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June 9, 2011

BP Unfiltered

The Fallout in Oakland

by John Perrotto

Friendship can mean everything in baseball. For Bob Geren, it gave him the chance to manage the Athletics for four-plus seasons before he was fired Thursday with his team 27-36 and on a nine-game losing streak. Geren and Athletics general manager Billy Beane grew up in San Diego competing against each other on the baseball field; they become such close friends that Geren served as the best man in Beane's second wedding. According to those close to the Athletics' situation, it also did not hurt that Geren was willing to do whatever Beane asked without ever offering much resistance.

However, friendship and subservience only goes so far and can't save a manager's job when his team is going bad during a season that started with post-season hopes. The Athletics felt they were primed to unseat the Rangers as the American League West champion following a winter in which they bolstered their offense by trading for left fielder Josh Willingham and right fielder David DeJesus and signing designated hitter Hideki Matsui as a free agent. Instead, the Athletics have flopped, though they still have at least a puncher's chance of winning a weak division; they trail the first-place Rangers by eight games.

Willingham's True Average is a fine .295, but DeJesus is at .264 and Matsui has crated to a .209 mark. Beane's off-season makeover had had less of impact than expected, and that is on him.

Anyone who read Moneyball understands Beane holds managers in low regard. Michael Lewis' book portrayed the relationship between Beane and then-manager Art Howe as a bullying one. It was painful to read, especially since Howe is as nice of a person as you would ever want to meet.

Howe was followed by Ken Macha, who was much more hard-nosed. Macha was also more willing to fight back at Beane and was fired just a few days after the Athletics were swept by the Tigers in the 2006 American League Championship Series.

Beane seemed to find what he was looking for in Geren. However, Geren compiled a 334-376 record, and his high-water mark came last season when the Athletics finished 81-81 on the strength of an outstanding young pitching staff that allowed just 3.86 runs a game, tops in the AL and third-best in the major leagues behind the Padres and Giants.

Geren has a very low-key personality, and the perception of him around baseball was that he was not a good communicator. That came to the surface last month when left-hander Brian Fuentes, filling in as the closer after Andrew Bailey had off-season elbow surgery, blasted Geren for calling his closer into ties games in four consecutive appearances. Fuentes lost all of the decisions, then charged Geren with not communicating with the relievers about their roles or talking to the players in general. Watching from afar as the Rockies' closer, Huston Street, who formerly held that job with the Athletics, felt compelled, without prompting, to text Susan Slusser, the esteemed beat writer with the San Francisco Chronicle, to say that Geren was the worst person he had ever met in sports.

So now the Athletics turn to Bob Melvin to try to get them back into the AL West race as the interim manager. He has not managed since being fired by the Diamondbacks 29 games into the 2009 season; he served as a special assignment scout with the Mets last year, then rejoined the Arizona organization as a special assistant to GM Kevin Towers this season.

Like Geren, Melvin is a low-key guy. However, the differences end there. Melvin is an extremely cerebral manager, befitting his Berkeley pedigree, and has a knack for connecting with his players. Melvin was so well-regarded in the Diamondbacks' clubhouse that there was nearly anarchy by the players when he was fired and replaced by farm director A.J. Hinch. Melvin had a 493-508 record with the Mariners (2003-04) and Diamondbacks (2005-09), and led Arizona to the National League West title and the NLCS in 2007.

 Again, the Athletics' season isn't over. The AL West is a weak division, and bridging an eight-game gap certainly isn’t impossible, especially since Melvin seems to be the right man to ease the unrest amongst the players and refocus them. Of course, considering the Athletics are last in the AL and next-to-last in the major leagues in runs scored despite all the off-season additions, it would help just as much if Melvin could hit 30 home runs.  

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

Related Content:  Billy Beane,  Bob Geren

12 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Ian Miller

John, your piece doesn't mention any of the myriad injuries the Oakland pitching staff has suffered this year. Even if Matsui and DeJesus were performing as they had in the past (and if Kouzmanoff hadn't been a black hole at third, and, and...), the decimated rotation would be a huge burden to overcome. The fact that the A's aren't out yet is a testament to the depth of the pitching talent in their system.

