Tag: Billy Beane

Ranking MLB’s Top 10 General Managers

The MLB clubs that consistently make October runs don’t just have stars on the diamond and master button-pressers in the dugout, they also have savvy general managers calling the shots in the front office.

From Brian Cashman in the Bronx to Billy Beane and Brian Sabean on opposite sides of the Bay, there are all sorts of top-flight execs around the league.

As the 2015 season approaches, now is the perfect time to sift through the array of candidates and build a list of the best of the best. In the process of constructing the top 10, a variety of factors were taken into consideration. Here are the four most important:

  1. The number of World Series titles—after all, that’s what it’s all about
  2. The number of playoff appearances
  3. The GMs’ track record on the trade block, the free-agent front and in the draft
  4. The Payroll Limitation Factor

That final bullet point requires a bit of explaining. Baseball is not an even playing field—not even close. Last year, the Los Angeles Dodgers opened up the season with a $229 million payroll, while the Miami Marlins fell at the opposite side of the spectrum with just under $46 million in commitments.

The idea of the “Payroll Limitation Factor” is to take that drastic disparity into consideration in the ranking process. Each GM gets a score from zero to five, with zero representing no limitations and five representing the most. As a result, the GMs are graded on the basis of what they’ve accomplished with the means available.

Cashman, Beane and Sabean all end up near the top of the list, but none of them claims the distinction of the No. 1 spot.

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Oakland Athletics: No Matter What, Billy Beane Will Always Keep A’s Competitive

With the production of the film Moneyball back in 2011, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane became a nationally known figure.

Since that outstanding movie’s release, the A’s have been even more successful and Beane has been even more daring.

The Athletics have made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons—two American League West titles and one Wild Card Game appearance—which is the most consecutive postseason appearances under Beane.

Even though they have failed to advance to the next round in any of those years, it’s hard to argue with that kind of success in a frugal environment like Oakland.

Not only is Beane very smart, but he is also so innovative that it’s incredibly hard for the rest of the game to keep up.

Moneyball mainly outlined the importance Beane placed on patience and getting on base, but now he is adjusting his philosophy a bit to concentrate on getting maximum production out of all 25 roster spots. In other words, he feels that loading up on platoon players is the most efficient way to allocate the meager resources he is given.

Joe Lemire summed it up nicely in an article he wrote last year for the Wall Street Journal:

Part of Oakland’s motivation was to maximize all 25 roster spots in a contending season; platoons are a cost effective way of generating production, as two part-time players tend to cost less than one full-time regular. 

Beane was already revered as a genius, and he could have stuck with his notion of getting on base and would still be considered among the best executives in baseball. But he is never satisfied, especially without a ring, and that is why from now on the A’s will always be legitimate contenders.

Because Beane won’t allow them not to be.

How often can a team trade, over the course of 14 months, three Baseball America Top 100 prospects in Grant Green, Michael Choice and Addison Russell, trade an All-Star outfielder in Yoenis Cespedes, trade away one of the best third basemen in the game in Josh Donaldson, fail to re-sign All-Star pitchers Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, and still have a legitimate chance to compete in arguably the toughest division in baseball?

Not often at all, but in Oakland it is just another day at the office.

The A’s have 16 players on the roster who weren’t with the club at all last year, including eight pitchers according to ESPN.com’s Christina Kahrl.

This offseason, the Oakland front office has pursued plenty of different faces. Ben Zobrist, Billy Butler, Brett Lawrie and Ike Davis were among the club’s major hitting additions, while Jesse Hahn and Tyler Clippard should contribute to the pitching staff.

While they don’t have any true superstars anymore, they definitely have a slew of above-average players who have the potential to be a very good team.

Baseball Prospectus projects the A’s to win 84 games, finish third in the AL West and make the playoffs as the second wild-card team. Fangraphs is even more optimistic, predicting Oakland to be good for 88 wins.

How a team that overhauled most of its premier players from last year can even be close to competitive is a miracle, and the fact that the A’s have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs is simply remarkable.

I am going to say that they will make the playoffs. I think the Zobrist addition and the host of other platoon options gives Bob Melvin the most flexibility of any manager in the league.

