The 2012 Athletics Are A Great Story That Has Nothing To Do With Moneyball

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Going to Michael Lewis for a quote about the 2012 Oakland Athletics because he wrote Moneyball as the author does in this NY Times article is like going to Stephen King for a quote on time travel and the Kennedy assassination because he wrote a novel about time travel and the Kennedy assassination. Lewis’s book was technically non-fiction and King’s is decidedly fiction, but the “facts” in Lewis’s book were designed to take everything Billy Beane was doing to take advantage of market inefficiencies and magnify them into an infallibility and new template that only a fool wouldn’t follow.

Lewis had an end in mind and crafted his story about the 2002 Athletics and baseball sabermetrics to meet that end. It’s not journalism, it’s creative non-fiction. Beane went along with it, became famous, and very rich. None of that validates the genesis of the puffery.

The intervening years from Moneyball’s publication to today were not kind to Beane or to the story…until 2012. The movie’s success notwithstanding, it was rife with inaccuracies, omissions, and outright fabrications such as:

  • Art Howe’s casual dismissal of Beane’s demands as if it was Howe who was in charge and not Beane
  • The portrayal of Jeremy Brown not as a chunky catcher, but an individual so close to morbidly obese that he needed to visit Richard Simmons, pronto
  • The failure to mention the three pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito
  • That Scott Hatteberg’s playing time was a point of contention and Beane traded Carlos Pena to force Howe’s hand to play Hatteberg—Hatteberg was still learning first base and wasn’t playing defense, but he was in the lineup almost every day as the DH from day one

There are other examples and it wasn’t a mistake. The book was absurd, the movie was exponentially absurd, and there are still people who refuse to look at the facts before replacing the genius hat on Beane’s head as “proof” of the veracity of Lewis’s tale.

This 2012 version of the Athletics is Beane’s rebuild/retool number five (by my count) since 2003. The Moneyball club was blown apart and quickly returned to contention by 2006 when they lost in the ALCS. That team too was ripped to shreds and the A’s traded for youngsters, signed veterans, traded veterans, signed veterans, traded for youngsters and finished far out of the money in the American League from 2007-2011.

Then they cleared out the house again and are now in the playoffs. It has no connection with Moneyball nor the concept of Beane finding undervalued talent. It has to do with the young players succeeding, as the article linked above says, and winning “in a hurry”.

Let’s look at the facts and assertions from the book/movie followed by the truth:

The A’s, under Beane, were “card-counters” in the draft

The only players on this Athletics’ team that were acquired via the draft and have helped the club are Jemile Weeks, Cliff Pennington, Sean Doolittle (drafted as a first baseman and converted to the mound), Dan Straily, and A.J. Griffin. The A’s drafts since Moneyball have been mediocre at best and terrible at worst, so bad that Grady Fuson—along with Howe, one of the old-school “villains” in Moneyball—was brought back to the organization as special assistant to the GM.

The hidden truth about the draft is that the boss of the organization probably pays attention to the first 8-10 rounds at most. After that, it’s the scouts and cross-checkers who make the decisions and any player taken past the 10th round who becomes a success is a matter of being lucky with late development, a position switch, a quirky pitch, or some other unquantifiable factor. Beane’s “new age” picks like Brown, Steve Stanley, and Ben Fritz, didn’t make it. The conventional selections Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton did make it, were paid normal bonuses of over $1 million, in line with what other players drafted in their slot area received. Brown received $350,000 as the 35th pick in the first round and his signing was contingent on accepting it.

Beane “fleeced” other clubs in trades

In retrospect, he took advantage of the Red Sox desperation to have a “proven” closer, Andrew Bailey, to replace the departed Jonathan Papelbon. Bailey got hurt and, last night, showed why it wasn’t his injury that ruined the Red Sox season. He’s not particularly good. Josh Reddick has 32 homers—power and inexpensive youthful exuberance the Red Sox could have used in 2012.

The other deals he made last winter? They were of mutual benefit. The A’s were looking to restart their rebuild and slash salary waiting out the decision on whether they’re going to get permission to build a new park in San Jose. They sent their erstwhile ace Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks for a large package of young talent with Collin Cowgill, Ryan Cook, and Jarrod Parker. They also traded Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals for even more young talent including Tommy Milone and Derek Norris. The Diamondbacks got 200 innings and good work (that hasn’t shown up in his 13-12 record) from Cahill and are also-rans; the Nationals got brilliance from Gonzalez and won their division. The A’s slashed payroll and their young players, as the article says, developed rapidly.

Sometimes it works as it did with this series of trades, sometimes it doesn’t as with the failed return on the Hudson trade to the Braves in 2004.

They found undervalued talent

Yes. We know that Moneyball wasn’t strictly about on-base percentage. It was about “undervalued talent” and opportunity due to holes in the market. That argument has come and gone. Was Yoenis Cespedes “undervalued”? He was paid like a free agent and joined the A’s because they offered the most money and the longest contract. He was a supremely gifted risk whose raw skills have helped the A’s greatly and bode well for a bright future. The other signings/trades—Jonny Gomes, Bartolo Colon, Seth Smith, Brandon Inge, Brandon Moss—were prayerful maneuvers based on what was available for money the A’s could afford. They contributed to this club on and off the field.

Grant Balfour was signed before 2011 because the A’s again thought they were ready to contend and all they needed was to bolster the bullpen. They’d also signed Brian Fuentes to close. Fuentes was an expensive disaster whom they released earlier this year; Balfour was inconsistent, lost his closer’s job, wanted to be traded, regained the job, and is pitching well.

