Saturday, October 4, 2003

A's Be Damned, Baseball is Still Broken

There is a part of me that wants to see the home nine lose in the first round yet again. I say this because if they win this year, it could mean that they win again. The problem is that there is a very vocal segment of the media that believe that if the A’s win it all this year it will prove that there is nothing wrong with baseball’s economic system. It’s just not true. Ready, Set, Rant!

I’m sick of hearing people say that the Oakland A’s prove that there is nothing wrong with baseball’s economics. Yes, the A’s have a low payroll. Yes they have made the playoff for four straight years. Yes, teams like LA and Baltimore have spent gobs of money with little results. So what? One team does not make a trend. One example does not constitute proof. The A’s are what statisticians call an outlier, a result so different form the rest of the data that it becomes insignificant to the discussion.

The A’s success is attributable to equal parts genius, and luck. Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane were able to take their baseball philosophy and find players who could succeed but were not valued by other clubs. They took guys who were under sized (Tim Hudson), had poor velocity (Barry Zito), were too slow (Jason Giambi), or were defensively challenged (Scott Hatteberg), and made them into a winning team. Their success is due to an organizational philosophy, paraphrased from Michel Lewis’ “Moneyball,” “We can’t afford players with all five tools, so which one tool should we screen for?” The answer is on base percentage. The A’s have taken castoffs like Hatteberg, a catcher who can’t throw, runs slow and has little power and produced a team that has won 3 of the last 4 AL West titles. They also took pitchers no one wanted (Tim Hudson, too short; Barry Zito/ Chad Bradford/ Keith Foulke, no fastball; Jim Mecir, no knees) and put together the best staff in the AL.

Finally Beane has been a master trader over the past five seasons, trading away players the A’s couldn’t resign, or didn’t need for future stars. For example he traded Kenny Rogers in a year the A’s would not make the playoffs and got Terrence Long, a future starter and runner up for rookie of the year. He traded a 38 year old closer and got Jason Isringhausen. He traded a minor leaguer for Billy Koch (11-4 44saves 3.27), then traded Koch for Foulke (9-1, 43 saves, 2.08). In successive years he stole Kevin Appier, Jeremy Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jermaine Dye from KC, while unloading busts like Ben Grieve, Jose Ortiz, and AJ Hinch. Beane has also always been able to make the trade that got the A’s over the hump in the second half, (Dye, Jose Guillen, etc.). Genius.

The A’s have also been lucky. They hit big in drafting the big three, and have been able to bring players along through their farm system including current stars Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez, Mark Ellis and Ramon Hernandez. In another stretch of luck, aside from Dye and now Mark Mulder, the A’s have not had any key players miss time due to injury.

But it can’t last forever. Tejada is likely gone after this year, and the A’s will look towards rookie Bobby Crosby to replace him. Guys like Chavez, Hudson, Zito, Mulder, Hatteberg, Foulke and others will command more money when they become free agents than the A’s can afford. The team can only go back to the well for so long, eventually the farm system won’t be able to replace the guys who leave for big money on other teams. When that happens the A’s will fall back to the basement like they did between 1992-1999. Beane will eventually leave also, and who knows if his replacement will be able to keep the ship afloat? The fact is that if the A’s had the same resources as the Yankees they would have kept Giambi, and would be able to keep the nucleus of the team intact. But they can’t and they won’t, and so while teams with money like they Yanks and Braves continue to make the playoffs year after year, teams like the A’s, Twins, and Marlins will have short runs, and then fade away. At the same time teams like the Expos will be eliminated from playoff contention in early April.

Even if the A’s win the World Series this year it doesn’t prove anything. Baseball still needs better revenue sharing and a salary cap. Otherwise the haves will win year after year, while the have-nots make short runs and then fade away. It sucks that some part of me is hoping that my team loses in the short term, so that the game can be fixed for the long hall, but that’s how it goes. Fuck it! Go A’s!

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