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Oakland Athletics: Has GM Billy Beane Lost His Magic Touch?

(FILE PHOTO) In this composite image a comparison has been made between Billy Beane (L) and Actor Brad Pitt. Oscar hype continues this week with the announcement of the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards. Luise Rainer became the first actress to receive an Academy Award for her role in the 1936 biopic 'The Great Ziegfeld,' playing stage performer Anna Held. Over half of the last ten Oscars for best actor or actress have been for performances in a biopic. ***LEFT IMAGE***PHOENIX - MARCH 7:  General Manager Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics looks on during the MLB spring training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks on March 7, 2005 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona. The A's defeated the Diamondbacks 5-0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)***RIGHT IMAGE***NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 06:  Actor Brad Pitt attends the World premiere of 'The Tourist' at Ziegfeld Theatre on December 6, 2010 in New York City.  (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
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Matt HinesCorrespondent IJuly 18, 2012

It’s a given that Billy Beane will be remembered by A’s fans as the greatest general manager in the franchise’s history, and one of the most renowned all-time in the history of the sport. However, with Oakland not having made a postseason appearance in more than half a decade, those same fans might wonder If Beane still possesses the same front office Midas touch that helped seamlessly build a cash-stricken small-market franchise like the Athletics into a perennial playoff contender in the early 2000s.

And while six straight losing season is more than a reason for A’s fans to be concerned about their legendary trade artist, recent moves by the Beanemeister indicate that he is far from the denouement of his career.

Take a look at this offseason for example. In what looked like another trademark Beane offseason—selling key stars and role players from the roster—he flipped the team’s only three All-Star players for the past three seasons (Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey) for a slew of young, unproven talent. It appeared early in the offseason that the A’s had thrown in the towel for 2011 and were preparing to go into a rebuilding phase.

Billy Beane must be one hell of a poker player, because he constantly bluffs his hand to the baseball community and never seems to get caught. He flipped BABIP sinkerballing fiend Cahill for  a true top of the rotation starter in Jarrod Parker, as well as acquiring the A’s 2012 All-Star in closer Ryan Cook and a solid outfield bat in Colin Cowgill.

Beane again capitalized on his ‘sell the closer’ model by sending Bailey over to the Red Sox for the team’s current home-runs leader in Josh Reddick, who appears to be emerging as one of the top young outfielders in the sport.

And the Gio Gonzalez trade? Well, the A’s received hot catching prospect Derrek Norris in return, who has quickly emerged as the team’s everyday starter behind the plate at the major league level, as well as another top of the rotation-type youngster in Brad Peacock, who should be ready to debut sometime in early 2013.

And despite dealing the A’s top three pitchers, Beane has put together a squad in Oakland that leads the American League in ERA at 3.43. That’s quite a feat considering Oakland plays divisional games against teams with stacked lineups like the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels.

That makes it three of three on this season’s trades then. So far so good Billy, at least for 2012. Oh and the A’s happen to be in a wild-card hunt in what was supposed to be a throwaway wash-up season. No big deal, right?

Sure, Billy has made his mistakes over the years. The Ben Sheets deal was absurd. Sending a young, budding superstar in Carlos Gonzalez to Colorado for a Matt Holiday rental that never played out as planned is another story. The Eric Chavez mega-deal that crippled the franchise for so long, you can’t really blame the guy for—Chavez was a emerging into a Hall of Fame caliber third baseman when he inked that deal, long before his career was gutted by a chain of trips to the DL. And the whole Manny Ramirez trial run seems like a distant afterthought at this point in the season, with Billy’s latest attempt at cloning a 2006 Frank Thomas failing to pan out at almost no cost to the franchise.

Even the greatest slip up sometimes, and Beane has more than accounted for his mistakes over the years. The Athletics, though they boast the second lowest payroll in the majors, have a roster and farm system stock-loaded with talent that has proven they’re ready to compete in the bigs now. This squad almost feels like one of the early 2000s Oakland Athletics teams that made Beane famous.

Even as the A’s budget gets tighter and tighter, Beane still finds a way to field a team that is capable of making the playoffs in a very competitive AL West. Just as baseball begins to write him and his franchise off, Beane reasserts what has become common knowledge throughout major league baseball, never sleep on the Oakland Athletics, because you never know what Billy Beane has up his sleeve.

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