Baseball lends itself to retrospection. Its rules tend to remain constant, and the limited number of ways in which one can throw or hit a baseball leaves room for today’s players to resemble yesterday’s players in one respect or another. Even baseball contracts beget retrospectives. When a player signs a new deal, we look to his past for hints about his future. The same goes for general managers, and you can bet that Athletics fans are feeling hopeful in the wake of Billy Beane’s reported upcoming pact with Oakland, which is set to run through the 2019 season.

Beane remains one of the league’s most recognizable executives—thanks in no small part to Moneyballs silver screen adaptation—despite the A’s last postseason berth coming in 2006. All of Oakland’s losing since has given Beane’s critics—those who question whether he’s more interested in soccer than baseball—a louder voice. Those who support Beane point to the A’s socioeconomic status while crediting his resourcefulness in avoiding the 100-loss mark; meanwhile, the Beane critics finger his regime’s inability to draft and develop players and insinuate that his inefficiency act no longer works. Consider the quotes John Perrotto gathered in his latest column if you believe those statements to be exaggerations.

Beane is a point of contention, but what else is new? For one, the complexions of the opposing groups. Early last decade, the battle lines matched up well with the ongoing struggle between sabermetricians and purported philistines. Discrediting the Beane doubters is no longer a matter of mocking their unwillingness to break from tradition. There are smart analysts out there who wonder if Beane got himself into this mess with iffy management. Formerly an immutable law of small-market contention, the idea of success cycles is now under fire by the same people who created the success cycle concept.

That the Rays are the proof of brilliance while the A’s have become mismanaged goofballs is an amusing thought. What are the Rays if not the new A’s? What were the A’s of Moneyball lore if not the new Indians? The names change, the stories don’t; each includes a group of baseball whiz kids neglected locally who overcome insurmountable odds. Winning against a stacked deck—or balling on a budget, as B.J. Upton put it—is a romantic idea. People like romantic ideas, and so they like watching The Little Team That Couldn’t Spend win. Once the winning stops, the fuzzy feelings leave, and doubt about management’s competency kicks in. Maybe the Rays will avoid this fate, but neither the Indians nor the A’s could.

One aspect of the Athletics’ fall that goes unnoticed is how their odds have worsened. One way to evaluate a small-market team’s chances is by using the Payroll Index, as I explained when I evaluated the Indians prior to the 2011 season:

Accomplishing such an exercise is easy by using methodology developed by Tom Tango. He goes into detail on the process, but essentially one can arrive at the desired results by finding the team’s Payroll Index—or simply dividing the team’s payroll by the league average, then multiplying by 100. Think of this number as OPS+ or ERA+ for payrolls, wherein a Payroll Index of 100 represents a league-average payroll, numbers above 100 represent more than, and anything below represents less than. From there, a team’s playoff odds can be found through a simple equation ((Payroll Index/2)-23).

Here is that same exercise applied to the post-Moneyball Athletics:


OAK Payroll

League Avg.

Payroll Index

























































Forget about succumbing to the odds: the A’s made the playoffs twice—and had legitimate shots in two other years—over a nine-year span that saw their average playoff expectancy sit at 12.8 percent. That has to be considered a success. So why deride Beane when, by this measure, he did about as well as you can ask? Because nobody cares about the above chart, and because that is how baseball works. If the roster underachieves, then you blame the manager. Once you roll through two managers, as the A’s have done since 2003, then you blame the general manager. That the A’s most marketable player is Coco Crisp doesn’t help Beane’s case, either:

Crisp’s selection gets to the heart of another matter: Oakland’s lack of impact players. Blame it in part on the team’s inability to lure top free agents to town. Sometimes that failure is cash-related, and other times—as with Adrian Beltre—it is a matter of Oakland being an undesirable home. If Oakland cannot sign free agents who are impact players and can trade for a proven impact player only every now and again (Matt Holliday being the most recent example), that puts the emphasis on drafting and developing.  Analyzing a team’s drafting ability is about as difficult a baseball topic as it’s possible to study, so the table below stops short of trying to analyze more than whom the A’s took, who became the best player, and how many of those players are projected to make the 2012 roster:


Top selection (pick number)

Best player

Picks on ‘12 team


Brad Sullivan (25th)

Andre Ethier (2nd-round)



Landon Powell (24th)

Huston Street (1st-round)



Cliff Pennington (21st)




Trevor Cahill (66th)




James Simmons (26th)




Jemile Weeks (12th)



*On a technicality—the A’s drafted Colin Cowgil, but did not sign him.

