Once a proud franchise that spent much of the early part of the last decade as contenders in the American League West, once a franchise that was hailed all across the world of baseball as a club that practiced the once revolutionary method of "Moneyball" under the direction of general manager Billy Beane, once a franchise that fans could count on to challenge the New York Yankees for American League supremacy, the Oakland Athletics are now one of baseball's failing franchises—a downward spiral that has taken place over a mere three seasons.
And it mostly, if not all, can be blamed on Beane himself, once known widely in the world of baseball as the smartest man in the sport.
Beane, who just years ago was hailed as one of baseball's "genius minds," has now seen his once proud A's fall off dramatically from contending status to mediocre status in just a few short years.
He has done a lot of trading of players, a lot of which has failed in terms for Oakland. He has traded once-prospect-turned-stars for more prospects, and in a few years traded those prospects that have turned into really good players or stars for prospects.
It was only three years ago that the A's were a contending team. They won 93 games, won the American League West, and made it all the way to the ALCS before losing to the Detroit Tigers. They had Dan Haren as the ace and guys like Nick Swisher, Frank Thomas, Mark Ellis, and a healthy Eric Chavez hitting well; I mean, they were a good team.
The run to the ALCS was Oakland's deepest run in the postseason since their 1990 pennant season.
However, they since have traded those guys, and only Chavez, though injuries have seen him make no impact for the team, Ellis, and pitcher Justin Duchscherer are still members of the Oakland A's. The rest have since been traded away in "Beane-esque" fashion.
Along with the players leaving Oakland, the wins have left Oakland as well. Ever since they won 93 games in 2006, they have dipped to 76, 75, and 75 wins and don’t look to do much better in this 2010 season.
Simply put, much of Oakland’s failures in recent years after a breakout 2006 season can, and should, be attributed to the mistakes Beane has partaken in over the past three seasons.
Perhaps the biggest reason is Oakland's decision to let Miguel Tejada walk to Baltimore and in turn giving 3B Eric Chavez the biggest contract in Oakland A's history. Chavez, while a player with a lot of promise, was a player that lacked the alpha-male characteristics needed by a player to lead a team to contention.
Since then, Tejada, who after a stint with the Houston Astros is back with Baltimore, has shined in several seasons with both the O’s and the Astros. Now, even though Tejada has not played to the level he did with Oakland, he still has had a better few years than the injury-riddled Chavez.
Outside of the 2006 season where he was finally healthy, Chavez has suffered through injury-riddled seasons and has not given the A's what Beane hoped when he gave an uncharacteristic big contract.
Also, there is the ill-fated signing of starting pitcher Esteban Loaiza, who was given a three-year, $21 million contract. Loaiza had a decent 2006 season, but he simply didn't play like a guy that got $7 million. He was too inconsistent, he didn't help the A's a lot, and he was simply another bad signing by Beane.
Perhaps the biggest thing Loaiza did while at Oakland was eat up the payroll, and Oakland has not recovered since.
There are also the numerous players that were thought to be offensive phenoms but simply had failed careers. They were players that Beane and the A's had high hopes for, players that Beane hoped would lead the A's to success and have their stock rise before he ultimately traded them.
Remember Dan Johnson and Daric Barton? Both players were an embarrassment of riches playing first base. Whatever happened to Omar Quintanilla, who was once seen as the best pure hitter in the organization?
Finally, two former first rounders in Danny Putnam and Richie Robnett were once highly touted offensive prospects that had bad enough hitting careers that they were moved to the pitching mound to become pitching prospects, and even their pitching careers have turned out to be nothing.
Of course, there are the phenoms that Beane and the A's gave up on, only to see them rise to stardom for different clubs.
Current Texas Ranger All-Star Nelson Cruz was given up on by Oakland because Beane was so fascinated by another failed phenom in Keith Ginter. Current Dodger star Andre Ethier was traded to Los Angeles because Oakland wanted Milton Bradley for a half-year rental.
My point here is that it is not necessarily bad to partake in risky moves, as we have seen some moves consistently criticized when they were completed in a way succeed (for example, the Arizona Cardinals signing Kurt Warner). Risk is something that all GMs must partake in to be successful.
However, the moves Beane has partaken in, mostly the trading away of prospects to other franchises only to see them rise into top-level ballplayers, has ruined the A’s to the point where they are basically irrelevant in the scope of Major League Baseball—unless you are a GM looking for a deal for one of Oakland’s prospects.
I understand that the A’s don’t play in a major market (even though the Greater Bay Area is a major market in the United States, the A’s share the market with the San Francisco Giants, who at this point command much higher interest among the area fanbase), and the franchise itself may not have the money to keep all their prospects or dish out major contracts to legitimate top-line players thanks to Beane’s previous failures.
However, in my eyes and many others', Beane can really do a better job of simply keeping his young players in hopes to build a good future, instead of partaking in too many risky moves—most of which have come back to bite the A’s.
Sooner rather than later, the psychological toll of these moves, should Beane continue to practice the strategy he has done so far in his tenure as Oakland’s general manager, will negatively impact the Oakland clubhouse and franchise—something not good for a big league franchise looking to return to relevance in the world of Major League Baseball.
Quite frankly, the way Beane runs the A's has done nothing but at first give the A's multiple postseason failures and in recent years see the A's stumble to failure and mediocrity.
To think that just three years ago, the A's won 93 games and made it to the ALCS just makes the average A's fan angry, disappointed, and ultimately frustrated at the direction the team is going.
Along with the win totals, the run total has dropped consistently—from 771 in the 2006 season to 741 in 2007, to 646 in 2008, before rebounding in a way to score 759 in the 2009 season.
Also, along with the wins and runs, the interest in the club has dropped immensely—attendance has dropped, and even though they are merely competing with two losing franchises in the Raiders and Warriors in the Oakland area, the interest in the Athletics is at an all-time low.
The fault ultimately falls on Beane. He was the man behind all the failed signings and the failed trading away of phenoms that have turned into stars—it was all him. Even in a room that features managing partner Lewis Wolff and president Mike Crowley, Beane is still the man that made all the decisions, and he ultimately is the guy that commands the voice.
Beane may be treated as a genius by some fans, but the "Moneyball" approach has worn thin in Oakland, and he ultimately is the guy at fault for the A's turn to mediocrity.