The manager is an irrelevant figurehead

Howe was slandered in Moneyball the book as an incompetent buffoon along for the ride and slaughtered in the movie as an arrogant, insubordinate jerk. What’s ironic is that the manager hired at mid-season 2011, Bob Melvin, is essentially the same personality as Howe!!! An experienced manager who’d had success in his past, Melvin replaced the overmatched Bob Geren, who just so happened to be one of Beane’s closest friends and was fired, according to Beane, not because of poor results, managing and communication skills, but because speculation about his job security had become a distraction.

Melvin and Howe share the common trait of a laid back, easygoing personality that won’t scare young players into making mistakes. Melvin’s calm demeanor and solid skills of handling players and game situations was exactly what the A’s needed and precisely what Moneyball said was meaningless.

The 2012 Athletics are a great story; Moneyball was an interesting story, but they only intersect when Beane’s “genius” from the book and movie melds with this season’s confluence of events and produces another convenient storyline that, in fact, has nothing at all to do with reality.

The A’s are going to the playoffs and might win the division over the Rangers and Angels, two teams that spent a combined $170 million more in player salaries than the A’s did. It’s a terrific life-lesson that it’s not always about money, but it has zero to do with Moneyball and Michael Lewis is an unwanted interloper as the Beane chronicler since he knows nothing about baseball and is a callous opportunist who took advantage of a situation for his own benefit.

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The Mets Acquired Kelly Shoppach Because…

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I hate to shatter the myths and nonsense that are being floated by the Joel Shermans of the world, but here’s the truth without sycophancy or prophecies of doom.

The Mets acquired Kelly Shoppach because:

  • He was available now

You can ignore the ridiculous notion that the Mets “should’ve” either traded for him earlier this year when they were still hovering around contention or signed him before the season started. Had Shoppach been on the market earlier this season, some catcher-hungry contending team at the time—the Nationals, Brewers, Rangers—would’ve gone out and gotten him with a better offer than what the Mets would’ve surrendered.

As for the idea that Shoppach would’ve signed with the Mets last winter? Yes, he would’ve…if they’re offered him substantially more money than the Red Sox did ($1.25 million). The Mets had precious little cash to spend and what they did have, they used on trying to fix the bullpen. It hasn’t worked, but that’s where the available money went. Shoppach was placed on waivers by the Red Sox, the Mets claimed him and the Red Sox agreed to send him to New York for a player to be named later. The planets were aligned so the deal was there for them to make when it wasn’t before.

Thole has some attributes. He can catch R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball and has shown patience at the plate. But he has no power whatsoever and he can’t throw very well from behind the plate. He’s a slap hitter who’s tried to pull the ball and that’s plainly and simply not going to work. Shoppach has power that none of the other catchers on the Mets’ roster do, he takes his walks, and he can throw well.

  • They know what he is and maybe he’ll want to stay

Sherman posted the following on Twitter:

For those asking why #Mets did this: Why not? 6 week look to see if like someone who could give inexpensive platoon mate to Thole in ’13.

Look to see? Look to see what? Is Shoppach going to be somehow different over the next 6 weeks than he’s been over the first 8 years of his career?

The Mets did this because they couldn’t stand to look at Thole almost every day and they’re aware of what Nickeas and Johnson are (journeyman 4-A catchers). Thole is a backup. Shoppach will be with the Mets for the rest of the season and the team is going to have the chance to entice him with legitimate playing time in 2013 and being on an up-and-coming club with, by and large, a good group of guys. If he was a free agent after spending the season with the Red Sox, other more financially stable clubs with a better chance to win would’ve been pursuing him and the same situation as last winter would’ve been in effect this winter: he wouldn’t join the Mets if he had a choice. Now maybe he’ll want to stay.

This Sherman tweet was after Howard Megdal posted tweets detailing how this is a good move for the team with the predictable caveat that they won’t have any money to spend in 2013 either, so Shoppach is one of the few possibly upgrades they can make.

What you have to understand when taking seriously the mainstream media with Megdal, Sherman, Bob Klapisch and the other cottage industry Mets bashers is that not one of them had it right regarding the outcome of the Bernie Madoff trial. No one predicted a settlement and the consensus was that by now the Wilpons would either have been forced to sell the team or had it legally removed from their possession in some sort of a financial downfall the likes we haven’t seen since Bruce McNall of the Los Angeles Kings.

No one knows what the Wilpons’ finances truly look like. If they don’t have much more cash to spend on next year’s team than the $95 or so million they have this year, I’d venture a guess that GM Sandy Alderson told ownership that it makes little sense to do anything too drastic given the contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana next year (combined they’re owed $50 million in salary and buyouts), so what they have to do is sit on their hands and wait until those deals expire. Concurrent to that will be the arrival of Zack Wheeler to go along with Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese and Dickey in the Mets’ rotation of the future. Spending money on bullpens is almost always a mistake and what they’ll do in lieu of that is to try a different hand with pitchers they find on the market. The difference between the Mets bullpen of 2012 and other, cheap bullpens like those the Rays have put together in recent years is that the pitchers the Mets signed haven’t worked out and the ones the Rays signed did. Billy Beane spent a lot of money on relief pitchers Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour last season and I didn’t see anyone ripping the genius label from around his neck even though they should have half-a-decade ago.

The Mets’ owners get bashed when they interfere and they get bashed when they don’t. This time I think they’re keeping hands off not because of money in and of itself, but because they’re listening to reason from their baseball people that it doesn’t make sense to waste money when the time to spend will be in 2013-2014, like it or not.

This is a good move for the Mets and no amount of twisting and turning on the part of those who have made it their life’s work to tear into the Mets regardless of what they do can change that or turn it into another reason to criticize for things they didn’t do—things that weren’t going to happen if they’d tried.

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American League Central—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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I’m going division by division. This morning I went through the AL East. Now it’s time for the AL Central.

Chicago White Sox

They’re buyers and should be, but they need to do it within reason.