The pitching will be solid, especially in cavernous O.co Coliseum, and they will score just enough runs to win games.

Also, maybe most importantly, if the A’s are in the hunt when the trade deadline comes around, Beane will do everything in his power to add any pieces necessary to win.

Beane has never overseen a World Series victory, and he maybe never will, but the way he is able to maximize his team and keep them toward the top of the standings seemingly every year is absolutely phenomenal.

I’m not a gambler, but if I were to put money on how the A’s will do in 2015, there is no way I could bet against Billy Beane

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Ben Zobrist Trade Transforms A’s from Winter Enigma to AL West Threat

The Oakland A’s have planned to contend in 2015 all along.

While they were dumping All-Stars and stockpiling younger talent over the last two months, they were still planning on making their now-annual run at the top of their division. Billy Beane is still the organization’s general manager, and he still can draw his six shooter with the best in the American League West.

The A’s pulled off a stunning trade Saturday in what has been an offseason full of them, particularly for Oakland. Beane acquired second baseman/utility man Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Tampa Bay Rays, pushing the A’s into contending position with a steady lineup and good-looking pitching staff.

It cost them, though. The Rays received Oakland’s top prospect, as rated by Baseball America last month and the publication’s No. 39 prospect overall, shortstop Daniel Robertson. Catcher John Jaso and outfielder prospect Boog Powell also go to Tampa Bay. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle first reported the trade Saturday morning, and others trickled in with further details.

Several baseball pundits and analysts have criticized Beane’s offseason moves, but those people had tunnel vision. The A’s were not being blown up, and the GM was not the bad guy. He was again surviving in the environment he’d been placed in and had a plan on how to do so the entire time.

“Billy is about as good as it gets as far as being able to handle that balance, keeping us competitive currently and looking down the road for the future,” A’s manager Bob Melvin told Slusser a month ago after the team traded away Brandon Moss.

When Beane was shuttling out All-Stars Josh Donaldson, Moss, Jeff Samardzija and Derek Norris, he was looking toward the future. His move to acquire Zobrist and Escobar, as when he traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester last July, is playing to win immediately.

Starting with that Cespedes deal, the A’s have dealt away five All-Stars in the last five-plus months, a block of trades that have sent some scrambling to put Beane in the stocks while prompting others to preach patience as we see how it ultimately plays out.

Now we know. The A’s are pretty much done making moves now, and here is what we know heading into spring training in about five weeks: Their lineup is solid with an upgraded infield overall, they have a good starting rotation even without Lester and Samardzija, and the bullpen is still one of the best in the majors.

After double-checking the math, that outlook is pretty damn good.

“That total rebuild is not something we really believe in, and not something Billy or I want to do,” A’s assistant GM David Forst told Eno Sarris of FanGraphs last month. “It’s not enjoyable to sit through six months of a season and lose 95-100 games. Luckily, I’ve never had to do it.”

This year will not be any different. The A’s plan to play for a fourth consecutive playoff berth and a third division title in four years. With the addition of Zobrist, who is in a contract year, this team will contend.

If you don’t know Zobrist’s skill set or what he is worth to a team, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Zobrist is the most underrated, undervalued player in the game who can play multiple positions, though he will primarily play second base for Oakland.

Making $7.5 million next season, Zobrist has a 23.2 WAR since 2011 based on FanGraphs’ calculations. That is the fourth-highest total in the American League during that time, trailing a trio of superstars in Mike Trout (29.1), Miguel Cabrera (26.5) and Robinson Cano (24.3).

In each of the last six seasons, only Zobrist and Cabrera have been worth at least a 4.5 WAR by the Baseball-Reference.com calculation.

The A’s are losing a couple of highly regarded prospects in this deal—Powell was the Class-A Midwest League All-Star Game MVP last season before being suspended 50 games for amphetamines—but people can’t complain when Beane builds for the future, or future trades, and when he goes for it in the now.

That double standard is undeserved, especially since virtually the entire baseball-loving world slammed Beane for his “rebuild” before the 2012 season when he traded away three All-Stars only to win the division the following two years.

