Billy Beane Should Be MLB's Executive of the Year: 10 Reasons Why
When people mention the name of Oakland A's general manager, Billy Beane, many adjectives follow: Overrated, brilliant, shrewd and ring-less are a few. And while there are those who may never give Beane the credit he deserves for having built a solid small-market playoff contender during the 2000s, the job he has done in 2012 simply cannot be overstated.
Understand, the A's were simply supposed to be a bad rebuilding team working towards a new stadium in Oakland or elsewhere. It was expected that their nucleus would not be solidified until at least 2014, and this was supposed to be the year when the bottom finally fell out completely to allow the A's to reload through the MLB Draft like the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays.
Instead, the Oakland A's sit on top of the American League Wild Card and a mere four games from the top of the AL West standings. Much has been made of this story, but considering that Beane made moves that all seemed to shake in Oakland's favor, it is high time he is given the credit due for turning this team into a mostly unlikely playoff contender.
The moves Beane made have turned a middling franchise into the talk of baseball. And here are his best of 2012 and why he should be Executive of the Year.
#10: Acquiring Stephen Drew
Thought to be on the A's radar heading to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline, Stephen Drew was not actually acquired until August 20th. Considering the cost (minor league infielder Sean Jamieson) and the fact the A's had the worst production from the shortstop position in baseball, Drew was almost zero risk with big reward.
After a slow start, Drew has turned it on as of late, hitting .261 with the A's in 53 plate appearances with splits closer to his career averages (.260/.340/.391 with Oakland) of .266/.329/.435.
#9: Trading for Tom Milone, Derek Norris, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole
Okay, okay, Gio Gonzalez is having a Cy Young-worthy season with the Washington Nationals. And purely from production this season, the Nationals made out better in the December 2011 deal. But Beane managed to pluck an immediate double-digit win starter in Tom Milone, the starting catcher in Derek Norris, and solid prospects in Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole.
The reason this trade makes the list is that Oakland received two pieces of a puzzle that has netted them one of the top 6 records in baseball. Milone has won 11 games and while he has been better at home, his 3.94 ERA is still exceptional for a rookie starter. Norris has been entrenched as the starting catcher since Kurt Suzuki was traded to Washington and has slowly settled in calling games for the staff.
Peacock has struggled in Triple-A Sacramento, but improved down the stretch of the season. Cole has shown plenty of promise, striking out 102 hitters in 95 2/3 innings for Single-A Burlington while posting an ERA of 2.07 in 19 starts. If things shake out right, the four of them could be in Oakland by as early as 2014.
#8: Trading for Seth Smith
One of the major deficiencies that Oakland A's of previous seasons has had was power. In 2011, the team hit a total of 114 home runs. So Beane set about bringing in hitters with more thunder in their bats.
Seth Smith was among the later acquisitions the A's made, coming from Colorado January 16th in a trade for 2011 starters Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman. Smith, notorious for being strong against right handed batters, has managed to post splits of .265/.367/.478 against right handed pitching. His 13 home runs and 44 RBI's has come even though he missed time due to a hamstring injury.
Meanwhile, Moscoso has an ERA of 7.25 in 36 innings and Outman has gone 0-3 with an ERA of exactly 9.00 in 31 innings for Colorado.
#7: Calling Up Chris Carter and Brandon Moss from Triple-A Sacramento
Can you name Oakland's original starting first baseman? For those of you that remembered Brandon Allen, I commend you. Allen had all of seven at-bats before being released by the team and giving the reins at first base to the combo of Daric Barton and Kila Ka'aihue.
The only problem was, neither was hitting much. Before his designation for assignment, Ka'aihue was hitting .234 with four home runs in 139 plate appearances. Barton was worse, a paltry .198 with a single home run in 126 plate appearances. Yet, many A's fans were puzzled by the move to call up Brandon Moss from Sacramento. All he did was hit five home runs in his first four games, a springboard to his current 15 on the season.
Chris Carter was called up on June 29th and like Moss, immediately began to hit after previous struggles at the big league level. In his first nine games, Carter had five homers and nine RBIs. More impressively was his improved eye at the plate, walking 28 times in 196 plate appearances. The combination of 29 home runs as of this writing is the most for the A's at first base since Jason Giambi hit 38 in 2001. Their power surge has only further enabled the A's offense to be productive and balanced up and down the order.
#6: Signing Brandon Inge
Before April 29th, the A's third baseman situation was abysmal. Projected starter Scott Sizemore tore his ACL in Spring Training and would miss the entire season. Oakland would start with converted catcher Josh Donaldson at third and the results would be so bad that Donaldson would end up in Triple-A.
From there, the A's tried waiver wire addition Luke Hughes. But Hughes would only get one hit in four starts and committed three errors before being sent to Triple-A as well. Then on April 29th, Beane signed recently released Detroit Tigers veteran Brandon Inge. The results were immediate.
In his first week, Inge drove in 17 RBI's. On the year, he knocked in 52 RBI's in 74 games before being shut down to undergo season ending shoulder surgery this week. More than just his numbers though, Inge was a true pro that added veteran leadership to the Oakland locker room.
#5: Signing Jonny Gomes
The pride of Petaluma, California, Jonny Gomes was signed by the A's to a one-year contract January 20th. Like Seth Smith, Gomes was seen as a guy who did one thing well and could platoon in the right situation. And like Smith, Gomes has done well with his situation.
