Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A's Fire Sale Exposes Beane's Incompetence

A recent column by Monte Poole of the San Jose Mercury (sorry, no link, they only provide a 7 day window of access to their articles) boldly proclaiming that the A's "Fire sale exposes baseball's talk about integrity as fraudulent."  I have an alternative, more accurate view:  it exposes Billy Beane's mismanagement of the talent on the A's and A's ownership's pocketing of over $100M in EBITDA in the past six seasons.

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As a recent Ask BA column notes, the A's before the trades had a bottom five farm system.  It was just that bad.  Again.  The last time it was like this was when the A's held their last fire sale and sold off Dan Haren and Nick Swisher.  Because they had nothing coming up and could not therefore progress with the talent they had then.

He had to make these deals this offseason because, unlike the Giants in recent years, their high picks have not been developing even into average ballplayers.  That is partly the structure and process of the baseball draft, as the odds are very low even for top picks, but I place the blame solely on Beane's mismanagement of the A's strategy, as well as ownership's pocketing of over $100M in EBITDA (cash flow) over the past 6 seasons.

The A's have suffered from Beane's yo-yo-ing strategy guiding the team, as he flopped from rebuilding to competing to rebuilding in a few years.  That has costed them talents such as Andre Ethier and Carlos Gonzalez over the years.  Both could have been in the A's lineup in 2010 and 2011, and they would have been a very competitive team had he not swung the team back and forth in strategy.

A rebuild ideally lasts 3-6, depending on your luck in selecting prospects, as well as commitment to the rebuilding process.  You don't trade away Dan Haren then a couple of years later trade away one of the good prospects from that trade to get Matt Holliday.  Or sign Ben Sheets to a $10M contract at the same time.

And it is not like the A's could not afford the players they got.  They wasted $10M signing Sheets in 2010.  That could have went towards signing some of the young players long term.  Moreover, since 2005, the A's have totaled over $100M in EBITDA (cash flow from operations; probably over $120M with 2011, Forbes has not released their estimates yet).  That money could have signed a lot of young international talent, as well as funded over-slot prospects in the June draft, plus signed their young talent to long-term cost-controlled contracts, and still have over $50M left over.

Giants Thoughts

The Mercury has been on a campaign boosting the A's chances of landing in San Jose.  I have no problem with that, as long as they are transparent about their bias, but to call baseball "fraudulent" is too over the top.

What has been fraudulent is Beane's magic (moneyball) beans that he has been feeding the media.  It is his mismanagement of the rebuilding process that set the team back, in terms of talent, resulting in his need to rebuild again today by trading off many of his valuable players.

First, it was his poor choices made with the teams that made his name.  He signed Eric Chavez to a big long-term contract that became an anchor on the payroll because he not only didn't produce, he was rarely healthy enough to even man his position.  He let both Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada go without trading them for young talent.  He also traded away Tim Hudson for nothing, none of those prospects ever amounted to anything.  He traded away Andre Ethier for the volatile Milton Bradley, and Ethier ended up playing more games and hitting better than Bradley for the D-gers.  Only his Matt Mulder trade netted him anything, otherwise, he would have been in even bigger problems.

Second, now, he at least learned from those mistakes.  He made sure to trade away Dan Haren and Nick Swisher for a boatload of talent.  Though he was forced to do that because all those winning seasons made it suddenly very hard for him to pull off his moneyball magic in the draft (because the draft becomes exponentially hard when you are winning and in the last third of the first round) plus because he had foolishly traded away Ethier for an older but lesser player (the gift that keeps on giving)..

But then he screwed the Haren trade up by then trading Carlos Gonzalez (and Huston Street!) for Matt Holliday in 2009.  Then signing Ben Sheets for $10M in 2010.  When that money could have probably been used to sign Car-Gon to a much more team friendly deal before he broke out big.

He then compounds that bad Holliday trade by making two subsequent trades and ending up with a prospect who is struggling to hit in AAA.  At age 26 next season, he's about to become a non-prospect soon unless he suddenly figures things out.  But his stats (and injuries) don't seem to portend anything even MLB in him, let alone a good player.  If he would have at least kept Brett Wallace, who he got in the Holliday trade, Wallace at least is hitting some in the majors, though not good at all, but better than what the AAA player is doing.

Beane should have committed to the rebuild that begun when the Haren trade was made.  He had a lot of good young players, I was pretty impressed with the haul he got in trade.   It was the Haren trade that I was hoping that we could duplicate with Jonathan Sanchez, until he came up lame in 2011 - had Dirty repeated 2010, we could have gotten a huge haul too for him, though I'm happy with Melky Cabrera.

