Oakland A's GM Billy Beane would love to have more money to spend on his team.
However, as the executive explained to CSN Bay Area back in spring training, for now he has to live within the means of the organization:
“At the end of the day, having more money to invest is good...But until that point comes, we have to operate very much like a business, where we spend what we have, and no more.”
In 2013, Beane has been quite the businessman. His club won 96 games, and locked down the AL West title for a second straight season. The 96 wins are second best in the AL and tied for third most in all of baseball.
According to ESPN, the team's $60 million payroll ranked fourth lowest in MLB. For reference, the Texas Rangers' payroll was $112 million and the third-place Los Angeles Angels' tab came in at $127 million.
So, how exactly do Beane's club not just compete with, but beat teams with payrolls twice the size of Oakland's?
By making every dollar, and every move count.
More specifically, however, Beane is the master of finding discarded or undervalued players—from supposedly washed-up veterans to minor leaguers nobody has ever heard of. Along with manager Bob Melvin, Beane consistently puts those players in positions to thrive. Plus, it doesn't hurt to have the magic touch when calling up prospects.
There has been a lot of roster shuffling along the way to a second straight AL West title, and the team's best record since 2003.
So, here's a break down of the five most pivotal transactions made by Beane in 2013.
The statistics and information that informed this analysis came from a number of sources. So, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a few shoutouts.
ESPN.com helped out with salary and payroll information. ESPN.com and MLB.com were the go-to sites for basic stats. Transactional records are also courtesy of MLB.com. Finally, FanGraphs provided more complex stats.
Before we get started, let's rundown the list of transactions that just barely missed the cut:
4. March 23: A's Claim Nate Freiman on Waivers From Houston Astros
The move for Nate Freiman in the final week of spring training was a head-scratcher at the time. The tall first baseman had never played above Double-A before 2013, and then in the April he hit just .148.
Freiman took off, though, once he'd settled in. The rookie, who played almost exclusively against left-handers, finished the season with a .304/.352/.453 slash line against lefties.
The 26-year-old faded a bit down the stretch, however, as he battled an abdominal strain, and his ALDS roster spot is in serious jeopardy.
3. August 23: A's Acquire Kurt Suzuki For Minor League Pitcher Dakota Bacus:
Kurt Suzuki has made a noticeable impact in his limited playing time in Oakland. He hit .303 in fifteen games, but it's his work behind the plate that is most valuable. Melvin calls on the veteran backstop when he needs a catcher to corral the breaking balls of Ryan Cook or Grant Balfour.
Plus, the addition of Suzuki appears to have pushed the other catchers. Derek Norris hit .325 in September as he attempted to stake his claim to the starting spot against lefties.
2. June 14: A's Select Contract of Dan Otero From the Sacramento River Cats
Dan Otero started his season going 15-for-15 in save opportunities for the team's Triple-A affiliate before getting the bump up to the Oakland pen. The right-hander gave up just three runs in his final 29 outings as he shot up the depth chart. In 2014, Otero will be in line for an even more prominent role.
1. August 26: A's Select Contract of Daric Barton From Sacramento
When Daric Barton arrived in late August he was not exactly a fan-favorite.
The first baseman had already been designated for assignment twice in 2013. However, in his most recent stint with the team he posted a .301 batting average.
He's also all but secured a starting spot in the playoffs as his glove work solidifies the infield defense, and in particular the dicey defending of Alberto Callaspo and Jed Lowrie.
The former top prospect's turnaround is one of the most unexpected story lines of the year, and the question has to be asked: Has Barton finally arrived?
Stephen Vogt was not supposed to be the A's starting catcher in Game 1 of the playoffs. However, with the Detroit Tigers throwing all right-handed starters, that's exactly how it's lining up.
Heading into 2013, Vogt had zero big-league hits after going 0-for-25 in his MLB debut with the Tampa Bay Rays last year. For Oakland, though, Vogt hit .252 and added four home runs.
The 28-year-old made big strides behind the plate in terms of blocking pitches in the dirt. He also threw out 31 percent of attempted base stealers, which is a higher percentage than either Norris or Suzuki.
When Norris fractured his toe at the end of August, Vogt was the last-man standing at catcher. The rookie stepped up big time for the A's, and for that reason the acquisition of Vogt lands in the No. 5 spot on the list of most pivotal transactions in 2013.
