Billy Beane loves to pull the trigger on deals for players, but you wonder if he shot himself in the foot this time.
Trading gifted left fielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for coveted starter Jon Lester is like trading a short-term buzz for a long-term hangover.
It weakens the A’s lineup by dealing an all-world talent who was still under contract next season for a pitcher who will bolt from Oakland at the end of this season. Yeah, neither Cespedes nor Lester will be in Oakland in 2015.
How does that make sense? It doesn’t if you are the Giants. They did nothing Thursday and were ripped by their fans for inaction while the A’s were the talk of baseball.
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We have no way of knowing which of these warring cultures is right or wrong this year. All we know is both are sticking to their systems.
The Giants have heavily marketed, identifiable stars playing set positions for lots of money in a waterside ballpark that’s as close to paradise as you can get.
In the “Moneyball” system of Oakland, the deals are the attraction. The general manager – the supreme leader – is the star.
A’s fans are more like disciples to a mantra: “In Billy We Trust.” They chant it from a concrete pit of a stadium left over from the Soviet era. You can worship Beane, and many do, but you better not get attached to A’s players. They are interchangeable pieces.
The upside of what Beane did Thursday is that he put all his chips on changing a narrative of opponents celebrating on their field in October.
The A’s potential playoff rotation is now formidable: Lester, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray and Jeff Samardzija. With Kazmir, Lester and Gray, the A’s have three of the top-10 ERA leaders in the American League. Lester also strengthens the A’s bullpen by shifting Jesse Chavez and Jason Hammel from starters to relief roles in the postseason.
With the Detroit Tigers acquiring Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price before Lester could even try on an A’s hat, Beane also proved he can sense the pulse of baseball.
It’s all set up now for an arms race where Detroit has a rotation of David Price, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander.
If the season ended tomorrow, the A’s would play the wild-card team in the first round of the playoffs while Detroit faced Baltimore. But the season doesn’t end tomorrow. Baltimore and the Los Angeles Angels haven’t gotten the memo that the A’s and Tigers will meet in the American League Championship Series.
One could argue that the Tigers outpitched the A’s the past two Octobers and therefore Beane’s calculation is perfectly understandable.
But the truth is the A’s were outpitched and outhit. Cespedes was one of only two A’s batters who had any success against Detroit pitching last October – the other being center fielder Coco Crisp.
In five gut-wrenching playoff games, Cespedes hit .381 with a home run and a team-leading four RBIs. By contrast, Josh Donaldson hit .143 with 0 RBIs. Brandon Moss hit .111 with one RBI. Josh Reddick hit .235 with one RBI. As a team, the A’s batted .217 and were typified by Moss, who struck out a whopping 13 times.
This year, Cespedes made headlines for his unreal throws from the outfield. He was very popular in the clubhouse and, as he proved again by winning the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game, he can elevate his game in the big moments.
You can see Beane’s mind working: Next year would likely have been the final year Cespedes played in Oakland before leaving for free agency. Beane wanted value for that and got it with Lester and the return of former A’s favorite Jonny Gomes as a throw-in.
But itonly becomes valuable if this trade works – if it propels the A’s past the Tigers and into the World Series.
The conventional wisdom is that Beane will spend the rest of the season under pressure and take a hit to his reputation if his gambit fails.
Anyone who follows the A’s knows this is false. Beane and his system rule the roost in their little universe and the outside world will merely shrug and cite the A’s relative poverty as a reason they lose to the big teams in October.
It’s the ultimate genius of Moneyball – the absence of consequences for deals that fail.