Against left handed pitching, Gomes has posted splits of .285/.391/.547 in 2012 making him one of the most underrated acquisitions not just for Oakland, but in all of baseball. In just 81 games, Gomes has 15 home runs, good for third on the team and like Inge has been a valuable leader in the clubhouse.
Gomes has also shown the knack for being clutch with four unofficial game winning at-bats, including two home runs against Tampa Bay Rays reliever Joel Peralta.
#4: Re-Signing Coco Crisp
When the A's re-signed Coco Crisp, it was seen as a questionable move for a team that did not expect to do much in 2012. Two years and around 14 million for the veteran switch hitter. As it turned out, the price was right for Billy Beane once again.
The reason I say that is because without Crisp, the top of the A's lineup would have been completely rudderless this season. Jemile Weeks never lived up to the expectations he set with his fabulous rookie season and Cliff Pennington has struggled to stay over the Mendoza line all year.
Though Crisp is only hitting .258, he still gets on base at a league average clip and his stolen base prowess has not only been above average, but extremely efficient as well. Currently Crisp is 31 for 35 (89-percent) in stolen base attempts, a huge positive in terms of not giving away outs.
Even more telling, the improved hitting of Crisp has coincided with the team's production as well. In the second half of 2012, Crisp has hit .290 with an OPS just under .900 since the All-Star break.
#3: Trading for Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill and Ryan Cook
In a move that could ultimately go down as one of his all time best, Beane sent starter Trevor Cahill and reliever Craig Breslow to Arizona for Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook and Collin Cowgill on December 9th, 2011. For some, it signaled the start of a fire sale in Oakland, but it proved to be the first domino in a series of brilliance for Beane.
All Parker has done has gone 9-7 with a 3.72 ERA as a rookie while leading the club in strikeouts with 107. If Parker had been the only acquisition, it would have been a decent trade. Instead, Cook parlayed a fantastic first half of 2012 into an All-Star appearance and, temporarily, the closer role for Oakland. Even after a second half slump, he has bounced back to currently post a 2.35 ERA with 13 saves and a WHIP of .994.
Even Cowgill contributed before his injury, hitting .271 with a .343 on-base percentage before a severe ankle sprain sidelined him. A September call-up, Cowgill may very well get to contribute to Oakland's stretch run to the postseason. Meanwhile, Cahill has gone 9-11 with a 4.02 ERA in Arizona and Breslow, while solid with a 2.70 ERA, has not been the caliber of Cook this year.
#2: Signing Yoenis Cespedes
Hands down, the biggest surprise of the offseason was the fact that of all teams, the Oakland A's signed Cuban free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The product of a great viral video and big numbers in Cuba, Cespedes was expected to be signed by a big market team like the Dodgers or Yankees.
Instead, Oakland swooped in and signed him to a four year, $36 million deal February 13th. Some cynics suggested Beane essentially had signed a chip to trade for prospects down the line. And who knows, they may ultimately be right, but not in 2012.
Cespedes from day one provided Oakland with a presence in the middle of the lineup and has impressed with his consistent improvement and pitch selection. Currently hitting .294, he has zapped 16 home runs and is second on the team with 65 RBI's despite missing 32 games with injuries. A sure fire All-Rookie team selection, Cespedes has provided the A's with their first full time right handed power bat since Frank Thomas in 2006. Maybe it is not a coincidence that the A's made the postseason that year.
#1: Trading for Josh Reddick
I'll admit it. I thought Billy Beane was nuttier than squirrel dung when he dealt closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney to Boston for some fourth outfielder named Josh Reddick and prospects Miles Head and Raul Alcantara. I am also smart enough to know I was not the only one.
And that is precisely why one of us writes and the other is a general manager. In a move that could end up being his master stroke, Beane acquired a two-way outfielder in Reddick, who despite his slight frame is an unquestioned power hitter.
Through his first 128 games, Reddick has hit .260 with 28 home runs and 75 RBI's, both best on the club by far. For some perspective, lets go back to 2011. Oakland's right fielders combined to hit .234 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI's on the season.
But it is not just his bat that makes Reddick such a valuable acquisition. He is third in Major League Baseball with 13 outfield assists and no one player has galvanized the locker room more than Reddick. From the Spider-Man costume to the walk off pies, he has been a glue guy on a team of castoffs, has beens and not quites.
And what did he cost? Well, Bailey may bounce back to his form as a closer, but in 2012, he has pitched all of 5 2/3 innings after surgery and notched one save. Sweeney has hit .260 with zero home runs in 63 games with the Red Sox. Advantage: Beane and the A's.
A couple of moves have to be mentioned as well, even though they did not make the list. First, the signing of Bartolo Colon was a great move, even if he wound up using performance enhancing drugs. Without Colon in the rotation, the A's may have had to pitch someone like Graham Godfrey or Tyson Ross, two arms that were getting lit up early in 2012.
Also, the signing off waivers of Australian pitcher Travis Blackley was another great under the radar move for Beane. Blackley has won five games with an ERA of 3.50 in 90 innings starting and relieving for Oakland.
In the ultimate scheme of things, there has been some luck involved. Players have exceeded expectations in some areas. But you know, there have been quite a few in house players that have not lived up to expectations this year. So to chalk up these moves as just being dumb luck flies in the face of the performance this amazing team has put forth thus far.
Billy Beane is the best executive in baseball in 2012 not just because he made bold moves, but because he had the foresight to know he needed to make them. Just sitting back and being mediocre could have been sold well enough, but the objective is to win big. The moves Oakland's general manager has made seriously puts his club in a position to do that this October.