Monday, November 4, 2013

What Will Billy Beane Do? (WWBBD)

The Oakland A’s had a truly remarkable year in 2013, following up their Bernie-lean inspired miracle run in 2012 with 96 wins and a division title. Unfortunately they were eventually ousted in five games… again… by the Tigers… again… in a shutout… again… by Justin Verlander… again… causing me to weep openly- uh, for the first time ever.

If the A’s were to completely eschew trades and free agent signings this offseason, they would enter 2013 with a starting lineup looking something like this:

Catcher- Derek Norris/Stephen Vogt
First Base- Brandon Moss/Nate Freiman
Second Base- Eric Sogard/Alberto Callaspo
Shortstop- Jed Lowrie
Third Base- Josh “Bringer of Rain” Donaldson
Left Field- Yoenis Cespedes
Center Field- Coco Crisp
Right Field- Josh Reddick/Michael Choice
Designated Hitter- Jon Jaso/Seth Smith

And a rotation combining some of the following:
Sonny Gray
Jarrod Parker
Dan Straily
AJ Griffin
Tommy Milone
Brett Anderson

With Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Jerry Blevins, and Dan Otero in the bullpen, the A’s are basically set, and seem ready to commence a boring offseason. So why do I have the uncomfortable feeling that Billy Beane* and Company are about to blow us all away with something big?

*Have you accepted Billy Beane as your lord and savior yet?

I, as a fan, don’t want there to be any changes. I want the team that gave joy to my summer to remain intact in perpetuity, just as I did after last year’s exhilarating ride. It’s an understandable emotional reaction, but one that has no place in the front office of a baseball team. Thankfully, in Moneyball (the book), Beane makes clear that a small market team that is not turning over its roster constantly is falling behind. "Don't mess with a good thing" should never be the mantra of a sabermetrically inclined baseball team. If you trust your techniques for player analysis then change can only be good

So, if change we must, these are the three BIG THINGS I would be happiest with the A’s doing this offseason.

1. The Uggly Heyl Mary (I know… I just had to)

Dan Uggla, 10 million dollars, and Jason Heyward
Josh Reddick, Alberto Callaspo, and John Jaso

So here’s the reasoning: the Braves are a very good team, and plan to compete for the next several years with a core of excellent pitching and good defense up the middle. However, their two highest paid players were also their worst players this past year, and while B.J. Upton will almost certainly bounce back to respectability, Dan Uggla has probably lost it for good, and will absolutely not be worth the 13 million dollars he will be paid in both this year and the next.

Jason Heyward is 24, has two more years of team control, and is set to make about 4.5 million dollars via arbitration this next year. Though Heyward is undoubtedly a star, he has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency and will probably make a boatload of money in free agency two years from now. The Braves most certainly do not want to trade him, but they might do so if it meant getting out from under most of the Uggla contract and solving their catching situation for the year.

The truly interesting possibility from my perspective is if the A’s don’t give the Braves Jaso, and instead take on Uggla’s whole contract:

Uggla and Heyward
Reddick and Callaspo

Having disposed of $4.5 million in the form of Heyward, and $13 million in the far less athletic form of Uggla, the Braves would be able to put that savings towards the retention of catcher Brian McCann, who is widely expected to garner a deal worth upwards of $15 million for four or five years on the open market. With McCann back in the fold, Reddick (a superb defender with questionable power) taking over in right field, and the serviceable Callaspo at second, the Braves would still have around 20 million dollars left in their $95-100 million dollar budget to make upgrades.

That’s why I think the Braves might be open to such a deal. Why it may be a good idea for the A’s might not be clear at first glance. Reddick’s value is not so far off from Heyward’s, and $13 million dollars is a lot to eat for the privilege of what seems like a marginal upgrade. Personally, I think that Uggla would do pretty well as a three-true-outcomes (walks, strikeouts, homers) DH against lefties with occasional starts at second base. For his career Uggla has been 13% better against lefties than righties, and I can see a scenario in which he accrues some value for the A’s in that role. However, the reason I think this would be a great deal for the A’s is that Reddick is two years older than Heyward. He is at his peak, and while his power will rebound from this injury marred year, and his defense is superb, Heyward still has room to grow on offense, boasts a far better plate approach, and is just as good defensively.

