With the New York Mets 11-1 start a distant memory and the likelihood of an extended hot streak to get back into contention growing increasingly remote by the day, speculation as to the club’s next move is rampant. Most are either unrealistic or of the Band-Aid variety.
Little has been said about the status of the front office and general manager Sandy Alderson other than that the Wilpons have confidence in him and that he is working under a two-year contract signed in the offseason.
There is no denying that the acquisitions and retentions the Mets made over the winter have not panned out. Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas, Adrian Gonzalez, Anthony Swarzak, A.J. Ramos and Jose Reyes have ranged from bad to disastrous. That’s not counting the in-season signing of Jose Bautista and the discarding of Matt Harvey.
Part of it is financial. It is a valid argument to say that a New York-based team should not be playing at the low minimum tables hoping to get supernaturally lucky. It remains unknown whether that is Alderson’s choice, due to financial limitations imposed by ownership, or a combination of the two. To absolve Alderson of all guilt here is absurd. How they react is the question.
The Mets are not the organization that fires people haphazardly. Whatever is said about the Wilpons, they are loyal to those in club baseball operations, often to a fault. Also, it is rare that they hire outsiders with Alderson being an exception that was clearly done with encouragement from Major League Baseball.
As the club comes apart and regardless of the negatives said about ownership, they’re not in a cocoon where they hear, see and know nothing. They’re completely aware of what’s going on and how the organization is perceived. They are attentive to fan anger and, while it might be delayed, will eventually act.
But act how?
A series of player moves and adjustments to the current management scheme is cosmetic. What the team needs is to change the story from the top down and, as Susan Slusser writes in the San Francisco Chronicle, there might very well be the rare combination of juice and competence available to ignite the fan base and keep the raging masses quiet in the name of a legendary executive, Billy Beane.
The flux in the Oakland Athletics upper tier is only part of the reason that Beane could choose to move on. While Slusser’s piece is speculative and mentions the Bay Area neighbors, the San Francisco Giants, as a possible landing spot if Beane wants to remain in the area, it should be remembered that the baseball boss of those Giants, Brian Sabean, has three of something that Beane – despite all the accolades, fame and fortune – does not: World Series trophies. Replacing Sabean with Beane might seem on-paper logical if Sabean chooses to leave, but how does going across the Bay and winning a championship do anything to help Beane’s legacy? It does not give him the one level of recognition that has eluded him as something more than a father figure of the sabermetric movement and increasingly mythical idol whose exploits are more fantasy than fact.
Therein lies the question if Beane does choose to leave the A’s: What does he want to do and where is the best opportunity to do it?
Beane is now a global star and his interests are diverse. Sure, he could go on the lecture circuit like a former U.S. president, make a fortune and relax, but would someone of Beane’s furious energy and enormous ego be satisfied by that?
The main attraction to Beane would be achieving the only remaining goal by having those who see through Michael Lewis’s “Moneyball” for the twisted nonsense it is to accord Beane the legitimacy that he currently lacks. While the story made him famous, it wasn’t long before it became an albatross, glossing over Beane’s true status as an excellent executive, if not the infallible genius and borderline biblical baseball figure who transcended his sport.
Much of that was Beane’s fault for taking part in it, taking advantage of it, and for believing that he was more than he was. In fairness, it’s impossible for even the most grounded people not to get caught up in that level of adulation. Beane’s own failures as a player and rise as an executive quenched much of that thirst to be somebody, but there remains that missing piece. He’s wealthy, he’s still idolized, and he’s built and rebuilt the A’s with a different cast of characters and in multiple baseball landscapes three different times. Despite that, a championship and even a pennant has eluded him like a cosmic joke.
The idea of him taking over a European football (soccer) team is as presumptuous as it is Sisyphean. What’s the risk-reward? It’s a reversion back to his afterglow egomania of Moneyball. As Beane gallivanted as a “star”, the A’s appeared to be a diversion which received a fraction of the necessary attention – that same attention that Beane lavished on the organization to succeed under difficult financial circumstances, change the game (for better and worse), and become a worldwide phenomenon. Once he took hands-on control of the organization again, he rebuilt and cemented his status as more than the totem of a skillfully conniving writer like Lewis.
For him, the A’s have become a case of diminishing returns. With the changes mentioned in Slusser’s article, apart from nostalgia, does he even want to stay?
Should Beane leave the A’s (speculative), remain in baseball (more speculative), and look for a challenge commensurate with his public image (difficult), where could he go?
Based on baseball’s current state in which front office executives are stars in their own constellation, there are very few jobs that will be open, even for Beane. Most clubs have their own “star” GMs or presidents of baseball operations and they are are ensconced. Others have younger GMs who are in the middle of rebuilds and have the trust of ownership.
Forgetting the idea of him going to the Giants, there are three teams that make varying levels of sense: the Baltimore Orioles, the Miami Marlins and the Mets.
Would Peter and John Angelos hire Beane and take the hands-off approach he would need? Would they pay him? Would Beane want to go into the same division with the banes of his existence, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and do so with a far higher payroll than he current works with in Oakland, but still a limit on how much he can spend?
It’s hard to see.
Would Derek Jeter cede the spotlight? Would he pay him? And even with the new ballpark in Miami that has been denied Beane for so long in Oakland, even if he turns the Marlins into a winner and gets that championship, the city really doesn’t care.
Then there’s the Mets.
There’s a salable storyline with the Mets being the team that drafted Beane in the first round in 1980 as the expected outfield bookend the number one overall pick that year, Darryl Strawberry, and his failure as a prospect with the Mets. It was Alderson who brought Beane into the A’s front office and mentored him. It works from the organization’s perspective and Beane’s perspective were Alderson to recede into a consultant’s role and Beane to take over as president of baseball operations.
Beane gives them that immediate credibility and someone young enough to believe he’ll be there for an extended period to any plan through to its conclusion. There’s the allure of the big city, one that is massive enough and will offer the attention and worship he so craves should he succeed. Unlike most GM candidates or Alderson’s likely heir apparent John Ricco, Beane’s reputation and style would sufficiently intimidate the media to let him work without their inane suggestions and blatant trolling. Beane has the star power to quiet the critics and give the fans something to cling to that goes beyond random trades, free agent signings, or tactical changes with the fundamental issues remaining the same.
To Beane’s benefit, he can take solace in similar factors which, simultaneously, could spur his desire to jump back into the ring fulltime as he would need to do to fix the Mets. As disgusted as much of baseball was with how he began to inhabit the character “Billy Beane” rather than being Billy Beane, the irony is that like some Dickensian tale, there are far more loathsome characters in baseball whose behavior dwarfs anything Beane did during his heyday. Theo Epstein, Jeff Luhnow, A.J. Preller and many others might have taken the Beane mantle and been far more despicable in their cold-bloodedness, the flouting of rules and propriety, and doing whatever is necessary to win even if it’s bordering on the vile in treatment of people like vessels for their own fulfillment.
There are natural sticking points to this happening. First, Beane must opt out of the Faustian bargain he made to become so famous in the first place; second, the Wilpons must decide what to do with Alderson and Ricco; and the Mets must give Beane the money and necessary freedom to make it worth his while.
There’s an opening, if only a minuscule crack, for the Mets to do something that will garner them attention not as a punchline and can fundamentally change how the organization is perceived. That something is to make a bold move on Billy Beane.