It isn’t clear whether the A’s are poor drafters, poor developers, or a combination of both. It is worth noting that the A’s have attempted to buttress their draft classes by being active in the international amateur market. Michael Ynoa (recovering from Tommy John surgery) and Yoenis Cespedes are the most notable additions on that front, but it remains too early to judge whether those signings worked out or not. The same applies to the A’s recent draft picks, like Grant Green, Michael Choice, and Sonny Gray. Add in a sprinkle of bad luck (Grant Desme retiring) as well some unfortunate non-signings (Gary Brown, Mike Leake, and Justin Smoak), and it makes sense that the A’s recent farm production has underwhelmed.

Keep in mind that the A’s have not picked earlier than 10th overall since 1999. Even next June, the A’s will select 11th. Why do the A’s continue to field better than basement-level teams given that odds of selecting a surefire impact talent slip quickly the deeper the first round goes? Would they not benefit more from taking a year or two off from being fringe-mediocre and gaining a top-five pick or two? As assistant general manager David Forst once told Kevin Goldstein:

I think you have to [try to rebuild and win at the same time]. We have an obligation, to ownership and our fans, to try and win now. There are not many teams in professional sports that can really go out there and credibly say, "You know what, we're going to punt this season." You can't do it, you can't do it in today's environment, so you have to rebuild and still put a credible product on the field at the same time. It's a tough balance, but we feel we've done it. We haven't sacrificed anyone's spot on the major-league roster where it would have hindered the development of a player or our team.

Oakland’s surest means of acquiring impact talent is trading veterans for prospects. And so, as Beane is wont to do, he spent the offseason shopping and trading veterans. All the bartering resulted in Beane spinning Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey off for six of the organization’s top 11 prospects (or six of the top 12, since Cespedes appears to be the A’s best prospect now).  Beane is building for the future again, hoping to experience that idyllic situation in which all of the team’s prospects develop, reach the majors, and mature into a good team over a three-to-five-year span. From there, the cycle begins anew—usually.

This cycle could be different if the ballpark deal with San Jose goes through. San Jose has become synonymous with hope and with the dream of keeping a few of those impact players in town beyond their first five or six seasons. That Beane did not jump to a new team could mean he thinks the new ballpark is going to happen. It could all fall apart, like Fremont—Beane will have an opt-out tied to the stadium, after all—but for now, he seems to buy in. To borrow an unspoken analytical parlance from back in the day: there must be something there if Beane bought in. Whether Beane’s latest rebuild will take the A’s back to the postseason remains to be seen. Just know that if Beane and the A’s fail, it won’t be because of a lack of commitment. 

Thank you for reading

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It seems pretty clear that the A's believe San Jose is a done deal. (Or done-ish, at the very least.) it will be extremely interesting to check in on Beane again in 3-4 years, with a stadium, a fan base, corporate/suite revenue streams, and a maturing crop of excellent prospects acquired this offseason.
Encouraging to hear the continued manlove round here for billy, even as a diamond level season ticket holder I'm a wee bit suspicious he didn't 'punt' the 2012 campaign to cut in line for better draft position as he needs a Strassberg or Harper-type to make up for the assorted poor returns of late.
Everything pointed out here is right on, but there was not enough delineation between the two eras of the just last nine years - which was the sample used.
The first four were the ones he gets credit for, not the past five of matching middling lineups.
The distinct shift that happened kind of got missed here...
Even with the sub 500 campaigns he leveraged payroll well with multiuser deals on young guys - subsequently trading some - but the fact remains the Rays have seen October 3 of the last 4 yrs with a similar set of circumstances while Billy's going to the oscars
To be up front, I think Billy Beane is the most overrated baseball executive in the past 15 years. But what I don't understand is the willingness of those who think he has done a good job to give him a free pass on his lack of a cohesive plan for the franchise. No other GM is part owner of a team and no other GM has received *2* 7 year contracts as a GM. And yet I challenge anyone to give me an outline of the plan the A's have been on for his tenure.

Based upon the evidence above, his draft record is poor. His free agent signings have been mediocre. And he put his eggs in the wrong contract extension basket (Chavez). But from my vantage point, the worst thing he has done is field a bunch of uninteresting, hard-to-market teams and backed that up with boring managers.

And that to me is Beane's biggest transgression - complete and utter failure to look at the big picture of the franchise. So the stadium sucks and is hard to get to...wah, wah, wah. It is what it is. So field teams that have characters to increase TV viewing. Have a manager that tries crazy things for publicity. Draft higher than 11th place once in awhile to get a buzz draft pick. Do SOMETHING that has a chance to change your circumstances.