If the A’s could sign Heyward to an extension as part of the trade, it would make even Uggla’s contract worth swallowing. As is, the A’s payroll next year is projected to be around $55 million. With Heyward and Uggla it would be around $73 million… less than the recent peak of $79 million in2007. Heyward would probably cost $15-20 million per year to extend, but of all the players in MLB, he is the one I would be most comfortable giving the money to.

2) Belt out your Choice! (I think I need to seek professional assistance… the puns… the puns)

Brandon Belt, Santiago Casilla, and two C+ prospects
Dan Straily, Michael Choice, and Seth Smith

Ok, this one might piss off some Giants fans who have spent three years furiously rosterbating over Brandon Belt (ok I know it’s supposed to sound just a tad dirty, but when paired with furiously, the word rosterbating is just making me uncomfortable… it’s staring creepily at me right now).

After a great deal of sabermetric analysis, I have determined that the A’s success on the field is directly correlated to the number of players named Brandon who wear the Green and Gold. Do not question this analysis, just allow the memories of Brandon Hicks, Brandon Inge, Brandon McCarthy, and Brandon Moss from 2012 to slowly overwhelm you with nostalgia. If the A’s had been able to trot Brandon Belt out there too, maybe they wouldn’t have been shut out by the Tigers… in Game 5…

Painful musings aside, Belt is an excellent first baseman, and is growing into power to match his superb plate discipline. He is also cheap and will remain so for several years, Casilla is a decent enough reliever, but his $10 million dollar two-year contract would basically be the cost of doing business from the A’s perspective. With Belt at first base, Moss could spend most of his time at DH, improving the A’s offense and defense while trading from the team’s strength- pitching.

On the Giants’ side of things, Straily gives them a solid fourth starter with upside to slot in after Bumgarner, Cain, and Lincecum, Posey and Sandoval can split time at first base, while Choice and Smith give them offense in left field. This is especially exciting for Giants General Manager Brian Sabean, who was laboring under the impression the past six seasons that no one who played the position of left field was allowed to actually make contact with the baseball. This hilarious misunderstanding occurred when Sabean took comments from some members of the press about the unfairness of his left fielder’s hitting a bit too literally.

3) A trade involving Ian Kinsler (See! A subheading with nary a pun, therapy is working!)

Ian Kinsler and $40 million
Brandon Moss, Alberto Callaspo, and a bag of Kettle Corn

Ok, so this one is never going to happen. The Rangers and A’s are in the same division, and aside from the A’s seeking an upgrade at second and the Rangers looking for power at first base, the two teams don’t match up especially well for a trade. So I am not going to worry about the details all that much. Suffice it to say that the Rangers really really don’t want Ian Kinsler to be on the team any more. He is owed $72 million dollars over the next four years, he is on the wrong side of 30, his offense has declined to the point where he is about league average with the stick and with ever diminishing power, and his defense, while good, has never been spectacular enough to alone make him worth tens of millions of dollars.

All that aside, the Rangers don’t want Kinsler on the team mainly because he is blocking their (and until recently all of baseball’s) top prospect, Jurickson Profar. Having given Elvis Andrus a lifetime deal to play shortstop, the Rangers need to slot Profar in at second, and would probably be willing to give up a decent amount of money to make that happen.

If the Rangers take on $40 million of Kinsler’s contract (a big if), then he would absolutely be a worthwhile upgrade over the Sogard/Callaspo platoon for about $8 million more per year. Jaso could then slide over to first base, and the A’s would have upgraded their primary weak spot on the diamond for a reasonable price.


None of these trades are likely to happen. But Billy Beane is likely to do SOMETHING this offseason, and probably something big. As the phrase: “what would Billy Beane do” is the running track on my internal monologue a shockingly high plurality of the time, I thought I would take a few moments to consider what I would do for a BIG THING this offseason.

Even for those of you who will not be buying the requisite wristbands and bumper stickers, what would you do if you had to go big this offseason?


  1. I think the A's will keep Bartolo Colon for $8 mill. Then, Billy will stun us all with a trade to get better hitting.

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