Beane’s track record earned him the benefit of the doubt during all of his earlier trades this offseason, even if he did not get it from everyone. This Zobrist/Escobar trade is why. Before Saturday, knee-jerk reactors had the A’s being a terrible baseball team next season. That was always laughable considering what remained, mainly a very good rotation and bullpen.

Now, those same people may very well call the A’s contenders even though Zobrist by himself does not make them such.

Beane traded away his recognized talent, but plenty is left, much of it still unrecognized by casual observers. With a spotlight on Beane and the A’s in 2015, the rest of the talent will soon be known commodities.

And maybe this offseason will be the reason people are patient with Beane if he makes other trades shortly down the road.


Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane Is Working as a Competent Executive, Not a Villain

This has to stop.

Hearts are broken, and that is certainly understandable. But the screaming has to stop. Now.

Billy Beane is not a villain. He is not a moron. He is not attempting to piss off anyone who has ever cheered for the Oakland Athletics.

And most importantly, he is not trying to lose. To think that is his goal is not only ridiculous but also completely ignorant.

Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s, has traded four All-Star players in the last five months. The Yoenis Cespedes trade last summer was to make the A’s better immediately, as Beane believed his club was good enough then to win a World Series with an ace pitcher. After a postseason exit, Josh DonaldsonJeff Samardzija and Brandon Moss were dealt to make Oakland better in the long run.

Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan broke the Moss deal on Monday, and the Samardzija trade was announced by the A’s just 24 hours later.

These trades have people—many of them intelligent human beings and some of them Oakland players—baffled and/or livid. But the moves show that Beane is looking out for the team’s future.

“If you wait too long, you cost yourself a number of years,” Beane told the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Susan Slusser.

Beane was referring to years of being a competitive team and his failure to retool after the team went to the American League Championship Series in 2006. After that playoff run, the A’s missed the postseason the next five seasons.

He learned from that mistake. After the 2007 season, he traded 27-year-old Nick Swisher and acquired Gio Gonzalez. In 2008, he traded 26-year-old Rich Harden, who had a 2.34 ERA at the time. That trade brought in Donaldson. Then, after the 2011 season, Beane moved Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey, all of whom were All-Stars, and he was pounded by a media contingent that then predicted the A’s would finish last in 2012.

The A’s went on to win the division the following two seasons and have made the postseason in the three years since that trade.

“Billy is about as good as it gets as far as being able to handle that balance, keeping us competitive currently and looking down the road for the future,” A’s manager Bob Melvin told Slusser.

Melvin gets it. These latest moves are proactive. They aren’t a way to simply dump salary and pocket the savings. This is replacing the carpet before anyone realizes it needs to be replaced—a metaphor owner Lew Wolff likes to use when describing Beane’s methods of operation.

People can gripe about the young players the A’s got in return for Donaldson, Moss and Samardzija if they want. Those debates happen in most trades. But also understand that Oakland still thinks it can compete in 2015. The pitching is still good, even without Lester and Samardzija.

Beane is not done working here. He is not tanking for 2015. He is attempting to compete in a pretty good division with different personnel.

“We still have an awesome pitching staff,” All-Star closer Sean Doolittle said, per Slusser. “And it’s still early. Who knows what other moves we make?

“It’s such a cop-out [to say we are rebuilding]. Look at 2012.”

The A’s won 88 games last year, and Donaldson was one of the best players in the league. But the team wasn’t good enough to get beyond the Wild Card Game, and Donaldson is 29 years oldhis value will never be higher than it was when Beane traded him.

Remember, this is an era of better PED testing. We aren’t going to see hitters get better after 30. We also weren’t going to see the A’s drastically improve by standing pat with a team that lost the division to the Los Angeles Angels by 10 games last season.

“They weren’t necessarily going to fall apart tomorrow, but they weren’t going to get any better,” Athletics Nation’s Alex Hall said on The Phil Naessens Show. “Billy Beane wants to be getting better. He doesn’t want to be getting worse.

“This was the definition of selling high.”

And that is how the A’s compete on a relatively consistent basis despite having a payroll that hasn’t ranked higher than 26th in the last three seasons and has an average ranking of 24th out of 30 teams in the last 10.