They’ve already made one move to fill a hole by getting Kevin Youkilis essentially for nothing, they need a starting pitcher and some bullpen help.

Could they cobble together the prospects to get a Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke or Matt Garza? Probably. Should they? Probably not. But GM Ken Williams is going to do what he’s going to do and won’t apologize nor backtrack. They’ve played this well up to this point with John Danks and Philip Humber injured.

I would tweak the bullpen with a Brandon League, Huston Street, Rafael Betancourt or Francisco Rodriguez if he comes available; plus another lefty like Joe Thatcher. The best improvements to the club will be if Danks and Humber come back effectively and if Alexei Ramirez starts hitting. That’s more important than any acquisition they could make. A desperation trade would be counterproductive.

Cleveland Indians

They need a bat at first base, the outfield or at DH. I’d leave the pitching alone unless they can get Ryan Dempster at a reasonable price. Yes, Travis Hafner’s off the disabled list, but judging from history he’ll be back on it soon enough. Neither of their veteran acquisitions—Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman—have hit; they can forget about getting anything from Grady Sizemore.

They could use a lefty out of the bullpen and should make a move on the just released Brian Fuentes. For a bat, Carlos Quentin is out there. If the Cubs will pay his whole salary, they might want to take a look at Alfonso Soriano. At the very least he’d hit them some homers. Ty Wigginton would be a useful and cheap extra bat.

If they’re inclined, they could craft an offer for Justin Upton and wait to see if B.J. Upton comes available.

Detroit Tigers

The second they signed Prince Fielder and moved Miguel Cabrera to third base, the Tigers were all-in to win now. They need a starting pitcher and while I wouldn’t trade Jacob Turner, that’s probably what’s going to have to happen to get one of the big names out there, Hamels, Greinke and Garza. I have a feeling that Placido Polanco is going to be playing second base for the Tigers before the end of July.

A lot will depend on how realistic it is to pin their needs for a bat on Victor Martinez getting back from knee surgery well before he was expected to.

The Tigers can still salvage their season and make the playoffs. There’s no dominant team in the AL Central.

Kansas City Royals

A couple of weeks ago I asked why they would be selling when they were only 5 games out of first place and had played well since a rancid start. Now they’re 9 ½ games out of first place and are said to be willing to move closer Jonathan Broxton but won’t give him away. They have players who have use like Jeff Francoeur, Bruce Chen and Jose Mijares.

They should get what they can for Mijares and stay where they are, giving the young players a chance to right the ship. This can still be a positive season for the Royals.

Minnesota Twins

They need to sell some of the key pieces from their long run in dominating the division. That means Justin Morneau and Francisco Liriano. I still think Morneau winds up in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Liriano is going to be in heavy demand for multiple teams as a starter or reliever. Matt Capps will wind up getting traded somewhere maybe as part of a Morneau to the Dodgers deal.

I would not trade Denard Span.

If Carl Pavano returns and shows himself healthy, he’ll get through waivers in August and teams will need a body with a functioning arm. I suppose Pavano qualifies in that respect. Sort of.

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Surprise Buyers—National League

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Yesterday I looked at the American League teams that are somewhat surprisingly in contention and what they should and shouldn’t do. Now let’s look at the National League.

New York Mets

It has to have flashed through the minds of everyone in the organization that if they somehow managed to get into the playoffs, the last thing any opposing club is going to want to see is R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana coming at them in a short series.

The jury is still out on them considering their second half swoons of years past, but few objective people thought they’d have gotten to July not only with the Wilpons still owning the team, but in serious playoff contention.

They’re looking for bullpen help and reportedly contacted the Padres about Huston Street. I’d call the Padres, but not for Street. My preference would be Luke Gregerson.

Grant Balfour of the A’s should be on the radar as well.

They could use an outfield bat. It doesn’t sound as if Seth Smith is available from the A’s right now, but he should be in play at the deadline. The Mets had interest in him over the winter.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Manager Clint Hurdle should have business cards made up that say:

Clint Hurdle

Former SI Coverboy

Busted Prospect Turned 4-A Journeyman

Hitting Coach

Manager Who Knows How to Run A Bullpen

Doesn’t…Take…Crap

The Pirates are for real. They catch the ball and they pitch. Early in the season that kept them around the .500 mark. Now Pedro Alvarez is hitting for some power to assist MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. They still need one and maybe two bats to be serious contenders. They’re not going to gut the system nor are they taking on a lot of money which limits what they can do. Two players from the Padres make sense. Carlos Quentin is going to get traded and is a free agent at the end of the season. Chase Headley is being bandied about.

I’d be hesitant to do anything too drastic and mess with the Pirates’ current chemistry nor would I go for a big name and sabotage what they’re building.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Carlos Lee has long been an underrated player and is better with the glove at both first base and in the outfield than he’s ever been given credit for. The change to a pennant race might wake up his power bat. But the Dodgers need a bigger, more productive power hitter than Lee.

I’d focus on Justin Morneau.

They could use a starting pitcher and some bullpen help. Ryan Dempster, Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke have been linked with the Dodgers. Balfour, Street, Brandon League, Brian Fuentes and any other available reliever will be a target.

GM Ned Colletti is aggressive and will trade prospects to gets what he wants in trying to win now.

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American League Fantasy Sleepers

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These names jumped out at me as I’m working on my book. (See the sidebar. Available soon.)

B.J. Upton, CF—Tampa Bay Rays

Upton is probably one of the most aggravating players in all of baseball to fans, teammates and everyone else. So talented that he can do anything—-anything—on the field, his motivation and hustle are contingent on the day and his mood.

But he’s a free agent at the end of the season and wants to get paid. Expect a big power/stolen base season and a return to the high on base numbers from 2007-2008.