All that said, the offense is downright offensive, and there don't seem to be any quick fixes. If Chris Carter wasn't putting up sub-Mendoza numbers in Triple A, maybe that would allow Beane to cut loose an obviously finished Hideki Matsui. Beane has definitely made his bed, and offering up Geren as a sacrifice isn't gonna do a damn thing about the moribund offense or the injuries.

Jun 09, 2011 13:58 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member perrotto
BP staff

Agreed that I probably downplayed the pitching injuries, especially the one to Brett Anderson. Still, the offense has been awful and only one of the three off-season additions has helped.

Jun 09, 2011 18:30 PM
 
Sacramento

I was at Game 1 of the 2006 ALCS in Oakland. It's been nothing but questionable roster decisions by Billy Beane since then. If the organization is going to have a turnaround it needs to start at the very top: Beane and Lew Wolff.

Jun 09, 2011 14:12 PM
rating: 0
 
Ian Miller

hyperbole much?

Jun 09, 2011 14:38 PM
rating: 0
 
Sacramento

You want an itemized list?

Jun 09, 2011 15:23 PM
rating: 0
 
Ian Miller

Nah, that's not necessary. But don't you think "nothing but questionable decisions" is a bit much?

Jun 09, 2011 16:01 PM
rating: 0
 
Sacramento

Might be a bit of an exaggeration, but look at the end results.

Jun 09, 2011 23:38 PM
rating: 0
 
Ian Miller

That's ex-post facto reasoning. Just because the results have been bad doesn't mean there haven't been some successful roster decisions. The A's have basically built an entire elite rotation in-house, from scratch. Problem is, they're super banged-up right now. That's not Wolff's or Beane's fault.

The putrid offense is, however.

Jun 10, 2011 11:33 AM
rating: -1
 
Sacramento

Sure, his pitching development has been okay. But look at his questionable position player free agent signings, retentions, acquisitions, and trades of players who have blossomed elsewhere.

Jun 10, 2011 12:52 PM
rating: 1
 
Johnston

Isn't putting together a good pitching staff more than half the battle? I mean, sure, the hitters are putrid, but the pitching is good and that should count for a lot.

Jun 10, 2011 21:22 PM
rating: 0
 
Manprin

If the rotation is so elite - why aren't they pitching that way?

I think it's way too generous to say the A's developed their pitchers.

Anderson, Gonzalez were acquired via trade, McCarthy as a free agent and had been getting by on smoke and mirrors. Most of the others in the pitching staff were also not drafted and developed by the A's.

Cahill the A's drafted and Braden the A's drafted.

Andrew Bailey the A's drafted and put him the pen after failing as a starter.

Brad Ziegler was a reclamation project.

So three out of the 12 pitchers on the staff were drafted and developed by the A's and all three have injury issues. Bailey and Braden have both missed time and gone under the knife multiple times. Cahill has had back/shoulder issues.

I can't say that's a ringing endorsement of the A's scouting and development department.

Further, the Coliseum is a huge part of the A's success as far as run suppression.

Other than that - there

Jun 11, 2011 10:11 AM
rating: 0
 
CalledStrike3

Coming into this season:
1. The A's had what was widely regarded as one of the top 5 rotations in Baseball by experts and pundits alike.
2. The A's offense lacked power and would have to hit well situationally and manufacture runs.
3. The A's bullpen would have to mix and match until Bailey got healthy again.
4. The A's were 'live' in the AL West race as 2nd favs to the Rangers.

When the A's started losing close games (see Fuentes comments) - and then starting losing members of their Rotation - the chemistry in the clubhouse went to shit.

Exit Geren - Enter Melvin and Dr Andrews. The next A's chance for a really good team got pushed back at least two years.

Jun 13, 2011 14:58 PM
rating: 0
 
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