Busy Beane Stays Hungry

Busy Beane Stays Hungry

By Dale Tafoya

Ask any successful pro and they’ll admit that keeping your passion can be hard. Eight years after the publication of Moneyball , a revolutionary exposé about the economics of baseball, made A’s GM Billy Beane a rock star in his business, he continues to work his BlackBerry to improve his club. Since 2003, nothing has changed: same organization; same budget; same outdated stadium; same innovation; same hunger; same treadmill. Although Beane hates to lose, he has nothing to lose: if he assembles a club that can reach the playoffs, he’s a genius; if he doesn’t, he didn’t have the financial resources to do so. Either way, he remains one of baseball’s most determined GMs:

“I’m very fortunate because I love what I do,” Beane told me in August. “I don’t think you can do this job without it [competitiveness]; it requires it. This job is meant for people who are competitive and not just on the field, but also in the front office. But after you’ve been doing this awhile––and I saw this in Sandy [Alderson] when he was here––you always see situations over and over, and how you react to them would be different in your thirteenth year than in, say, your first.”

Just ask Beane’s wife, Tara, about his reactions when he comes home from a game. Like many sports executives, he says, his mood at home can be swayed by the outcome of a game. “It can be exhilarating sometimes and not so fun other times,” he admits. “The one thing about baseball is that it’s pretty much every single day, from April through September. That’s a lot of mood swings, but you sort of learn how to channel it and try to be productive, making sure you’re providing good leadership for the people around you in both good and bad times.”

Now, five months later, you might see Beane dancing on his couch at home in Danville, Calif. Considering roughly $23 million worth of payroll came off the books from the departures of Eric Chavez and Ben Sheets, Beane––at least for an offseason––was able to throw around some cash like some of his peers. Although Adrian Beltre, his biggest target, shunned his lucrative offer of $76.8 million over six years, Beane addressed each of his team’s offensive deficiencies. “Right now, you kind of feel like a kid in a candy store with all these players you think are at your fingertips,” Beane told Athletics After Dark in October. “We’re going to try to be aggressive. The responsibility is on us to build on last season.”

Boy, Beane was aggressive.

Offense

Beane overhauled one-third of his feeble lineup from last season. So long, Rajai Davis and Jack Cust; welcome, David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham. By no means will this threesome transform the A’s into a high-powered, offensive juggernaut, but with their young, elite pitching and stingy defense, they should score just enough to contend. Those upgrades also give the A’s superb bench-depth, with outfielders Ryan Sweeney, Chris Carter and Conor Jackson, barring explosive springs, looming as backups.

Starting Pitching

Overshadowed by his offensive upgrades, Beane was determined to add to his already stellar pitching staff. If he was swimming in pitching entering the offseason; now he’s drowning in it. Just when you thought the A’s would rush to land a premier bat, they paid a $19 million posting fee for Japanese pitching stud Hisashi Iwakuma in October.  Why would the league’s best pitching staff chase another starting pitcher with their offense in shambles? Another move that makes Beane so unpredictable. While a posting fee alone couldn’t land Iwakuma, Beane set the stage for one of the A’s most fierce fifth-starter competitions in recent memory by signing Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden. Throw in Josh Outman, Bobby Cramer, and Tyson Ross to the mix and now the A’s has five, hungry pitchers who will battle for one spot.

Bullpen

Beane has also added to his strength: in November, he added potential bullpen depth by trading Rajai Davis to Toronto for promising, right-handed minor league relievers Trystan Magnuson and Danny Farquhar (Magnuson is on 40-man roster). More recently, the A’s are also expected to sign right-handed reliever Grant Balfour, who posted a 2.28 ERA and 1.08 WHIP with the Rays last season. While some members of the A’s bullpen–including Andrew Bailey, Michael Wuertz and Jerry Blevins––missed chunks of last season due to injury, these additions add some insurance and depth to an already dependable group of relievers.

This offseason hasn’t been a sexy one for the A’s, but it has been busy and productive. Not only did Beane address each deficiency one by one, he gave hope to a sometimes beleaguered fanbase. His offseason moves, in fact, distracted many fans from the uncertainty of the A’s future. Just as A’s ownership (Yes, Beane has some ownership interest) made him feel like a real GM by giving him a healthy allowance this winter–one that could finally compete for talent with his peers, as fans, we now feel like we can finally celebrate like real fans.

Is Beane still hungry? I’d say so.

1 Response, Leave a Reply

  1. - Jan 15th, 2011

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