Opening victory shows A’s system is intact 

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  • Eric Risberg/AP
  • thletics' Stephen Vogt, right, is greeted by teammates Billy Butler (16) and Brett Lawrie (15) after hitting a three-run home run off Texas Rangers relief pitcher Phil Klein.
OAKLAND — This is how the A’s survive.

You learn to love them, then they are gone. You fall for a team, and before the marriage proposal, a breakup comes in a flurry of wheels and deals. Then, in true knee-jerk sports reaction, pessimism dumps all over the East Bay in a winter downpour.

But once the sun brightens and the rainbows mesmerize, realizations say the A’s are a pretty smart organization. This season, which started on a 56-degree Monday night with rain and a no-hitter threatening, is no different. The A’s find ways to make it work here in the doldrums of Coliseum, the place where Sonny Gray lost a no-hitter in the eighth inning and the A’s thumped the Texas Rangers 8-0 on Opening Night. Ben Zobrist and Stephen Vogt hit home runs for the winners.

“The way we do things around here, there’s going to be some turnover, and if you don’t embrace it, then you’re going to have a tough time with it,” manager Bob Melvin said. “In my experience here, the turnover has always been good. That’s what happened in 2012, and I see a lot of similarities in 2015.”

The process and success are not foreign anymore.

This is Billy Beane’s 18th season as the team’s general manager. All of them have had embarrassingly low payrolls. They’ve all been played in a mistake of a baseball stadium. Some required rebuilds or retools before valuable players were lost for virtually nothing. Fewer resulted in playoff berths. Zero ended with World Series celebrations.

This current one sees the A’s 27th out of 30 in payroll. It will be played in a stadium where the toilets might or might not flush properly on any given evening. And while maybe it was not quite yet that, it reloaded into what could be another American League West contender.

“You let their system play out because it works, and they’ve made the playoffs a lot more than other organizations with those payrolls,” said veteran Billy Butler, who signed with Oakland as a free agent after eight years with relatively poor Kansas City. “You realize they probably know what they are doing. They have to continually make moves because of the payroll they have. They make it work.”

How this latest overhaul ends will be found out six, possibly seven months from now. How it started was with the organization’s first Opening Day victory in 11 years in front of a fanbase that has confidence in Beane, packing despite him trading away five All-Stars since July 31.

For those moves, Beane has been vilified by some critics. Uneducated critics scream Moneyball does not work, pointing to the more traditionally managed Giants as the Bay Area baseball model despite Oakland having more playoff appearances since Beane’s appointment.

Last season was a gold mine for those people. The A’s raced to the majors’ best record, and Beane made calculated trades for Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija to construct one of the best rotations in the sport, trading slugger Yoenis Cespedes in the process.

The A’s tanked soon after. The offense gagged and Beane’s shuttling of Cespedes was thrown back in his smug mug. They barely made the playoffs, and when they did, Lester did not give an ace performance.

Beane went for it. The team failed. Another retool began. Gone were Samardzija, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Derek Norris along with top prospect Addison Russell.

Beane took his shots, as he did in December 2011, when he traded three All-Star pitchers and doomed the A’s to 90 losses, at least according to his detractors. After that blur of trades, the A’s answered with back-to-back division titles, three consecutive playoff berths and Beane’s Executive of the Year award in 2012.

They say tenure in sports can be a bad thing. Assistant GM David Forst is a wanted commodity, as was fellow assistant GM Farhan Zaidi before the Los Angeles Dodgers tapped him for GM duties. Forst is likely ready to guide his own team, but Beane is still well in command here, even when national pundits are chucking rotting seagulls at his commitment to winning.

In Oakland, Beane is trusted. Once in a while, fans cram themselves into this green and gray monstrosity for that reason. They believe in his track record, hoping, one day, playoff randomness will give in to a bottom-feeding payroll. This is how the A’s and Beane survive, with names like Craig Gentry, Sam Fuld and Eric Sogard, castoffs turned contributors.

And just like this Opening Night, the wins may just keep coming.

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Anthony Witrado

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