But then he suddenly switched strategy and started trying to compete again, by trading for Holliday, then signing Sheets to his big contract.  That cut the talent out of the team quickly, with less spending on the draft plus the loss of Car-Gon.  And the Ethier trade again haunts this move, for if he still had Ethier perhaps neither move would have been done.

It is not the Giants or baseballs' fault for the A's predicament.  Beane shot himself in the foot, and like a great Keystone Cops routine, kept on compounding the mistakes, over and over again.  Furthermore, had Wolff given Beane an extra $10M per season to spend, who knows what he could have done:  sign young players long-term, sign a lot of prospects, both international and June draft signability drops, sign Japanese players.  And still, even in this scenario, Wolff would have had roughly $60M left in cash flow to line his pocket.

And where do the Giants come in here?  What I'm hoping is that the $100M+ that Wolff has been squirreling away, which basically is the revenue sharing money that the Giants have paid into the program, will be part of the money that the A's will pay the Giants in return for them moving down to San Jose.

Given that the Giants have made the point that they need the revenues from attendance in order to pay off their load payments, I think it would be a fair for the A's to pay $15-20M per season for the next 8 seasons, at which point the loan would be paid off in 2019 (which is when I understand the loan to be done; load payment is $20M from what I recall).  That is basically the money they have been getting from revenue sharing each year (from the Giants) and which they pulled in as cash flow from their operations.  That is more than what the Nationals had to pay the Orioles, but the SF Bay Area is a larger population as well, and that much more valuable.

This is also a debt long overdue.  The A's paid the Giants nothing to move into their area.  The South Bay would have been clearly the Giants territory had the A's never carpetbagged themselves into Oakland on the back of Charlie O.  The handover of the rights should have been symbolic because the Giants should have owned it in the first place.  Now it is time to pay the piper and the Giants the money they have long been due, with interest.


  1. I completely agree with you about Beane. The Emperor has no clothes! I got absolutely fried on some baseball websites for criticizing the Holiday trade at the time. Everybody said, "oh, you just wait. Billy is thinking 3 steps ahead. He's going to flip Holiday for 2 or 3 prospects just as good as Carlos Gonzalez." I said, "you just wait and see how Holiday hits playing 93 of his games in Oakland, Seattle and SF. He isn't going to have much trade value after that." But no, Billy could do no wrong and anybody who thought otherwise was an idiot or jerk or both. I think people are finally starting to wake up to the reality of Billy's incompetence.

    BTW, his draft strategy doesn't work either. Over the years, the Giants have kept their draft costs down and have ended up with much better players to show for it than the A's.

  2. Maybe there's some armchair psychology to throw at Ol' Beane. He was highly rated as a prospect, and flamed out famously himself. Maybe he just can't stop creating that tantalizing moment where there's all the potential in the world before the harsh reality of the show.

    Seriously, my brother-in-law, an ardent A's fan walks through the door here a couple weeks ago. Me: "you traded Gio - got a pretty nice haul" Him - "great, so when they're getting good in three years we can trade THEM?" He's pretty much given up as long as Lew and Billie have their thing going on.

    Extremely overrated. I realize the Crisp deal, in addition to being pretty mediocre, is actually a cynical exercise to get to the 40MM floor. I feel really bad for hard core A's fans. But the constant rebuild along with the weird mid level vet signings are clear signs that Beane needs to step away.

  3. Oh OGC... Baseball America is picking up what you're putting down. Check out "Athletics' Complaints Don't Explain Losing Skid" - lot of the same points you laid down here.

  4. Agree with you on Beane. He has been notorious lately for getting fleeced by opposing teams, which is ironic because pre-moneyball he was known for fleecing other teams. The issue too is that you really wonder what he is trying to do other than cut costs. He seemed to be going pitcher-heavy the previous year, but then he ditched Cahill and Gio this year, so that strategy is out the window. I think that is probably what frustrates A's fans the most is just their isn't an identity or direction other than the whole "We're rebuilding our system" argument, which just screams "We're cutting costs."

  5. Another failed trade comes to a head: A's dropping Adrian Cardenas, who was the headline prospect of the trade of Joe Blanton to the Phillies. He was a BA Top 10 prospect for the Phillies, he also made their Top 100 lists twice.

    Josh Outman is the best part of that trade, pitching well in limited play the past two seasons, and he was flipped to the Rockies for Seth Smith. He was rated #4 in 2008 (Cardenas #2) before the season they were traded to the A's.

    He was OK in limited play in 2009 but he missed the entire 2010 season, suggesting he had Tommy John surgery, and he wasn't nowhere where he was before in 2011, his strikeout rate was so low. At 27 next season, he doesn't look anywhere close to a replacement for Blanton, which is what the goal should have been in the trade, none of the prospects have really worked out that well for Beane, another failed trade, to his long list of failures.



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