Carlos Villanueva, RHP—Toronto Blue Jays

He won’t cost anything and was under-the-radar impressive when the Blue Jays put him in the starting rotation last season.

They have starting pitching, but with Kyle Drabek a question to make the team and the limits still being placed on Henderson Alvarez and Brandon Morrow, Villanueva is a veteran they could count on as a starter they don’t have to limit.

As a starter, he was able to use all of his pitches including a changeup. Strangely, he gets his secondary pitches over the plate consistently, but not his fastball.

Jim Johnson, RHP—Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles haven’t specifically said what they’re doing with Johnson. They’ve implied that he’s staying in the bullpen, but the acquisition of Matt Lindstrom frees them to make Johnson a starter where he could be very effective.

Either way, he’s not a “name” closer or guaranteed starter who’d be overly in demand.

Jacob Turner, RHP—Detroit Tigers

As the Tigers proved with Rick Porcello, they don’t let a pitcher’s inexperience dissuade them from sticking him in the rotation.

Turner has far better stuff than Porcello—a good fastball and wicked hard curve. He throws multiple variations on his fastball, has great control and is poised and polished.

Adam Dunn, DH—Chicago White Sox

I have trouble buying that a veteran who hit 40 home runs annually and wasn’t a PED case suddenly lost it all at once.

The not-so-witty line, “Dunn is Done” is a cheap shot and inaccurate.

He was terrible last season to be sure, but he was also unlucky (a .240 BAbip vs a career number of .292).

Dunn still walked 75 times and in comparison to his absurd .159 average, a .292 OBP is pretty good.

The combination of the new league; the expectations and pressure from a big contract; and a raving maniac manager in Ozzie Guillen put Dunn out of his comfort zone. A year in with the White Sox and a more relaxed and understanding manager, Robin Ventura, along with the diminished team-wide expectations will let Dunn be himself—a gentle giant who walks a lot and hits home runs.

Hisanori Takahashi, LHP—Los Angeles Angels

The Angels were kicking the tires on Francisco Cordero and Ryan Madson and it wasn’t to be a set-up man.

If Jordan Walden is suffering from shellshock after the way his massive gack against the Athletics late in the season essentially eliminated the Angels from contention, they might have to pull him from the closer’s role sooner rather than later.

Manager Mike Scioscia is loyal to his players and doesn’t make changes like this until he absolutely has to, but the Angels can’t afford to mess around with the money they spent this off-season and the competition they’re facing for a playoff spot.

Takahashi can do anything—start, set-up, close—and is fearless.

Worst case, if your league counts “holds”, he’ll accumulate those for you.

Fautino De Los Santos, RHP—Oakland Athletics

Don’t ask me what the A’s are planning this year because as the trades of their starting rotation and closer and signing Yoenis Cespedes signing prove, they’re flinging stuff at the wall and hoping something sticks.

Although Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour are on the roster, they might be willing to look at a younger, inexperienced closer at some point. Fuentes is hot and cold and Balfour has never been a full time closer.

De Los Santos has an upper-90s fastball and as the season rolls on, it’s likely that both Fuentes and Balfour will be traded. They’ll need someone to rack up the saves and De Los Santos is as good a choice as any.

Kila Ka’aihue, 1B—Oakland Athletics

His minor league on base/power numbers are absurd and the A’s first base situation is muddled at best.

The Royals kindasorta gave Ka’aihue a chance for the first month of 2011, but abandoned him when he got off to a bad start. The A’s have nothing to lose by playing him for at least the first half of the season and, if nothing else, he’ll walk and get on base.

Hector Noesi, RHP—Seattle Mariners

Noesi doesn’t give up a lot of home runs and has good control. These attributes will be magnified pitching in the big ballpark in Seattle and with the Mariners good defense. He also strikes out around a hitter per inning, so that all adds up to a good statistical season if you’re not counting wins.

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Poor Billy

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So you’re trapped in a division with two powerhouses.

You play in an awful, antiquated and uninviting home park that, in spite of your best efforts, will never be suitably habitable for your baseball team, has few amenities and won’t attract the casual fans, season ticket holders and suite buyers looking to impress clients.

You have a few marketable players—young and talented—signed to reasonable contracts for the foreseeable future.

But the expectations are that you can’t compete because of the above factors.

What do you do?

Do you stick to the blueprint you created to combat these obstacles in your path?

Or do you give up the present and dream of a new ballpark; the ability to relocate; a bolt from the heavens to save you from your inescapable fate?

Well, if you’re the Rays you stick to what you have and try to find a way to win.

And you succeed.

If you’re the Athletics and Billy Beane, you continue the trend of playing the hapless everyman locked in the vacancy of a medieval prison and praying on a daily basis to the Baseball Gods that something, somewhere, someone, somehow will help you to escape this purgatory.

You move forward ably assisted by those in the media, fans and industry who are still immersed in your crafted reputation based on a skillfully presented piece of creative non-fiction that is becoming more and more absurd by the day; the same piece of creative non-fiction that was dramatically licensed into a film and made worse with mischaracterizations, twisted facts and outright falsehoods, yet is given credibility because it was made by an Academy Award winning director, Bennett Miller and has the “sexiest man alive”, Brad Pitt portraying you.

You’re still living off of Moneyball. You’re trying to alter the plot to make it appear as if nothing is your fault.

But those inconvenient facts keep popping up.

Of course there are those who still cling to this aura of genius and shield you to the last. They utter such inanities as “Billy Beane isn’t to blame for sad state of A’s” and Bruce Jenkins plays the role as the defense lawyer trying to defend the indefensible.

