For A’s, it’s more of same old same new 

click to enlarge A’s pitcher Kendall Graveman, a likely rotation member, was one of the 27 players involved in nine trades Oakland made in the offseason. - DARRON CUMMINGS/AP PHOTO
  • Darron Cummings/AP Photo
  • A’s pitcher Kendall Graveman, a likely rotation member, was one of the 27 players involved in nine trades Oakland made in the offseason.
The guy for the A’s invariably is named Billy. There was manager Billy Martin in the early 1980s, virtually homegrown (Berkeley, next door), who knew what he had in roster talent. So he created a force-the-issue style, which the late columnist Ralph Wiley labeled “Billy Ball.”

The man in charge nearly the last 18 years, from 1997 to the present to be specific, has been general manager Billy Beane. He knew what he didn’t have, mainly cash. Aided by a few people who brought new thinking to the sport, he developed an idea that author Michael Lewis called “Moneyball.”

This Billy is a bean counter, a realist, a pragmatist, caring not a whit for continuity or chemistry. His athletes come and go like the seasons — and I don’t mean the seasons of baseball. Yoenis Cespedes? He was around here a minute ago, wasn’t he?

From the end of the 2014 season, when Oakland built an early lead in the AL wild-card game against Kansas City only to buzz out later, the A’s made nine trades involving 27 players. Once again, the biggest challenge in spring training was to attach the new names to the new faces.

Manager Bob Melvin, who grew up on the Peninsula, attended Cal and played for the Giants, is philosophical about all the change.

“Your team makes nine trades involving 27 players,” Melvin acknowledged. “That doesn’t happen often.”

The A’s play in a ballpark where the drains overflow. They also play for an owner who must wake up mumbling the lyrics to the old Burt Bacharach song “Do you know the way to San Jose,” inevitably playing better than anybody would imagine.

Beane, as all top baseball types, knows well that pitching wins. Now that the dust has settled, the additions of Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Tyler Clippard to a staff that already had Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Drew Pomeranz, Sean Doolittle and Jesse Chavez leave an abundance of pitching. Depending how things fall, ex-Giant Barry Zito could be in the mix as well.

Stephen Vogt and newcomer Josh Phegley will platoon behind the plate, which has the potential to be another position of strength.

I once told Beane, “Your team has no buzz.” Unhesitatingly, he came back, “You call it buzz, I call it noise.” In a way, the A’s have made plenty of noise — eight playoff appearances the last 18 years and AL West championships in 2012 and 2013.

It’s just every time the A’s have a star or a leader, that man is history. See ya.

The A’s are the last team in the majors to share a stadium also used for football. Beane and president Lew Wolff contend that, if they had a modern, baseball-only park with a large season-ticket base, top players would be given long-term contracts.

But at O.Co Coliseum, with its very unaesthetic display of tarp-covered seats, weekday gate counts often are around 12,000 to 15,000, hardly the sort of turnout needed to increase the payroll. Oakland has done well with Beane squeezing and pinching, but it’s the big spenders in baseball who usually fare best in the victory and attendance standings.

Where the A’s are at the top is in player movement. Branch Rickey once emphasized it was better to get rid of someone a year too early than a year too late, but he didn’t say everyone. OK, so Coco Crisp has been with the A’s for five years. He’s an aberration. And this year, he’s also a left fielder, moving from center after a spring with an injured elbow.

The infield also has a new look. Josh Donaldson has been replaced by Brett Lawrie, a third baseman who if he stays healthy might show why the Milwaukee Brewers made him the 16th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Cal product Marcus Semien, the former prized Chicago White Sox prospect who combines speed and some power, will get a hard look at shortstop.

Ben Zobrist, an All-Star acquired from Tampa Bay for catcher John Jaso and two prospects, will be at second base, unless he’s in the outfield. In that case, Eric Sogard, he of the spectacles and ninth spot in the batting order, will be at second. At first will be either Ike Davis or Billy Butler, who with the Kansas City Royals taunted the Giants in a World Series that, deep breath, finally was won by San Francisco.

Davis has enough power to hit the ball to any part of the ballpark, at least one scout believes, but only if he commits to not just being a big pull guy.

Davis was the New York Mets minor-league Player of the Year in 2009 and hit 32 home runs for them in 2012. But three weeks into the 2014 season, Davis was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, from whom he was acquired for an exchange of international draft slots.

Josh Reddick, like Crisp, is a holdover. The outfielder missed a month of spring training with an oblique injury. That didn’t appear to bother him as much as the roster revisions, but Reddick has been around the A’s long enough not to be surprised by personnel moves.

At first, Reddick was disappointed when he learned of the many moves. But like a lot of his teammates, it didn’t take long for him to come around.

For better or for worse, the A’s are still the A’s.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and Email him at

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Art Spander

Art Spander

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and Email him at
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