But Beane's track record says he will not. Because he knows that he will not be criticized for being mediocre in a bad situation. And the quote above from his assistant just reinforces the idea that the koolaid has already been drunk and there's another 4 cases in the back waiting to be made.
Name a franchise that has a worse stadium. Name a franchise that has a worse market. Name a franchise with worse revenue potential. Beane deals with this all the time. He KNOWS, for example, that any star the team develops, he will not be able to hang on to once the player's arbitration years, or free agency, opens up. Are these things other clubs have had to deal with? Yes. Any one do this better than Beane? Maybe Tampa, but only for the last (maybe) five years, and only after being horrific for the years before that, and in the process piling up high draft picks, which Beane has not done, because in his market he can't take an "off" year. Beane is not a genius, and not a saint, but name someone who has consistently done better with what he has had available? The exaggerations belong to others, not Beane, who is fairly modest about what he has achieved. But he'll never get a break.
I think the problem is a lack of creativity. For example:

Tampa deal with the arbitration/free agency thing by offering extensions very early.
Other teams (Tampa and Toronto, for example) collected draft picks
Other teams go over-slot to counteract not having high picks (including Pittsburgh, KC and other low revenue teams)
Some teams really work hard on the international side of things, like Texas, and are reaping the dividends.
The A's mostly complain about how awful their situation is.
The stadium sucks, but it is most definitely NOT hard to get to.

(It didn't used to suck before Mount Davis was built.)
"So the stadium sucks and is hard to get to...wah, wah, wah. It is what it is. So field teams that have characters to increase TV viewing. Have a manager that tries crazy things for publicity."

Chuck LaMarr? Is that you?
Thanks R.J., it's always nice to see a reality check. As a long-time A's fan, I think Billy is not the genius he was once portrayed as, but I do feel like he (and ownership) really believes that finishing with an abysmal record (and therefore a high draft pick) would decrease attendance even more (although I think that's debatable, but they clearly believe it), and without high draft picks, he has a more difficult time developing talent. Going overslot on draft picks more often was another area I think he missed in, but now that's going to be taken away with the new CBA, unfortunately. So he's left with "trade vets for young'uns" and "sign a really old veteran and pray", which picks up a few wins here or there. Thanks for the reminder that We really have seen some impressive success in the big picture.
The A's have always been my favorite team. I had been away from the game(mass media really, but I would check scores and standings from time to time) for 4 year and made a return last season. my first with

I fell in love with the game. I watched every A's game last season, and games that they didn't play in. I watched a lot of Baseball. I will continue to do so, as I enjoy watching a game, no matter who is playing. Not true, it matters which players are playing, especially which pitchers are starting. I enjoy watching a great pitcher at work.

During my "baseball Renaissance" I discover sites like this which I didn't even know existed. I had never heard of WAR before last year.

Now, I subscribe to this site for my baseball #'s. I also enjoy baseball reference, Baseball America, MLB Depth Charts, & FanGraphs. SB Nation is ok as well. None of this was on my radar before last year. SO it has been "heaven" so to speak.
I look forward to the 2013 baseball season more then I have looked forward to the start of a season in ANY sport.

Anyway, back to this article. The article that inspired me to comment as such.

2012 is in the books, and obviously, Billy's deals from last off season paid off handsomely.

The stadium situation needs to be figured out for sure, but I hope the fans return this season. I live in Newfoundland Canada, so I won't be making any games in person this season... maybe next. I was to an A's game in 93. I won't get into it now except it was cool seeing Mark McGwire, Rickey Henderson, just 4 rows back of the home dug-out. To me being there, in Oakland... at the coliseum was magical... it would be even more so now, with my greater appreciation for life...and baseball. It certainly seemed magical there last year during that final home stand and play-off.

This link ( ) shows how the current team is made up.

Forgive me if there is a way to see that here at Baseball Prospectus. I would have referenced it instead.

It's interesting though, going though the teams. 23 players on the A's current 40 man roster have been picked up since 2011. That's pretty crazy... but with a look, they aren't the only crazy ones.

Bal - 23
Bos - 20
NYY - 10
T.B.- 15
Tor - 17

CWS - 11
Cle - 15
Det - 12
Min - 18
K.C - 11

Hou - 23
LAA - 19
Oak - 23
Sea - 18
Tex - 14

Atl - 12
Mia - 18
NYM - 11
Phi - 12
Wsh - 13

CHC - 21
Cin - 12
Mil - 13
Pit - 16
STL - 8

Ari - 19
Col - 14
LAD - 20
S.D.- 16
S.F.- 12

They are tied with Houston & Baltimore, with ONLY the Cardinals with less then 10 players.

Boston & the Dodgers had massive turnover as well obviously, as did the Blu Jays & Marlins... partly because of the major deals involving each. The Cubs as well had 20.

The only other clubs 15 or over were Tampa, Arizona, San Diego, the Angels, Cleveland and the Pirates. Minnesota and Seattle are there too.

Add em up and that's 16...over half of the league has changed their 40 man rosters over almost %50 or more.

I am learning more and more about this game, and this league. One thing is for certain.

Nothing is for certain.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. And welcome to BP!
Cheers Ben!

I enjoy Effectively wild by the way. Keep up the good work.

Glad you like it. Thanks for listening.