This is how the A’s survive, and it’s worked time and time again for Beane. He has earned the benefit of the doubt because his track record for keeping his roster competitive with limited resources is stellar. If he had money to work with, he would not have to do these kinds of things. But he doesn’t, so he does. If by now people cannot understand why he works this way and why it is necessary, then they may never get it.

Beane is a competent baseball executive and understands his situation better than anyone else and how to manage it. He is not done making deals. Oakland’s offseason is nowhere near finished.

So before saying Beane is tanking for 2015, let’s actually see something close to a finished product.


Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Scott Miller’s Starting 9: With Nelson Cruz, Mariners Can Win Now—and Later

Who knew it would start raining bats in Seattle?

Robinson Cano last winter. Nelson Cruz this winter. Maybe the drought is finally over. The Seattle Mariners: Early AL West favorites entering 2015? You bet. Mark it down. Lattes all around.

And keep pouring: With a zesty mix of youth and experience, the Mariners now are built to win not just in 2015, but also for a handful of years beyond.

General manager Jack Zduriencik stubbornly has clung to his plan, building around ace Felix Hernandez, refusing to trade him despite the free advice of national columnists, and good for Zduriencik. Tempting though it may have been during all of those summers when the Mariners would have had an easier time rapping with Macklemore than scoring a run (or, gasp, two), I never thought they should have solved their production problem by dealing an arm like Hernandez’s for bats.

First, it is really, really hard to find an ace like The King, especially one who wants to stay in town.

Second, Seattle fans deserved at least one player worth watching in Safeco Field.

The exasperating part came two and three years ago when the Mariners felt they were close to winning and yet couldn’t land a cornerstone lineup piece.

They chased Prince Fielder hard on the free-agent market before Fielder went to Motown. Disappointment level: extremely high, because as Milwaukee’s farm director before taking the Mariners gig, Zduriencik drafted Fielder and hoped maybe that relationship would have given Seattle the inside track.

They chased Josh Hamilton hard on the free-agent market before Hamilton signed with the Los Angeles Angels. Disappointment level: moderate, because while Seattle never really expected Hamilton to sign, Zduriencik romanced him hard and, ultimately, Hamilton landed with a rival AL West team.

They were set to acquire outfielder Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks two winters ago, but Upton exercised his no-trade powers to void the trade and instead steer himself to Atlanta. Disappointment level: not so high, because the cost would have been high. Sources told me at the time that the Diamondbacks would have received one pitcher from Seattle’s “Big Three” prospect list—Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen or James Paxton, likely Walker—plus two relief pitchers.

For now, Walker, Hultzen and Paxton all remain in Seattle and in the Mariners’ plans. For now, because the M’s remain in trade talks with the Dodgers (Matt Kemp), who reportedly are demanding Walker or Paxton, and in free-agent talks (Torii Hunter, Alex Rios).

In Seattle’s best-case scenario, Cruz, who sources say agreed on a four-year, $57 million deal, will spend most of his time as designated hitter, and the Mariners will add one of the aforementioned outfielders to play right field.

There is no question Cruz is a major upgrade. Mariners designated hitters in 2014 ranked last in the AL in slugging percentage (.307), on-base percentage (.270), batting average (.191) and RBI (49). Only the Kansas City Royals’ DHs, with six, hit fewer home runs than Seattle’s 15.


In Baltimore last year, Cruz, 34, led the majors with 40 homers, ranked third in the AL with 108 RBI and fifth with a .525 slugging percentage.

Kendrys Morales, he ain’t. This is a man who can rattle Safeco Field fences.

Add Kyle Seager’s seven-year, $100 million deal, and the Mariners are on the move. Lots of people point to the dip in Cano’s home run total last summer—14, down from 27 in 2013 and 33 in 2012—failing to put it into the proper context. Safeco Field is nowhere near as homer-friendly as Yankee Stadium, and Cano mostly was surrounded by young, inexperienced hitters.

I had a long and interesting talk about this one day last season with manager Lloyd McClendon, who was bullish on Cano.

“He’s stabilized and solidified this lineup,” McClendon told Bleacher Report. “He’s given guys more oomph in their step, more pump in their chest.   

