Will Beane stick with struggling A’s?
I’m not all that curious about whether Bob Melvin will be the Athletics’ interim or permanent manager.
But I sure would like to know if Billy Beane is sick of being the team’s GM.
Beane fired his manager and close friend, Bob Geren, on Thursday, a move that was weeks, if not years, too late.
Such changes usually mark a last-ditch attempt to save a team’s season. Beane, though, seems under no such illusions about the A’s. In a conference call with reporters, he declined to even engage in the usual brave GM talk about how the new manager might kick-start the club.
Four starting pitchers from the Athletics’ vaunted rotation are on the disabled list, as is second baseman Mark Ellis. It’s all over but the selloff, and Beane knows it.
The A’s face increasingly long odds trying to win at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. A move to San Jose, if it ever happens, is years away. The franchise, which last had a winning season in 2006, just keeps slogging along.
So here’s Beane, a former player, a fierce competitor, someone who takes pride in his job and is good at it. Surely, he’s aware that the Athletics’ failure is a reflection on him, no matter how much he is respected by his fellow GMs.
Yes, Beane is devoted to Lew Wolff, the team’s managing partner. Yes, he is signed through 2014. Yes, he even holds a small ownership stake in the team.
But when will he say "enough"?
The Cubs and Astros soon might seek new GMs. The return of the Yankees’ Brian Cashman next season hardly is assured. Another job or two might open, as well.
Beane, 49, would be a leading candidate for any vacancy, and practically every one of them would offer him greater resources and margin for error.
Which isn’t to exonerate Beane from the latest Oakland collapse; the firing of a manager is an organizational breakdown. Beane’s responsibility goes beyond his loyalty to Geren, whose dubious leadership elicited public criticism from past and present players.
Someone needs to figure out why the A’s, after firing their trainer and changing their medical provider after last season, continue to suffer an inordinate number of injuries.
And Beane, for a GM who constantly is scrambling for offense, has traded his fair share of accomplished hitters — from Nelson Cruz to Andre Ethier, Carlos Gonzalez to Brett Wallace — and rarely develops his own.
All GMs swing and miss; it’s the nature of the beast (and not all of those deals appeared to be misses initially). The problem in Oakland — and Tampa Bay and other low-revenue markets, for that matter — is that big misses are almost catastrophic. Low-revenue clubs, unlike their big-money brethren, can’t spend their way out of mistakes.
Case in point: The Athletics last offseason. Beane thought he had it all figured out. He would sign free agents Lance Berkman and Adrian Beltre, solving his team’s offensive problems once and for all.
Well, Berkman rejected Beane’s two-year offer to sign with the Cardinals for one. Beltre rejected Beane’s six-year, $76 million offer to get more from the Rangers, the team the A’s are trying to catch in the AL West.
No free agent comes to Oakland if given a better option. Even young players dread the thought of playing at the Coliseum. Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, for example, has four teams on his no-trade list. Naturally, the A’s are one.
Beane seemed to recover nicely last offseason, finishing with a haul that included designated hitter Hideki Matsui, outfielders David DeJesus and Josh Willingham and relievers Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.
But here we go again.
I picked the A’s to win the division, figuring that they had improved their offense and bullpen and again would feature the AL’s best rotation. This season, though, is playing out like most of the Athletics’ other recent flops. Their offense ranks last in the AL and the pitching injuries keep coming, one after another.
The franchise is caught in a cycle of mediocrity, one from which there is no quick escape.
The nucleus of Beane’s postseason teams in the early 2000s included three top 10 overall draft picks — third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10, 1996) and left-handers Mark Mulder (No. 2, ’98) and Barry Zito (No. 9, ’99).
The A’s, rather than tear down, have stayed reasonably competitive in recent years, forfeiting chances to earn high picks. Their only top 10 selection since 2000 was outfielder Michael Choice, the 10th overall pick in 2010 and a highly regarded prospect.
Beane, like the Rays’ Andrew Friedman, never complains publicly about the inherent unfairness of his position — he chose to stay with the A’s, chose to sign extensions.
But remember back in November 2002, when Beane backed out of a five-year, $12.5 million offer deal with the Red Sox in part because his daughter, Casey, lived on the West Coast? Casey was 12 then. Now she attends Kenyon (Ohio) College. Beane’s twins with his wife Tara, Brayden and Tinsley, are 3.
From the outside, Beane would appear in better position to make a move, but only he would know for sure. For now, I’m just trying to picture him at the scheduled opening of "Moneyball," the movie, on Sept. 23.
The book, subtitled, "The Art of Winning an Unfair Game," celebrates Beane’s ability to exploit market inefficiencies. The movie presumably will portray Beane in just as favorable a light. But I can’t imagine Beane will be comfortable with the renewed publicity if the A’s are on the verge of missing the postseason for the sixth straight year.
The game has changed. For Oakland, at least, it’s even more challenging than it was a decade ago.
If I were Beane, the job would be driving me nuts.