As far as GMs with the most name recognition in baseball, there are none more famous than Billy Beane. There certainly aren’t any out there who are played by Brad Pitt in a major motion picture. Yet what most people don’t realize is that Beane isn’t even the GM of the A’s anymore. A few years back, Beane was promoted from GM of the A’s to president of baseball operations, and David Forst (his handpicked successor) was installed as GM. For awhile Beane disappeared from the public eye as Forst gave more and more of the interviews. This became even more noticeable when the A’s entered into a slide of 3 straight years of finishing at the bottom of the AL West. Was Moneyball dead? Was Beane full of shit all along? Could the A’s pull themselves out of the cellar without a payroll of more than $30 million dollars? Turns out the answer to all of those was an emphatic “maybe.”
The 2018 season for the A’s resulted in a gigantic turnaround that saw them finish six games behind the 2017 WS winners Houston and score themselves a wild card birth. Granted, that wild card birth resulted in a 7-2 thrashing at the hands of the Yankees, but at least some life had been shown by the once scrappy team. The A’s were able to claw themselves back into relevance with timely hitting and a loaded bullpen that was completely rebuilt by Beane and Forst in the previous offseason. Subscribing to the formula made successful by Cleveland the previous year, they loaded up with Juerys Familia and Shawn Kelley. They also had Blake Trienen and his career year anchoring them down in the 9th inning. Fangraphs had them with the 6th best bullpen in the league with a total of 6.0 WAR. Compared to the previous year when they were 23rd in the league with 1.9 in WAR. That’s a gigantic turnaround, and (credit where its due) that’s due to some smooth moves by Forst and Beane.
This offseason he started out by prying super utility guy Jurickson Profar away from the Rangers, then adding even more to his misfit bullpen by signing Old Friend Jokim Soria to a 2 year deal. He also attempted to shore up a weak looking rotation by signing Mike Fiers, Brett Anderson and Marco Estrada to low cost deals. He also signed Khris Davis to a long term extension, one of the most expensive contracts ever given out in his tenure with the A’s.
So where did signing all of these “Beane Guys” get them? Well the A’s rotation, despite most fans needing google to identify most of them, has been one of the best in baseball. Mike Fiers (yeah, that same guy who exploded Giancarlo Stanton’s jaw awhile back) threw a no hitter earlier, and Frankie Montas and Brett Anderson were on pace for career years. At least until Montas was busted for performance enhancing substances a few weeks back. Davis is doing Khris Davis things, and the other found talents in his lineup (Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, Josh Phegley) continue to hit for both power and average. Even after all of these years, the A’s are still able to cobble together playoff-caliber teams from the spare parts of other clubs and this season appears to be no different.
All of the above are hallmarks of a Billy Beane-led team. So while he may not be in front of the cameras now nearly as much as he used to be, his muppet David Forst is clearly still under his orders. Nothing truly changes with Beane’s thrift shop approach to building and maintaining a MLB franchise. There’s no doubt it’s had it’s successes, but wins have never translated into attendance for Oakland. Granted, a fair amount of that blame can be put on their converted football stadium and the continuing haunting of the outfield by the ghost of Al Davis. Some of that is just the lackadaisical approach to fandom most of the Bay Area takes to pro sports. I would pin most of it on his team’s reliability to flame out in the opening rounds of the MLB postseason. As it stands right now the A’s are on a collision course with Tampa Bay, the team currently doing Moneyball better than the creator of it, and I would expect Oakland’s journey to end no differently than in past seasons. You can practically set your watch to it. So in the end, he can hide behind the scenes, but he can never truly escape the fact that to win in MLB these days, Moneyball alone gets you nothing but an average baseball movie starring Brad Pitt and the guy from the GIF making the “nah man, stop it” motion with his hand.