“And that’s something nobody outside this group can know.”

With Cruz batting behind him, Seager and Mike Zunino continuing to develop, the fleet Austin Jackson in center field for an entire season, King Felix, Walker, Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma on the mound and third-base prospect D.J. Petson on the horizon, the Mariners should have more pump in their chest now for quite awhile.


2. Culture Change Across the Border

Russell Martin? Great talent, good guy.

Josh Donaldson? Great talent, good guy.

On the Friday night after Thanksgiving, the Toronto Blue Jays did not settle for leftovers. The Martin free-agent deal ($82 million) already was done, but the Donaldson trade was stunning.

Stunning, for Toronto, in a very good way.

It’s no secret that Donaldson’s WAR over the past two seasons ranks second in the majors only to that of the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout. This is a gritty player, a good hitter, a terrific third baseman and a clubhouse leader with a big heart.

Given Baltimore’s crippling loss of Nelson Cruz, the AL East this winter is turning into a free-for-all. Let’s see what the Orioles do next, and let’s see if Boston gets some pitching, but right now you have to like Toronto’s chances to contend.

Clearly, the Jays are going for it. Now, the cautionary tale is that Toronto went for it two winters ago, too, in acquiring Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey. Some had the Jays as favorites to win the AL East heading into 2013 (yup, that’s my hand that is raised), only to see them crash and burn.

It’s apparent that general manager Alex Anthopolous is shifting the culture in the clubhouse with the Martin and Donaldson deals. Both are gamers with playoff experience. The Jays’ job isn’t yet done. They have other holes to fill (such as second base, the rotation and in the outfield). But they’re going to be very interesting in 2015.


3. Follow the Bouncing Billy Beane

Meanwhile, from the Oakland perspective: Trading Josh Donaldson is another whopper of a head-scratcher. The A’s already dealt Yoenis Cespedes last summer. Donaldson was their best overall player. He finished fourth in MVP voting in 2013 and eighth in 2014. He was under club control for another four years before he was eligible for free agency.

“He’s an Oakland-type player,” a scout with a rival team says. “He leaves it all on the field. I just don’t understand why you would give away your three-four hole hitters [Yoenis Cespedes and Donaldson] who won you division titles. Now all of a sudden, Brett Lawrie and Billy Butler replace Cespedes and Donaldson? It cuts down on your offense.”

So…why would Oakland trade Donaldson?

Well, you could say because the Athletics are rebuilding, especially if starter Jeff Samardzija is the next player dealt (as many in the industry expect).

Except, the A’s just gave designated hitter Butler a three-year, $30 million deal. That doesn’t look like rebuilding.

Maybe the A’s traded Donaldson because after dealing prospects to the Cubs for Samardzija last summer, their system needed restocking. And along with third baseman Brett Lawrie, the A’s also received three prospects from Toronto: pitchers Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin, and a young, blue-chip shortstop, Franklin Barreto, 18.

What we know about Athletics’ president and general manager Billy Beane is that there always is a method to his madness, even when the surface dots don’t connect. So that’s the theory I’m going with now.

If there are no subsequent moves, the Donaldson trade is a dud. But with Beane, there always are subsequent moves.

One final thought, though: If you are an Oakland fan, fall in love with the players at your own risk. Because the player you fall in love with today is the player the A’s will ship away tomorrow.

The A’s ranked 24th in the majors in attendance last summer at 25,045 a game, and 10th in the AL. And that was for a team that was dominant for much of the summer. You wonder if attendance in Oakland would be better with any kind of roster stability.


4. The Rest of the Donaldson Story?

One industry source says he “knew” the Athletics would trade Josh Donaldson this winter, no matter how little baseball sense it made, because the All-Star and Beane were “at war” by season’s end.

Multiple sources cite a verbal altercation between the two after Donaldson told manager Bob Melvin he needed a couple of days off after Oakland had played several days in a row. The story goes, Beane told Donaldson if he needed a couple of days off, the club should put him on the disabled list, and that made Donaldson unhappy.

While both Donaldson and Beane downplayed the incident in a couple of texts to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s terrific baseball writer, John Shea, the industry source described a different scenario to Bleacher Report.

