory. At least some day.
More Stories From Bob Klapisch