Through strategic leaks from devoted emissaries, it was made clear that you wanted the Cubs job. “Billy’s willing to listen to the Cubs,” etc. One problem: the Cubs didn’t want you. They never approached you. They had no interest in you. What made it worse was that they had their sights set on someone who might not have existed had it not been for you; for Michael Lewis; for Moneyball. Theo Epstein was their one and only target and they got him. Epstein’s rise came as a direct result of your somewhat understandable, part-family/part-prescient/part legacy decision that led to you staying with the Athletics.

By now we all know what would’ve happened had you followed through on your handshake agreement to take over the Red Sox.

For ten years, Red Sox Nation has had a paper bag handy to collectively hyperventilate at the carnage your tenure would have wrought both financially and practically. They offered you something in the neighborhood of $12.5 million and were going to allow you to spend a substantial amount of time running the team remotely from your home on the West Coast so you could be near your young daughter…and away from the stifling fishbowl that is Boston sports.

But luckily for them, you backed out.

Down the drain went your plans to trade Jason Varitek; to sign a nearly finished Edgardo Alfonzo; to sign someone named Mark Johnson to replace Varitek; to make Manny Ramirez a DH.

Who’s David Ortiz? Would you have known? Would your luck have been similar to that of Epstein to sign a released player such as Ortiz?

The Red Sox won a championship two years after you declined their offer and, as Moneyball the movie says, used the principles that you created.

Except you didn’t create them

You implemented them.

For that you deserve praise, but not to the degree where nothing is ever your fault; where you receive accolades for what goes well and constant, worshipful, caveat-laden pieces on every possible outlet giving you a free pass for what has gone wrong.

You get the credit.

You never get the blame.

What a wonderful world it is in Oakland.

Why would you ever want to leave? You’re an owner now.

Based on nothing.

You’re bulletproof to criticism.

Based on nothing.

You’re doing whatever it is you want looking toward the future ballpark, money, luxury suites, season-ticket sales, WINNING!!! that someday, someday, someday will come.

Based on nothing.

The Rays are living with the hovering terror of the Yankees and Red Sox in a division that is far more treacherous and hopeless than anything you’ve ever experienced and they’ve made the playoffs in three of the past four years.

What have you done?

They detail a plan and execute it.

You fling things at the wall, make your speaking engagements, wallow in the idolatry and reset the computer when too much malware accumulates.

And you make money.

To augment the young pitching you developed, you tried to win in 2009 by acquiring an MVP-quality bat in Matt Holliday, reaching into the past with Jason Giambi and signing a leader-type veteran Orlando Cabrera.

Your team was a disaster.

You retooled.

In 2011, you signed and traded for veteran bats Josh Willingham and David DeJesus along with established bullpen arms Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.

Again to augment the young pitching you developed.

Your team was a disaster.

So you abandon the young pitching because, obviously, that was the flaw in your plan. Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey were traded away for that “future”.

At least you’ve kept Coco Crisp and are looking at Ryan Ludwick.

That’ll work because you’re a genius.

By my count, this is rebuild number five. The fifth time you’ve retooled and purged the club of any and all players making a reasonable amount of money as you purse your lips and nod, gazing toward the sun and stars.

Someday, someday, someday.

The ballpark, the young prospects, the drafts, the hope, the hype—one day it’ll happen. Then you’ll win. Then your resume will be legitimate and not based on a mythmaker with an agenda.

It’s lasted forever.

Where and when does it end?

When is someone—anyone—going to stop and look at you with the vaunted “objective analysis” that you harped on so ferociously like a hypnotizing mantra that your congregation and followers so avidly repeated and used to shelter you?

It’s enough.

You’re not staying in Oakland because you don’t want to abandon the team in its time of need. You’re staying in Oakland because the industry sees right through you and your propaganda and no one else wants you.

And it’s enough.

You’ve lived off of Moneyball for ten years. Now we’re approaching the logical conclusion as the only salvation you have left is the old standby of “bad ballpark, bad fans, bad competition, bad rules, bad, bad, bad”. Those who are either too stupid to see or too invested in your supposed genius to acknowledge the truth maintain their blindness, deafness, dumbness.

Your team is a train wreck; you gave up on 2012, 2013 and 2014 because you don’t have any answers left and are clinging to a sinking life preserver in a dark, unforgiving sea.

Yet there are no sharks.

Where are they?

Are they responding to editorial edict to continually show you in the best possible light? Are they afraid of the reaction to stating facts that a large segment of the baseball public doesn’t want to hear?

The plausible deniability you maintain in having allowed the disparagement of Art Howe in print and on film is more telling about your selfishness than anything else you’ve done; Howe, who absent the hyperbole you had as a player, had a workmanlike and respected career you could never have hoped to have and saw his reputation as a baseball man torn to shreds by Moneyball the book and then was made worse by tearing him apart as a human being in the movie. Never once was he contextualized. You never said a word when you could’ve and should’ve.

Nothing.

Because it was to your convenience that he—and you—be judged that way.

It’s terrific to use a reputation as a bodyguard; to never have anything be your fault; to receive credit and no blame.

Nothing’s your fault.

Let’s shed a tear and hold a moment of silence for Poor Billy.

It’s not his fault that his team is terrible; that Moneyball was written; that he’s facing the prospect of an Angels team with Albert Pujols now leading the way; that the Rangers—emerging from bankruptcy two short years ago—have taken his stat-based techniques, bolstered them with old-school strategies and scouting acumen and now have back-to-back pennant winners and won the bidding for Yu Darvish.

Moneyball is bankrupt as well, but there’s no Chapter 11 protection from its chapters full of lies. Being morally bankrupt doesn’t count I suppose even with the protections you’ve received.

Nothing’s your fault.

The Rays are in a worse situation than you.

But at least they try.

So wallow in the love. Accept the sympathy. Watch as your team loses close to 100 games.

And know the truth.

