In case you haven't noticed, the Oakland Athletics are on pace to have their third consecutive sub .500 season. Since they were eliminated from the ALCS in 2006, the Athletics have been unable to capture their previous glory, despite the supposed genius of GM Billy Beane.
For years, Beane was thought of as the premier GM in baseball. He took a struggling, small market franchise and transformed them into a perennial powerhouse led by emerging young stars. Beane was a master at getting the most out of his limited payroll, in large part because of his "moneyball" approach, which valued OBP and power at the expense of stolen bases and defense.
In many ways, the Athletics decline over the past three years is somewhat expected. For a small market team like the Athletics, there is no way for the team to be able to keep all their young talent because at a certain point, all of these guys will become too expensive for the Athletics limited budget.
The Athletics have lost so much premier talent simply because of the economics of baseball: Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Barry Zito, Johnny Damon, Tim Hudson (traded), Mark Mulder (traded), Rich Harden (traded), Keith Foulke, Jermaine Dye, and more. No matter how brilliant Beane is, the odds of replacing all the talent is a very daunting task.
However, at what (if any) point would the Athletics consider firing Billy Beane? I know he's beloved by ownership and that he has done more with less than any GM on the planet, but there aren't too many GMs that can survive three consecutive losing seasons without even a whisper of being fired.
But in my opinion, Beane is one of them.
For starters, when we talk about Athletics ownership, you have to remember that Beane owns a 4% stake in the team. Not a huge amount, but substantial. In addition, Beane is signed through 2014 as GM, and I'm positive that the small market A's have no intention of relieving Beane of his duties anytime soon and paying him for multiple seasons.
And finally, to steal a line (sort of) from John McCain, the fundamentals of the Athletics are strong. Even though the major league team is struggling, the Athletics have a bundle of young and very talented players that are either impressing in the minors (Wallace, Weeks, Cardenas, etc.) or beginning to impact the major league team (Mazzaro, Anderson, Cahill, etc).
In addition, Eric Chavez's horrific contract finally expires after next season, which will give the Athletics some payroll flexibility. You have to think that with all this talent on the horizon, the Athletics will get their act together in the next few seasons.
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