Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane continues to build mediocre teams that aren't good enough to contend for the playoffs but aren't bad enough to put the team in position to pick at the top of the draft. This year, with a record of 20-19 so far, is no exception.
Instead of being able to draft franchise changing prospects like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the A's have been stuck with less heralded draft prospects like Jemile Weeks and Grant Green. On the other hand, the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays were able to bolster their rebirths by selecting at the top of the draft several years in a row.
This offseason, it appeared that Beane was finally tearing it down so the team would bottom out and lose 100 games. He dealt the top of the rotation away by trading Trevor Cahill to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals. He also traded Andrew Bailey, the closer, to the Boston Red Sox.
Alas, Beane and his henchmen are just too smart to build a lousy baseball team.
The A's re-signed Coco Crisp and shopped in the value aisle of free agency by acquiring veterans Bartolo Colon, Manny Ramirez and Jonny Gomes. Trading Gonzalez and Cahill brought back pieces that are already useful in outfielder Josh Reddick, set-up man Ryan Cook and starters Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker. Another trade brought in the useful outfielder/designated hitter Seth Smith.
The A's then made a surprising splash in the more expensive pool of free agency by signing Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year contract. His at-bats are must-see television because of his lightning bad speed and light-tower power.
The incredibly raw Cespedes has superstar potential—something the team has not had since the days of Eric Chavez. Other than Cespedes, however, nothing about the current A's team stands out.
They rank in the bottom of the league in every offensive statistical category. They aren't as bad defensively as they are with the bats, but the advanced metrics place the A's in the middle of the pack on defense. The pitching staff has a good Earned Run Average, but the advanced pitching metrics show the A's to be average on the mound as well.
Yet somehow they are in second place in the American League West.
Meanwhile, off the field, the A's enter the Bay Bridge Series this weekend as a franchise stuck in limbo as they wait for a decision from Commissioner Bud Selig's blue-ribbon committee to decide their territorial-rights dispute with the cross-bay rival San Francisco Giants.
Unless they get approval to build a new stadium in Santa Clara County, the A's are going to remain on Major League Baseball's welfare rolls, given their limited revenue streams at the O.co Coliseum.
Unfortunately, Selig's committee has apparently decided to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy instead of finding a solution for the A's. The committee was formed three years ago, but they are no closer to a solution on the stadium issue.
The A's seem destined to wait out a solution to their desire for a new stadium in perpetuity. Beane is a good enough GM to build competent teams, but his teams aren't good enough to complete under current conditions, with low revenue streams and few elite free agents willing to come to Oakland.
If A's fans are going to see the postseason in reality instead of just on the big screen in the film Moneyball, Beane is going to have to do more with what he has been given to work with. Selig has not come to the rescue yet, and there is no evidence suggesting that he will.
While this year's squad is exceeding expectations on the field, this is likely their ceiling—a team that can hang around .500 without even causing the mighty Texas Rangers to blink.