Billy Beane outdid Kenny Williams and the Chicago White Sox again on Monday as the Oakland Athletics signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million deal. As anyone who's read Moneyball by Michael Lewis knows, Billy Beane has Williams' number. The Cespedes signing showed how Beane gets inside Williams' head.
Beane signed Cespedes, the much sought-after Cuban outfielder, to a big deal, more than he might have been worth. FanGraphs had suggested Cespedes was worth a four-year, $21 million deal. Meanwhile, Beane's signing came in line with a Washington Post projection that had Cespedes signing for between $30 and $50 million.
One would have expected Beane to go for something like the FanGraphs suggestion. Besides, Beane, who relies heavily on advanced statistical analysis, is apt to signing players to smaller deals since the small-market A's demand he stick to a small payroll. The A's didn't have anyone else contracted for more than $6 million for 2012.
This signing ran counter to the idea of Moneyball. Tight finances bring on the concept of Moneyball, along with advanced metrics and picking up players with underappreciated talent. Cespedes was an expensive signing for Beane. Also, Cespedes, who became a YouTube star with two training videos, is often called the next five-tool player.
Beane's entire Moneyball ethos is to avoid the five-tool player. His objective is to avoid players like Cespedes, who have flashy basic statistics (.333 batting average, 33 home runs and 99 runs batted in 2011 in the Cuban league).
That Beane pulled such a signing likely had Williams going crazy. The White Sox invest far more money and manpower in scouting Latin America than the A's do. The White Sox had been hot on Cespedes' trail, and the A's weren't even in the picture.
Cespedes was that nice bat Williams might have been able to sign if he could swing a bite-size deal. However, Beane killed any offer Williams would have been able to give Cespedes.
Beane might have recognized Williams had little to offer Cespedes. He likely knew Williams had little he could spend as he tried to pare down the White Sox payroll. Perhaps he even knew that Williams had told the Chicago Tribune the White Sox were "maxed out" on spending for the major league team.
Hence, Beane blew any possible offer by Williams out of the water.
Beane has a track record of beating Williams in acquisitions. Periodically, he's fooled Williams into making ridiculous trades. One of the central Moneyball players was Chad Bradford, whom the A's acquired from the White Sox in December 2000 for catcher Miguel Olivo.
Bradford, a submarine-style reliever, went underappreciated by White Sox scouts, who saw him for his high earned run average and quirky mechanics. Meanwhile, Beane saw Bradford's remarkable control.
Beane played the deal perfectly. Bradford pitched 250 games in four seasons for the A's. Olivo played 166 games for the White Sox in two-plus seasons before being traded to the Seattle Mariners.
The most lopsided trade Beane pulled on Williams was the Billy Koch trade in December 2002. Beane sent Koch to the White Sox for Keith Foulke and two players to be named (which became Neal Cotts and Dayan Holt). Koch had saved 44 games in 2002, but allowed 4.4 walks per nine innings. Foulke walked 1.5 batters per nine innings that year.
Foulke led the AL in saves in 2003 while Koch (5.77 earned run average and 4.8 walks per nine innings) crashed and burned.
Maybe Beane is ahead of the curve on Cespedes and sees more potential than anyone else sees in him. Maybe Beane plans to keep Cespedes in the minor leagues longer to develop his raw power. One thing is for sure: Another point can be given to Beane in his general manager duel with Williams.
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