//

Relegate the A’s

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Since Billy Beane has become such a keen observer of European fútbol and Michael Lewis publicly stated that he sees Beane one day running a club from that sport with which he’s become enamored (to the point of neglecting his deteriorating baseball team), perhaps it’s time for Major League Baseball to consider taking a page out of the book of the “beautiful game” by relegating a club that can’t compete with the big boys.

If a team in Euro fútbol doesn’t meet the criteria to be at least competitive in their league, they get sent to a lower league; since the Athletics will be fielding what amounts to an expansion team in 2012, send them to Triple A.

The Athletics are clearing out the house of all veterans in anticipation of…something. Supposedly it’s that they’re preparing to compete sometime in the distant future, in Never Never Land or San Jose (whichever comes first) when (if) they get approval for the new ballpark that’s going to finally provide them with the necessary funds to field a team that can win.

Ah, financial sustenance, it’s the Twinkie to Brad Pitt’s version of Billy Beane, except it’s not manufactured poison in the form of food.

Forget that Beane’s entire false aura of “genius” stemmed from exactly the problem that he has now: he doesn’t have the money.

How does that work? He was a genius for succeeding without money and now he’s still a genius for failing without money?

Ignore that he’s still drawing from the well of creative non-fiction and that there are scores of people who still believe the nonsense inherent with Moneyball the book and Moneyball the movie.

Shield thyself from that inconvenient truth as it renders the Athletics a running joke in a venue where players only venture when they have no other options.

Don’t pay attention to any of it if you still have some selfish investment in Moneyball and Beane the Genius taken as fact when it’s anything but.

The Athletics are terrible.

In trading Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox along with Ryan Sweeney for the overrated Josh Reddick, pitcher Raul Alcantara (age 19) and first baseman Miles Head (age 20)—minor leaguers both far, far, far away from the majors—it all fits in with the obvious template of trades the A’s have made in dealing Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez.

The Athletics situation has been finalized.

They’re building for a ballpark rumors are saying is going to be built; a park that has yet to be finalized and for which ground hasn’t been broken. Since the Marlins received approval for their new park in March of 2009 and the unveiling is in 2012, it’s fair to presume a new A’s park won’t be ready until 2015 at the earliest.

Until then, they’ll build with youth.

Again.

Don’t you see? How many times is this farce going to be repeated?

The A’s are an empty carcass with only the vultures circling to pick the bones.

In 2011, they were built around young pitching and a refurbished offense and bullpen; because it didn’t work, it provided the impetus for Beane to tear the club apart (again) and play for the future (again) in the hopes that when they finally are (maybe) entering a new park, they’ll (hopefully) have the foundation to compete.

Beane’s going merrily along. Part owner of the club and, in chameleon-like fashion, inhabiting the role of hapless everyman, swallowed up by the financial juggernauts and struggling to compete.

It’s satire.

How many GMs are allowed continuous losing because it’s backed up by a lie? To stare off at some plan that’s off in the distance, yet changes based on nothing other than a strategy that was sensible in theory but didn’t work?

Was it necessary for the A’s to trade their young core for packages of minor leaguers because the scheme that he concocted in 2011 faltered? Is the idea of building around strong, cheap, young pitching a fallacy because it failed in practice?

Beane’s plans are so random and capricious that there’s no defending him; his armor of “genius” was demolished long ago, yet lives on by the mass-market devotion to the collapsing entity of Moneyball.

It’s mind-boggling to me that others are either blind to it or afraid to protest.

Is objective analysis based on the side you’re on?

Or does said objectivity follow the logical precedent that a thing is what it is and can be nothing else?

The 2012 A’s have decimated starting pitching; their offense—which was weak in 2011—has gotten worse; their bullpen is essentially gutted with Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes only hanging around long enough to accumulate enough value to trade.

A team that went 74-88 in 2011 has had its strength horribly diminished for 2012.

Will the Beane apologists find a way to excuse him for losing 100 games?

The relegation concept isn’t a bad idea. A team comprised entirely of fringe big leaguers would win, as a matter of course, 50-60 games by sheer circumstance.

That’s not far off from what this current Athletics roster is going to win in 2012.

A monkey could run that team right now and be as competitive or more as the club that’s been put together by a “genius”.

He’s a big fútbol fan? He reads magazines? He’s learning that business now?

In that case, there are options. He can sign David Beckham to play shortstop—at least fans will come to see him play.

He can leave the Athletics and go run a team in another sport as Lewis suggests—why not?

Or he can stop running around to corporate speaking engagements; cease basking in the glory of a fictional tale of faux brilliance; run his team as if he cares and stop delegating to his assistants while being the big shot CEO.

I’m sick of his whining; I’m sick of people defending him out of their own selfish agendas; and I’ve had more than enough of the rampant excuses for the decaying exoskeleton of a franchise of which he’s the architect.

He wallowed in the accolades of winning without any money; then everyone else caught onto what he was doing and copied it; now he doesn’t have any money and is waiting, waiting, waiting to finally have a new park; luxury suites; the ability to attract players for reasons other than desperation.

But it’s not his fault.

Nothing is ever Billy’s fault.

Michael Lewis wrote it, therefore it must be true.

It no longer even qualifies as laughable the way Beane is allowed to do whatever he wants with impunity to any and all criticism. When will there be prevalent, mainstream criticism of this man and admissions that Moneyball is a farce sans the caveats of “you weren’t supposed to take it literally”; “it was about undervalued talent, not an end unto itself”; “he found a way to beat baseball at it’s own unfair game” and other bits of twisted, condescending inanities?

When does it stop?

Here’s reality: It’s his fault. He built it; he broke it; he tried to build it again and it collapsed right out from under him.

I believe in simplicity and it goes as follows: he got the credit, he gets the blame. Period.

