With the release of the film Moneyball earlier this year, many fans have learned about the fascinating economics of the Oakland Athletics. Specifically, the viewpoints on what the A’s deem to be important—and unimportant—pieces of a baseball roster and the best way they can attain the highest return on their investments. The central theme, obviously, is how to stretch the very little amount of money they have and use those pennies to create the most competitive roster possible.
Every year, the cash-starved Athletics use their food stamps to collect oft-injured free agents or to acquire aging veterans through trade. But under Billy Beane’s tenure as general manager, one specific area where the Athletics seem to be the most frugal is the role of closer.
In Beane's 14 seasons with the Athletics, eight players have been designated as the true closer, with several others filling in as injury replacements along the way. It’s been a revolving door during this entire period, as no closer has held onto the role—nor stayed with the team—for more than four full seasons. Given recent history, the tenure of the Athletics’ current designated closer, Andrew Bailey, might not last much longer.
That should not come as a surprise. Rumors are circulating that the Athletics are shopping Bailey, their former Rookie of the Year and All-Star closer. Beane has always been outspoken on his belief that the role of the closer is overrated and, more importantly, overpaid.
Because closers are valuated almost entirely based on at most an inning of work each appearance, the A’s believe that they can get any good relief pitcher to come in and fill that role—at least for a couple of years. Then management finds another reliever, either off the dregs of the former-starter scrap heaps or through their farm system.
Rinse and repeat.
With this pattern embedded into Oakland's business model, it’s likely that Bailey will be shipped out this winter—particularly because the Athletics’ stadium status is up in the air. The A’s want to conserve their reservoir, reducing payroll in the next couple of seasons to put money back into their (potential) new ballpark.
Bailey has already reported to have drawn interest from the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox, that latter team looking to replace the recently departed Jonathan Papelbon. Should the A’s pull the trigger and let go of their fan-favorite reliever?
Obviously, Oakland will trade him sometime this offseason. Their best bet is to acquire a lot of minor leaguers in return while Bailey’s stock is still high. Despite his injury woes the past couple of seasons, Bailey is experienced enough in his role and young enough (27) to last for a long while at an All-Star level.
With the Athletics’ farm system trudging along with mediocre crops (see lifelong minor leaguers Chris Carter and Michael Taylor), it’s a great time to replenish the well, especially since the A’s have not been able to cultivate a legitimate position player through their garden in nearly a decade.
And even though Bailey has been a solid closer in his term, he has shown small signs of decline, notably his 5.40 ERA last September and .289 opponents’ batting average in August. The A’s have several candidates waiting in the wings to replace Bailey, specifically Fautino De Los Santos and Joey Devine—who was Oakland’s next in line until his slew of injuries the past few seasons.
Giving up Bailey wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. It’s just a matter of who they’d receive in return. The Red Sox are renowned for their shallow minor league system. But the Blue Jays could offer some help: outfielders Eric Thames and Darin Mastroianni; first baseman Michael McDade; and starters Asher Wojciechowski and Griffin Murphy could all be of service.
To be sure, Bailey’s departure is inevitable. Based on the Athletics’ tight wallets this winter and disfavor of closers in general, Bailey will not be in an A’s uniform next season. From all angles it makes sense for Oakland to maximize his value and get as many prospects in return as they can.