“Donaldson told the manager he needed a blow, and [Bob] Melvin said, ‘You got it,’ ” the source said. “Then that night’s lineup came out and Billy asked, ‘Where’s Donaldson?’ “

When told what happened, the source says, an angry Beane demanded that Melvin put Donaldson back into the lineup.

“They got into it in the coach’s office,” the source says, describing a scene in which Beane lit into Donaldson, with the third baseman reiterating his need for a day off and petulantly calling Beane “Billy Boy.”

“Nobody talks to Billy that way,” the source said. “It did not surprise me in the least that he got rid of Donaldson.”


5. Goodbyes and Social Media

Used to be, a superstar player would take out an ad in the local newspaper when that part of his career closed.

Now? Yes, Twitter. Donaldson says goodbye to Oakland here in a moving message.


6. Hitters Coming off the Board

For what seems like decades, it’s been all about the pitching. No longer.

While top free-agent pitchers Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields remain on the market, the best hitters are being snapped up like popcorn at The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I.

Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Michael Cuddyer, Adam LaRoche, Russell Martin, even Chris Young (the outfielder)…all signed.

Moreover, in a telling trend, AL clubs this winter appear more willing to return to the old days of paying for a true DH:

The Tigers wasted no time in re-signing Victor Martinez (four years, $68 million).

The Mariners signed Nelson Cruz (four years, $57 million) to DH.

The A’s invested in Billy Butler (three years, $30 million).

And though the Red Sox signed Sandoval to play third base, they clearly plan on him replacing David Ortiz, 39, at DH in the waning years of his deal (five years, $95 million).


7. Free-Agent Power Rankings

My weekly take as agents bluster, suitors cluster and bean counters muster the courage to write those checks…

1. Jon Lester (16-11, 2.46, 1.10 WHIP): The Cubs, Red Sox and Giants, among others, are making their cases. Lester would look great in AT&T Park, especially for a Giants club that just lost its Panda. But it’s still difficult not to see this coming down to the Cubs and Red Sox.

2. Andrew Miller (5-5, 2.02, 0.802 WHIP): The Royals dominated in October, and everyone wants to emulate their HDH Kelvin Herrera/Wade Davis/Greg Holland bullpen. And suddenly, a late-blooming, lanky (6’7″) 29-year old may be in line for a four-year, $40 million deal. Hello, Yankees…or Dodgers…or Red Sox.

3. Torii Hunter (.286/.319/.446, 17 homers, 83 RBI): With Nelson Cruz off the board, the Orioles suddenly have a big need. And the Mariners are still looking for a right fielder either via trade (Matt Kemp?) or a short-term free-agent fix. Hunter, 39, would be perfect in Seattle, where he could slide over to DH on occasion when a left-hander is throwing to rest his legs (because Nelson Cruz can play first base instead of Logan Morrison on those days).

4. Melky Cabrera (.301/.351/.458, 16 homers, 73 RBI): Everybody is looking for a hitter, and did you see what Nelson Cruz signed for? Somewhere, Cabrera is smiling. Hello, big money. Again.

5. Tim Flannery: Retiring Giants coach heading into the best kind of free agency, choosing each day between singing and surfing…


8. Goodbye Flan Man

Few coaches were as beloved as Tim Flannery, who unexpectedly retired as the Giants third-base coach a couple of weeks after the World Series. A great baseball mind, talented songwriter, raconteur, nature lover and a deeply spiritual man, Flannery is that rare treasure who can relate to many different people in many different ways.

It’s no wonder that manager Bruce Bochy and general manager Brian Sabean each were said to have shed some tears when Flannery told them he was hanging up his spikes, though there’s a chance the tears could have come because they realized they weren’t just losing their third-base coach, but their moonshine connection as well (Flannery’s family comes from the hills of Kentucky).

Anyway, in a farewell interview on San Francisco’s KNBR radio with Rod Brooks and Bob Fitzgerald, this part of what Flannery said will give you a glimpse into the soul of the man:

I want to tell a quick story, because this was the final straw for me. The last week of the World Series, I hear my nephew’s wife had a baby—I didn’t even know she was pregnant. The season is so long that she got pregnant the first week of spring training and had the baby the last week before the World Series. The season is so long that an egg can get fertilized, it can become a human, you can carry it for nine months, and then it gets spit out at the end, and I’m still playing the same baseball game every night, every night, every night. I just…I’m going surfing, sorry.