He’s in the muck.

After reveling in the idolatry for so many years, let him wear the 62-100 like a bullseye and we can watch how his congregation leaps from the train to safer ground.

It’s on him and no one else. Not the ownership; not MLB; not the Yankees, Angels, Red Sox and Rangers; not the Giants for refusing to waive their territorial rights; not on the fans of Oakland for refusing to come to watch his rancid team play.

Him.

Yeah Billy, go run a soccer team. That’s a good idea. Show them you’re a genius. I’m sure they’ll buy it because it’s been such a great success in baseball.

After all, they wrote a book and made a movie about it. It has to be true.

Doesn’t it?

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The Jonathan Papelbon Free Agency Profile

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Name: Jonathan Papelbon


Position: Right-handed relief pitcher.

Vital Statistics:

Age-31

Height-6’4″

Weight-225.

Bats: Right.

Throws: Right.

Transactions: Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 4th round of the 2003 MLB Draft.

Agent: Sam and Seth Levinson.

Might he return to the Red Sox? Yes.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; Toronto Blue Jays; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Seattle Mariners; Philadelphia Phillies; New York Mets; Florida Marlins; Los Angeles Dodgers.

Positives:

Despite the disappointing way the Red Sox season ended and that Papelbon was on the mound for that ending, he had a fantastic year in 2011 and was gutting his way through the frenetic final few weeks trying to save the Red Sox season literally and figuratively.

He has a dazzling array of power stuff with a fastball that reaches the high-90s, a slider and a split-finger fastball and racks up the strikeouts; he only allowed 3 homers in 64 innings and struck out 87; he throws strikes and only walked 10 batters all season.

Papelbon has come through in the post-season putting him in the class with Mariano Rivera as a closer you can trust not to be overwhelmed by the moment in a big game.

Negatives:

He’ll very occasionally have a bad game in which he gets blasted; in those games, he’ll give up multiple runs and these poor performances will make his numbers look far worse than they would normally.

Apart from that, I don’t see any negatives for Papelbon.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $60 million.

What he’ll get: 3-years, $42 million and a mutual option for a 4th year at $15 million.

Teams that might give it to him: Red Sox; Blue Jays; Rangers; Phillies; Mets; Marlins; Dodgers.

Papelbon is at a disadvantage because of the belief that closers as easily created and replaceable; that’s where the Red Sox current needs, new front office regime and whether or not they’ll pay homage to stat-based theory may collide.

It was the closer-by-committee that cost the Red Sox the 2003 pennant more than anything Grady Little did. They rectified the situation in 2004 by signing Keith Foulke, essentially paying him $20 million for one good, healthy season—and it was worth it as they won the 2004 World Series; they intended to use the closer-by-committee again in 2007 and were being hard-headed to a remarkably self-destructive degree before Papelbon went to the club and asked to return to the bullpen after the experiment with him being a starter that spring.

Will the Red Sox pay Papelbon? Or will they let him leave?

It’s not an easy choice for new GM Ben Cherington and the call could ruin his tenure before it even begins.

Of course the “anyone can close” concept is somewhat true in the case of the mediocre to slightly above-average closers like Heath Bell and Brian Fuentes, but Papelbon is several notches above those types of pitchers for the reasons stated above.

The Yankees pay Rivera because he’s the best; a team who needs a legitimate closer should pay Papelbon because he’s slightly below Rivera on the top level of late-inning relievers.

Whether there will be a team that makes that determination and gives him the money remains to be seen; I say there will be a bidding war for Papelbon when the other names—Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez and Bell—fall into place.

He’s the absolutely perfect addition for the Blue Jays to take the next step into serious contention. There’s been talk that the organization is gun-shy to pay for a closer after the way B.J. Ryan‘s contract degenerated into a disaster when he needed Tommy John surgery and wasn’t able to return to form.

The comparison is ridiculous.

Ryan had what might be one of the worst sets of mechanics I’ve ever seen in my life; he used a short-arm delivery, threw across his body and landed on a stiff front leg. He was destined to get injured.

Papelbon uses his legs and has a clean motion.

Any pitcher can get hurt, but if Papelbon does, it’s not a foreseeable happenstance that should dissuade a club from signing him for that reason and that reason alone.

Would I sign Papelbon? Absolutely.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that is perceived as “overpaying” for a closer in a market flush with them? No. Papelbon will deliver the goods.

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Firing Francona Is Plain Stupid

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I’m the first one to say fire the manager when things don’t go as planned.

It doesn’t have to be his fault. If the team isn’t responding; if a shakeup is needed; if there are strategic blunders; or if there’s someone better available—all are viable reasons.

There doesn’t even have to be a reason. This is one of the things I never understood about the Billy Beane decision to fire Ken Macha after the 2006 ALCS playoff loss and he was searching for something to feed to his media idolators and claimed it was due to “lack of communication”; Beane didn’t exactly distinguish himself with Macha or Bob Geren when he blamed Geren’s firing on the continued media onslaught that was questioning Geren’s job security. Geren was the one who didn’t communicate with his players—the higher paid ones as well including Brian Fuentes.

Macha didn’t talk to backup catcher Adam Melhuse.

What could he possibly have to say to a fringe major leaguer and backup catcher? “Go warm up the pitcher.” What else is there?

All the GM has to say is, “I felt like making a change.”

End of story. But there always has to be some litany of criticisms to justify it; this is a new phenomenon accompanying the rock star status of some GMs in today’s game.

With the Red Sox, Theo Epstein is a rock star and there’s talk that Terry Francona could be in trouble if they blow their playoff spot.

It’s an easy decision to make if it’s decided that it’s Francona’s fault that John Lackey is one of the worst free agent signings in the history of the sport this side of Carl Pavano and Jason Schmidt. But at least Pavano and Schmidt were hurt; Lackey’s just awful.

