The Oakland Athletics are still deep in the hunt for a wild card spot. But after holding a huge lead in the American League West for most of the season, the offense struggled in the second half of the year, and general manager Billy Beane is now being called to task.
When Beane traded away outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for ace Jon Lester at the July 31st trade deadline, the offense collapsed and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim quickly overtook the A’s for the AL West division lead. With three games left in the season, the A’s are barely holding on to one of the wild card spots. If they do not make the playoffs, many have suggested Beane might be fired. Should the axe fall? Absolutely not.
This year Beane made bold moves by trading for Chicago Cubs aces Jeff Samardzjia & Jason Hammel in exchange for top hitting prospect Addison Russell on July 5th, and also making the trade of Cuban slugger Cespedes for Lester. With only one playoff series win in his entire 16+ year tenure as GM, Beane knew he had to make these moves to increase the A’s chances to win the World Series.
Beane’s trades have worked. Samardzjia has pitched well for Oakland, posting a 2.92 ERA and .91 WHIP since the trade. Hammel struggled initially, putting up a 9.53 ERA and WHIP of 2.12 in the month of July, but since has returned to his dominant self, with a 2.62 ERA and WHIP of .99 from August until now. Russell continues to show promise for the Cubs, hitting .294 with a .332 on base percentage, .536 slugging percentage, 12 HR’s and 36 RBI’s in 50 games for its AA club.
Since the deadline, Cespedes has been a mediocre player for the tanking Red Sox. Cespedes has hit .263 with a .294 on-base percentage, a .434 slugging percentage, 5 HR’s and 30 RBI’s in his 45 games with Boston. Meanwhile Lester has continued his dominance, if not enhanced it. In the 70 innings that Lester has thrown for Oakland, the lefty ace has put up a 2.20 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.
Neither of Beane’s trades are the problem for the Athletics. Instead that onus falls on a struggling offense led by utility player Stephen Vogt, who hit for a measly .186 batting average, a .246 on base percentage, and .310 slugging percentage with 1 home run and six RBI’s since the deadline, along with the faltering starting pitchers Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray. The lefty Kazmir has a 6.67 ERA and WHIP of 1.57 since the deadline, while Gray has a better but still bad ERA of 4.64 and WHIP of 1.33. These are the reasons behind Oakland’s fall, not Cespedes’ departure. Prior to the trade, Vogt was hitting .351 with a .381 on base percentage and .530 slugging percentage with 5 home runs and 40 RBI’s after being called back up in June, leading the A’s to the best record in the American League. Cespedes meanwhile hit 17 HR’s and 67 RBI’s with a slash line of .256/.303/.464 this year for Oakland. Cespedes has only continued his lackluster performance in Boston.
No one – not even Beane – could have predicted his team’s offensive slump or Kazmir’s and Gray's lackluster performance. Beane became a national figure and media darling thanks to Moneyball, the popular book by Michael Lewis and feature film starring Brad Pitt as Beane. Moneyball depicted the creation and success of the 2002 Athletics team, which won the AL West after an amazing 20 game winning streak, the longest winning streak in American League history. The Moneyball philosophy was not Beane’s creation, but it has made him famous. The philosophy uses advanced statistical analysis to find undervalued players. Beane found several unlikely All-Stars using the system, including Jason Giambi and Tim Hudson.
Drafted by Beane and the A’s in 1992 in the second round out of Long Beach State, Giambi was considered a defensive liability at first base. Debuting in 1995, he went on to become a five time All-Star (three with the A’s) and the 2000 AL MVP winner. Hudson was drafted by Beane in the 6th round out of Auburn, and was considered to be too short by scouts to succeed in the majors. Hudson became a four-time All-Star in his 16 year career, finishing in the top 5 in Cy Young voting 3 times.
During his tenure as GM, Beane made the playoffs seven times in his 16 years with Oakland, a stretch of four straight appearances from 2000-2003, 2006 where the A’s won their first playoff series under Beane, and back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013 where they were eliminated both times by the Detroit Tigers.
If the A’s do not make the playoffs, many will be calling for Beane’s head. This would be a huge mistake. Only the Yankees, Cardinals, and Braves, have made the playoffs more often since 1998, Beane’s first year as GM. During Beane’s tenure, Oakland did not make the playoffs from 2007 to 2011. If there was any time to fire Beane it was then. If the Athletics fail to make the playoffs, Beane deserves to prove he can rebound.