Here’s to good waves and good songs in your retirement, Flan. And on a personal note, I’m thankful to live in the same town as Tim. I plan to see him often with his crack band, The Lunatic Fringe.


9. RIP to a Boston Legend

Dick Bresciani passed away this week after battling leukemia, and while you probably don’t know the name unless you’re obsessed with the Red Sox, you should. Bresciani, 76, was Boston’s longtime public relations chief and had served the Red Sox in some capacity or another since 1972 (in these final years, he acted as the club’s historian).

Bresh, as he was known, was one of those background people (read: not in uniform) who spends nearly as much time at the ballpark as the grass on the field. While fans get to know the players, people like Bresh are the ones who outlast the players and give an organization its soul.

One quick personal story: When I was covering the Twins in the late 1990s, they opened one season in Boston. Well, tried to. Opening day was snowed out.

So the players went to the park to stretch and loosen up, and I went that afternoon because readers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press were going to expect a story the next day on their team and what an opening-day snowout meant.

Now, here’s where things went off the rails: The Sox, in those days, were not the most media-friendly club around (even though Bresciani always had a smile). So upon my arrival at Fenway Park, security guards gruffly informed me the place was closed and I could not come in, even with a media pass. I explained that the Twins were inside, and they told me their clubhouse was open and I could come in.

The guard told me to wait and then disappeared, I assumed, to phone upstairs and get this cleared up. Well, when he returned, he not only told me I couldn’t come in, he threw me out of the Fenway Park entryway. Pulled the garage door shut behind me, leaving me on Yawkey Way to look for a cab as the snow piled up on the sidewalk and the enormous, wet flakes from the blinding snowstorm left me soaked.

A couple of hours later, after I had talked with some Twins over the telephone (having explained what happened), the phone rang in my hotel room. It was Bresh, who by now had heard what happened and apologized profusely.

Small story from a long-ago time. But clearly, I’ve never forgotten it, and it always made me smile. That phone call helped melt my anger like the snow melted a day later, and I always enjoyed seeing him at Fenway Park. Rest in peace, Bresh.


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball @ScottMillerBbl.

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Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2014 MLB Regular Season

From the historic dominance of Clayton Kershaw to the epic collapses of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Atlanta Braves, it’s been a memorable 2014 MLB regular season.

Simply put, there have been major winners and serious losers from all around the league. Jon Lester falls onto the right side of that equation thanks to a brilliant second half, which has set him up for a winter payday. 

There’s even room on the list for an ace and an executive who could still end up in either the winner’s or loser’s camp. 

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How the No-Name Oakland A’s Are Sneakily One of the Best Teams in the Majors

Billy Beane is doing it again. He’s putting together a roster of misfits that are doing nothing but win baseball games. And it’s all being done with the fourth lowest payroll in the majors, and a bunch of guys the casual fan can’t name.

Heading into action on July 27th, Oakland’s winning percentage is .583, good for fifth in Major League Baseball. And they’re leading the Texas Rangers in the American League West by four games. All this with a roster of cast-offs and no-names, and a ballpark that has a history of sewage backups

Despite all the disadvantages Beane and company have to endure, the A’s are one of the best teams in baseball.

And they’re doing this while flying far under the radar, as evidenced by their All-Stars.

They had exactly two. Bartolo Colon, and Grant Balfour.

Over the past year, not just this season, the A’s have been really good. Excellent, in fact. Take it from Buster Olney.

It’s very interesting just exactly how the A’s are winning games with so few resources. And yes, there are reasons; this isn’t just a long stroke of luck. So let’s start with the first and most important reason.


The Pitching Staff

It might seem too general, but World Series have been won with pitching and not much else. And Oakland’s staff is one of the best.

Some statistics off the top: The A team has an ERA of 3.60, sixth in the majors, a deep rotation that is fourth in baseball in innings pitched with 634 and an entire staff that refuses to walk anyone—as evidenced by their major league low 2.38 BB/9.