Is Francona the one who caused the injuries to Clay Buchholz and Bobby Jenks? Has he sabotaged Daniel Bard?

Francona is a good man and a good manager. He acquitted himself well managing the Phillies as they were terrible on an annual basis—they had no talent.

He handled the media firestorm of being Michael Jordan’s manager during the basketball legend’s foray into baseball in Double A for the White Sox; he was a bench coach and a front office assistant with some very well-run teams with the Athletics and Indians.

Francona did not get the Red Sox job because of his managerial brilliance nor that experience. They were part of the work experiences that made him a candidate, but not the most enticing aspects of his resume.

These are in no particular order, but Francona got the job because he was willing to take a short-money contract for the opportunity; he would acquiesce to front office edicts in terms of strategy based on stats; he was agreeable to Curt Schilling, whom he’d managed with the Phillies and the Red Sox were desperate to acquire; and he wasn’t Grady Little.

The Red Sox were notoriously adamant about having a manager who wouldn’t ignore orders as Little did.

My question regarding the Red Sox and Little goes back well before the fateful decision to leave Pedro Martinez in the game when he was clearly exhausted in game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

Why did it get to that point?

If the Red Sox didn’t trust Little to manage correctly (or the way they wanted) in the biggest game of the year without going off the reservation, they should’ve fired him long before the ALCS.

After dumping Little, the Red Sox spoke to Bobby Valentine while they were searching for a new manager. Valentine refused to criticize Little’s decision saying that he wasn’t in the dugout and didn’t know what he would’ve done in that situation.

That’s not what the Red Sox wanted to hear.

So Francona got the job; the Red Sox got a calm, guiding hand that players want to play for and someone who can navigate the all-but-impossible terrain of managing that team in that town.

Now if they miss the playoffs because of circumstances out of his control, he might be in trouble?

Fine.

He’ll be out of work for five seconds and will get another job in a good situation or he’ll sit out and wait until a high-profile, big money job opens up.

I can only hope that the Red Sox won’t use the corporate crud they used when they fired Little by saying they simply weren’t renewing Francona’s contract.

And I can’t wait to start writing if they go the road of Beane and provide some incomprehensible and unbelievable bit of spin to the media hordes who think every word is gospel. If they fire him, say what it is: We’re blaming Terry for our own mishaps.

It would be nothing more and nothing less than the search for an undeserving scapegoat; if they do that, they’ll deserve their collective fates.

//

Ricketts Should Not Fall For “The Verducci Effect”

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I’m not referring to a writer’s research and guidelines on how to use pitchers.

I’m talking about the hiring of a GM.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is receiving endless streams of suggestions, cajoling and none-too-clever infomercial style second and third hand job applications for GM candidates. The most prominent of which being Billy Beane.

Hopefully—for Cubs fans—Ricketts performs his due diligence, conducts interviews and hires the person he wants to hire and not because a Beane acolyte keeps suggesting it or thinks “Beane to the Cubs” would be a juicy story.

In his latest piece, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated wrote the following regarding Beane and the Cubs:

Beane, once excited about a chance to work with money on the prospect of team moving to San Jose, must understand that Oakland is a dead end job. The club will have posted five straight losing seasons, plays in a football stadium and is no closer to getting an okay to relocate. Beane turns 50 next year, and like great GMs of his era — Pat Gillick, John Schuerholtz, Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski, etc. — he needs the challenge of heading another organization for personal growth, if not legacy. Beane is signed through 2014, but owner Lew Wolff will not stand in the way if Beane decides to leave.

“I think it’s something Billy might consider,” said one friend. “I’ll tell you this: if they ever get Billy to come in for an interview, it’s his job. That’s how good he is.”

Personal growth?

Is Verducci referring to Beane’s ridiculous reputation as a genius or his ginormous ego?

These nuggets coming from “friends” and “those close to Beane” are plants because Beane wants out of Oakland; he wants in to the Cubs; and the media and those close to him who may have something invested in Beane being seen as this all-knowing seer of all things baseball are trying to grease the skids and influence Ricketts to make it happen.

Verducci is the same man who wrote a piece in Sports Illustrated weeks ago defending Beane as the Athletics are—again—crumbling around him; he’s also one of the multitudes who picked the A’s to win the AL West this season.

How is it possible to receive credit without the allocation of blame?

So the A’s were good enough to pick to win the division independent of a bad ballpark and indifferent fan base before the season, yet those are two of the reasons the A’s have collapsed to 14 games under .500 and the situation is now a “dead end job”?

The A’s imported 5 “name” players this past winter—Grant Balfour; Hideki Matsui; David DeJesus; Josh Willingham; Brian Fuentes—to join a solid starting starting rotation; they were picked to win…and the team is a disaster.

He fired his manager.

And the team is a disaster.

Beane was supposedly a “genius” because he had no money to work with and somehow found a way to win; now he’s still a “genius” and “that’s how good he is” in spite of annual failures and betrayal of the tenets that crafted his “genius” to begin with?

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

It doesn’t matter how many laudatory and patently ridiculous books are written; it’s irrelevant how much dramatic license is taken in a movie and who’s playing the protagonist; and it’s meaningless how many writers pop up to defend the indefensible with increasingly ludicrous alibis that you’d have to be bottom-line stupid to believe.

Ricketts may choose to hire Beane and Beane might do a good job, but like last season when the likes of Joel Sherman were pushing-pushing-pushing Sandy Alderson on the Mets, it has to be the decision of the man or men in charge that this is who I want running my club.

Writers have an agenda with Beane; understand that before doing what the media and fans want because they’re not the ones who are ultimately responsible for the aftermath.

And Verducci spelled “Schuerholz” wrong too.

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