Billy Beane’s iconoclastic genius was immortalized in the silver-screen rendition of Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball,” but the A’s outdid Hollywood last summer, spinning a tale that wouldn’t have been believable had it been fiction.
Yes, the 2012 A’s are a tough act to follow, but Beane’s subtle string of moves this offseason should allow his team to put together a respectable follow-up performance.
Beane blew up the A’s core after the 2011 season, trading All-Stars Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey in exchange for a plethora of young talent. This time around, his moves were less boisterous, but he added depth, providing insurance against the A’s two Achilles’ heels: injuries and the sophomore slump.
The A’s outfield may seem overloaded with the addition of Chris Young, but trading for the seven-year veteran is a stroke of brilliance.
Yoenis Cespedes missed 33 games last season with a string of fluky injuries, and the East Bay held its breath every time his name went missing from the lineup. But with Young’s acquisition, the A’s are protected against the possibility that Cespedes could be injury-prone.
But what if Cespedes stays healthy? Young can also fill in for Coco Crisp, who missed games with ear and eye infections last year, or Josh Reddick, who ran into horrendous slumps late in the year.
Reddick is one of the biggest question marks heading into the season. He played more than 100 games for the first time last year and another 32-home run, 85-RBI performance is hardly a guarantee.
But if Cespedes, Crisp and Reddick do live up to expectations, Young will be a killer DH, and Seth Smith’s presence on the bench creates a “my job is never safe” dynamic that will kill any complacency in the outfield.
Bob Melvin will also have options on the mound with the re-signing of Bartolo Colon. Parting ways with Brandon McCarthy was unfortunate in the wake of his skull fracture, but spending $9 million a year on a pitcher who spent two stints on the disabled list with shoulder soreness doesn’t make sense.
The A’s possess an arsenal of young arms with Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Brett Anderson, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. But Anderson left Sunday’s game with a trapezius muscle strain, and none of these pitchers is immune from struggles at some point this year.
Last season, the A’s always seemed to have an arm waiting in the reserves when calamity struck, and by bringing back Colon, Beane is re-creating a dynamic that helped push his team into the playoffs.
Signing Hiroyuki Nakajima to a two-year, $6.5 million contract is another low-cost move with tremendous upside.
The A’s didn’t get much production out of the shortstop position last year, so if he busts, they aren’t losing anything.
But the A’s are lacking veteran leadership — one of those fuzzy variables that Sabermetricians seem to dismiss — with the departure of McCarthy, Jonny Gomes and Brandon Inge. Only time will reveal how it impacts the club.
At this point, though, Beane has earned the benefit of the doubt. His team may not duplicate its 2012 performance, but with a second wild card and depth across the board, another appearance in October seems plausible.
Paul Gackle is a regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner and also writes at www.gacklereport.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.