Moneyball’s last stand: Billy Beane finally making his big bet (VIDEO)
There’s been a video clip going around the last couple of days wherein a World Series of Poker player, after a $1 million buy-in, goes out on the worst bad beat you’re ever going to see. Pocket aces vs. pocket aces. Someone has to lose. Good lord, turn away if you’re squeamish.
Aside from this clip being the best anti-gambling PSA I’ve ever come across, it also perfectly encapsulates the ultra-aggressive mindset surrounding Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane at this year’s trading deadline. A’s fans across the greater Bay Area awoke to hear the news (reported around 7 a.m. local time) that slugger Yoenis Cespedes had been dealt to Boston for a package including outfielder Jonny Gomes and ace lefty Jon Lester. Judging from the reactions from several local TV stations, that no reporters or fans alike could immediately decide whether this trade was enraging or celebratory speaks not just to the merits of the deal (which clock in well for both teams) but moreso the sheer shock that Billy Beane had done something like this.
To be fair, Beane has always been something of an aggressive trader, dealing for players he deems to be undervalued by other organizations. The 2014 A’s Media Guide lists every "significant and recent trade" made by Beane. (The first? November 1997: Kenny Rogers and cash from the Yankees for Scott Brosius, future World Series MVP. Whoopsie.) The knock on Beane, historically speaking, is that he’s often quick to trade away his young, semi-established talent to get even younger, that he’s constantly stockpiling for what dreams may come rather than concentrating on the here and now.
That entire perception was knocked on its keister July 4, when he traded away blue-chip shortstop prospect Addison Russell and others to the Cubs for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Now, the A’s have Lester in their rotation, too. Oakland — like the Tigers, with newly acquired David Price — now has a pitching rotation that is, especially in the context of a playoff series, nothing short of terrifying.
Trading away burgeoning talents Russell and Cespedes is nothing new for Beane. But the timing, investment and risk involved — both Lester and Samardzija could easily be gone after this season — signals, for the first time in Beane’s 17-year tenure, nothing short of a by-any-means necessary approach to winning the World Series not next season or in 2016 but this year and this year alone.
That’s a prize many here in the Bay Area have been clamoring for longer than they can probably remember. The Sandy Alderson-led teams of the ’80s ended up winning only one title, but that’s still one more flag flying than has been unfurled with Beane on the job. The 2002 season, which started out so lackluster yet turned into incredible theater — quite literally — is still on every A’s fan’s mind. That was as close as they’ve gotten to the mountaintop, before the boulder started slipping beneath their nails, as it now tends to do on an annual basis.
This year, it will be harder than ever, and not only with the Tigers acquiring Price. The upstart Mariners and sneakily good Angels are both trying to emerge from the same division as Oakland, and whoever rises from the ashes of the chaos-friendly AL East is sure to be a battle-tested playoff force. The A’s have never made the World Series on Beane’s watch, and now the fans are starting to realize that this is finally the year where nothing else will suffice.
There has always been a tangible sense of fun permeating from the A’s, going back for decades. And fun is important, because sports are fun. But now the A’s are throwing every resource at winning, at conjuring that just-right blend of chemistry and analytics that will bring about Oakand’s first title in 25 years. The fans here have waited long enough.
And now, the A’s have acquired both Lester and Samardzija. Pocket aces. The bet — the biggest of Beane’s career — has been made.