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Oakland A’s Just Might

Have Built A Contender

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Unlike Past Years Where The Team Gets To The Playoffs And Gets Nipped By A Larger Payroll Club, This Year’s A’s Have Added Some Quality Pieces That Might End Up In The World Series


By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

July 7, 2014 — Is 2014 finally the year for the Oakland Athletics? The team is winning games with its usual mixture of grit and sabermetrics. The team doesn’t have any superstars on its roster but has somehow managed to hit and pitch its way to the top of Major League Baseball halfway through the season.

This isn’t too different than the success of many A’s teams in the past. The team has often risen to the top of the standings using what appears to be a bargain basement roster, but this year’s team seems different. First off, the A’s haven’t just been ONE of the best teams in baseball this season, they have been THE best team in baseball.

Also, General Manager Billy Beane is making some uncharacteristic moves to bolster the rotation for a playoff run.

To understand what the team is doing differently, first we have to understand the formula that has made it a perennial contender, though not the ‘favorite’. First and foremost, we have to look at the roster. While it is not stacked with superstars, the team is loaded with talent. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is an American League starter in the All-Star Game and catcher Derek Norris, first baseman Brandon Moss, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and pitchers Scott Kazmir and Sean Doolittle are reserves.

Not one of those position players is the best in the league at their position statistically. But, each one probably ranks in the top-5 in the American League. If you put enough players of that caliber on one team, success is likely in the cards, whether or not you have a Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera.

Oakland Athletics Team Batting Stats
A’s General Manager Billy Beane has put together this squad through intelligent drafting, timely trades and a few cost-effective free-agent signings. We all know about Beane’s pioneering use of sabermetrics thanks to Money Ball, but to give all credit for the team’s success to that buzzword would be disingenuous.

Quite simply, Beane and his staff are ace talent evaluators and have made moves that are good for the organization from a practical standpoint. He knows the Athletics cannot afford to keep too many high-priced players on the roster, so he dumps the guys who are in line for a payday and manages to pull in quality, yet unproven talent time and time again.

Both Norris (Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals) and Donaldson (Rich Harden to the Cubs) came to the A’s in trades that sent soon-to-be-high-priced talent out of Oakland. Meanwhile, the A’s are able to continually restock the rotation to replace these lost arms through more smart trades, draft picks and free-agent pickups.

Several pieces of the A’s league-leading rotation were draft picks, including Sonny Gray.
The A’s also picked up Kazmir, the one-time ace who had been discarded by almost every team in baseball. He’s now the staff ace.

Scott Kazmir 2014 Pitching Stats
The team also used free-agency to pick up Yoenis Cespedes, the team’s highest paid player. He signed a four year, $36 million contract in 2011. That type of deal is not a typical A’s move, but when you look at his value as a defender and anchor in the batting order, Cespedes is actually a bargain.

Consider this, the Braves are paying BJ Upton $13 million a year to bat .211 with seven home runs.

Another great free-agent addition was Coco Crisp, who brings veteran leadership and a leadoff pro to the club. He’s currently batting .291 with an on-base percentage of .383 for $7.5 million. The Dodgers are paying Carl Crawford north of $20 million for a .267 average and .293 on-base percentage.

So, the A’s have been smart about building the roster. But, this is nothing new. Oakland has built its rosters like this for years and never seems to go very far come playoff time.

That’s why Billy Beane decided to change his approach.

Just like the Cespedes signing, Beane has wavered from his standard operating procedure this season. Rather than trade away the A’s pricy, older talent for new players that will be good in a few years, the A’s traded away a few top prospects for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Both starters have sub-three ERAs, but were floundering on a terrible Cubs club. Hammel is a free agent after the season and Samardzija can leave after next year.

Neither player is likely to re-sign with the A’s. This is a trade for now, not the future.

I love this signing. Don’t get me wrong, I think Beane has been very smart about the way he has built the club in the past, but occasionally you need to make a splash to put the final pieces on a championship team in place. I think, in general, Beane should continue to shy away from trades like this, but in this one instance it makes sense.

Samardzija has an awful win-loss split this season, but that is more of a function of playing for the Cubs than anything else.

Hammel has fared better in wins and losses, but has a stellar ERA and WHIP as well.

Jason Hammel 2014 Pitching Stats
The A’s are the best team in baseball. Beane knows that this is the best chance he has had yet to bring a championship to Oakland, so he made the deal. In a few years, some of these A’s all-stars are going to want to get paid and will likely leave Oakland to cash in. So, Beane traded for a few front of the rotation starters to bolster an already stellar pitching staff.

Oakland Athletics Team Pitching Stats
It might seem confusing as to why a team with such a good staff would trade away prized prospects for more arms. I think it has to do with the stretch run. The A’s rotation is relying on some young arms and doesn’t have much depth due to injuries. The team has relied on younger pitchers in the past and gotten bitten by the fatigue bug during the playoffs. This time, they aren’t leaving it to chance.

It’s easy to overthink moves like this, especially when it deviates so drastically from the team’s modus operandi. But, quite simply, the best team in baseball just got better. The A’s are going to be scary come playoff time.

Wayne Schutsky is a senior contributor to Modern Times Magazine.
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