Since it was first introduced in 2002 and made into a book a year later by Michael Lewis, much has been made about Billy Beane’s general managerial style, appropriately dubbed “Moneball” for it’s ability to effectively maximize a team’s payroll and turn it into wins. Moneyball is all about exploiting market inefficiencies, like the value of walks and minor league power hitters. Its about putting an appropriate price tag on everything on the baseball field so that teams pay players for exactly what they’re worth. This approach works for the A’s, and more and more GMs have tried to replicate Beane’s efforts over the years, some very successfully (see Theo Epstein and the 2004 Red Sox and the most recent Sports Illustrated edition on Jeff Luhnow and the Astros).
As much as he’s admired around the game, Beane showed off another aspect of his game on July 4th, eliciting a collective wow from analysts, fans, and everyone familiar with the everyday rumors. The A’s acquired Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs for top prospect Addison Russell, top pick Billy McKinney, and starter Dan Straily. That Samardzija would be traded is not all that unexpected, given that he has only a year and half of team control left in his contract and that he plays for the Cubs, but the real kicker was that the A’s allowed Russell to be included in the deal, and for anyone other than David Price. Quite simply, this was a fearless move by Billy Beane, because you just don’t see teams give up two of their top prospects in one trade anymore, especially for two guys who will only be Oakland Athletics for a year in Samardzija and Hammel.
Obviously, we can’t rightly form judgements on this trade for at least a year, or even until we see how McKinney and Russell fare in their Major league careers, but I like Billy Beane’s aggressive mentality. The A’s were already the best team in baseball, in the middle of a relatively weak AL west, and rivaled really by only the Tigers who have their fair share of holes; why not take a chance and improve their chances to play for a World Series? Take your best shot at a World Series while still have a shot. We’ve seen countless instances where teams took their success for granted, didn’t win that year, and haven’t been back since (see the 2012 Nationals and Stephen Strasburg). That doesn’t make the A’s-Cubs trade a good decision for Beane, because obviously there is a counterargument, but aggression like this is rarely seen nowadays in big league GMs.
More on this topic later.