There's also still no word on who the player to be named later will be.
Callaspo isn't much of a defender, but the 30-year-old sure can hit.
After rumors had swirled about a potential trade for Jake Peavy, the deal for Callaspo was something of a letdown. To acquire Callaspo, the team had to part with Grant Green, a former top pick. At the time of the swap, Beane told Steve Kroner of the San Francisco Chronicle: "The price was steep."
As it turned out, however, the addition of the utility man was exactly what the team needed.
The infielder batted .270 with five home runs in 50 games for Oakland after the team picked him up right before the deadline.
The switch-hitter also has all the makings of a postseason X-factor. In 2013, he was seriously clutch with a .625 average (5-for-8) with 13 RBI in bases loaded situations.
He's also nearly impossible to strike out. According to FanGraphs, Callaspo is statistically the hardest player to punch out in the AL as he strikes out just 9.2 percent of the time.
After earning an All-Star berth thanks to a 12-3 first half, Bartolo Colon looked absolutely gassed by the end of July.
His velocity had vanished, and in back-to-back starts in early August he served up 10 runs in just 6.2 innings of work. After that second beat down on August 13 at the hand of the lowly Astros, Colon explained to Jeff Kirshman of MLB.com: "It's just two bad outings...I never feel tired."
The A's, however, disagreed and shut him down for a couple of weeks.
Despite looking shaky in his first outing back, Colon went 4-1 and didn't allow more than two runs in any of his final six starts of the season. The veteran, who earned $3 million in 2013, ended his year 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA.
That makes him the first 40-year-old to win 18 games since Roger Clemens accomplished the feat in 2004 at the age of 41.
However, Colon was actually one of the best pitchers of any age in the AL in 2013. His 18 wins were second-most in the league and only Anibal Sanchez of the Detroit Tiger's had a lower ERA.
The most remarkable stat of all for the right-hander, however, relates to his incredible command. In 190.1 innings of work, Colon issued just 29 walks. Meanwhile in 62.2 innings of work, closer Grant Balfour walked 27 batters.
The A's originally brought up Sonny Gray on July 10 to get his feet wet out of the bullpen.
Based on how composed the right-hander is on the mound, and how nasty his stuff is, that might not have been necessary.
The rookie joined the rotation in early August and put up a 6-3 record with a 2.67 ERA in 10 starts. In all but two of those outings, he allowed two runs or less.
With an arsenal of pitches at his disposal, Gray racked up 67 strikeouts in 64 innings. When he's not getting swings and misses, though, the righty seems to have quite the habit of inducing an inordinate number of weakly hit ground balls between the pitcher's mound and first base.
After just a couple of months in the big leagues, Gray has already leapfrogged the following starters in the pecking order:
- Brett Anderson: 2013 Opening Day starter
- A.J. Griffin: 14-game winner in 2013
- Dan Straily: 10-game winner in 2013
- Tommy Milone:12-game winner in 2013
The promotion of the 2011 No. 18 pick in the MLB draft isn't just a pivotal move for 2013, however. It's the type of move that can help take the A's organization to the next level.
The A's certainly had to pay to acquire Lowrie.
In exchange for the switch-hitter and reliever Fernando Rodriguez, Oakland sent first baseman Chris Carter, catcher Max Stassi and starter Brad Peacock to the Astros.
Carter went on to crush 29 home runs for the Astros in 2013, but there have been zero complaints about the deal.
That's because the understated shortstop has been downright indispensable for the A's in 2013. His glove work consistently improved at the most athletically demanding position on the diamond, and his bat was sensational.
On the year, Lowrie posted a .290/.344/.446 slash line while connecting on 15 home runs and clubbing 45 doubles. That total ranks second best in the AL in two-base hits. It was also the second-most in A's history only to Jason Giambi, as noted by Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
That Lowrie would be so good was far from a surprise. What was far more unexpected, however, was that the 29-year-old managed to stay healthy. Entering the season, Lowrie had never played in more than 97 games before appearing in 154 contests for Oakland.
The versatility to slot into any of the top four spots in the lineup and the ability to play shortstop everyday, make the acquisition of Lowrie the most pivotal transaction of 2013.
Have your say. In the comments sections below, share the move that you think has been the most pivotal to the A's success in 2013.