The staff is also tied for eighth in baseball in wins above replacement, or WAR.

Need more? The A’s are seventh in the league in K/BB, with a ratio of 2.88. They’re tied with the Reds and Pirates for the lowest WHIP in the MLB, at 1.19. And they’re holding teams to a measly .239 batting average against. That would be fourth lowest in the majors.

They’re not a sexy pitching staff. They don’t have the big names, or the guys who strike out 200-plus batters. They don’t have anyone who throws 100, and the way they get guys out isn’t always pretty.

Also, is it too mean to make a joke about Bartolo Colon and not being sexy? Probably. Let’s just move on.

What all this means is that despite how the staff may look, or how they go about business, they get the job done.

They don’t give out free passes very easily. So they force lineups to hit them. And lineups can’t seem to hit them. Despite the staff throwing fastballs at an average velocity of 90.6, ahead of only the Twins and Giants.

What this tells me is that the A’s in general have pinpoint control. They don’t throw too hard, and they don’t mow down lineups. They locate their pitches, and force batters to hit the pitches they give them. They don’t make the mistakes that hitters love to feast on. 

If you watch the A’s play, don’t expect to see a pitcher take the mound and look like a prototypical ace. But they sure will pitch like one.


The Lineup

Just like the pitching staff, it might not look like much. But the A’s hitters sure do get the job done.

They’re ninth in the league in runs with 457, yet 23rd in the league with a .243 batting average.

And other than those two stats, they’re really middle of the pack in every other notable category. They’re between 12th and 18th in the league in home runs, stolen bases, OBP, slugging, and strikeout rate.

Yet they’re in the top 10 in runs, and have been all year.

Just like with the pitching staff, the secret lies in walks. The A’s lead baseball in walks and BB percent, and are second in walks per strikeout.

What this translates to is a way to counteract an atrocious batting average. Even though they’re only hitting .243, Oakland’s OBP is .320. Instead of hitting singles, they’re trotting to first on ball four.

Although that doesn’t quite explain all of it. The other part is that the A’s love to hit home runs. Or at least they love trying to.

They lead the league in fly balls, hitting them 40 percent of the time. But they’re only 12th in the league in home runs with 107, which is explained by their home run to fly ball ratio of 9.8 percent. That has them tied for 23rd in baseball, and an average ratio is around 11 percent, good for 23rd in baseball. 

And all indications are that the A’s should be hitting more homers. They have the home run hitters in Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson. And they’re 13th in isolated power. So there should be an uptick in homers down the stretch.

So really, this offense should improve. As unconventional as the strategy is, it seems to be working. Draw walks and swing for the fences. It’s an odd formula, but so far a successful one.


The How

Just like in years past, the A’s are having success with a lot of leftovers, players that other teams didn’t want.

First of all, huge shout-out to FanGraphs for all the statistics throughout this article, and then for this piece on exactly where many of the A’s key players came from. I’ll run through some of the highlights here.

Coco Crisp was signed for two years $14 million, along with a third year team option. Not bad for someone who’s WAR over the past two seasons is 4.4.

Josh Donaldson was a throw in to a deal that sent Rich Harden to the Cubs. But this season he was a near All-Star with a WAR of 4.3.

Brandon Moss was cut from the Phillies, but now has hit 38 homers in 179 games in an Athletics uniform.

The A’s have paid Bartolo Colon $5 million over two years. The same Colon who has 14 wins and a 2.54 ERA this season.

Jarrod Parker and Brett Anderson were acquired in trades, and AJ Griffin and Dan Straily were late draft picks. And their other All-Star Grant Balfour was signed to a two year $8.1 million dollar deal after his time with the Rays. Pretty good rate for one of the top closers in the game.

The only guy the A’s really spent money on was Yoenis Cespedes. And when you look like he does, run like he does and have such a pretty home run swing, you can’t blame them.

There should be a theme that’s starting to pop out. Almost all these guys were forgotten about, or cut or drafted extremely late. 

But Oakland brought them all together. They reinvented moneyball, just in a different way. This time there are no stars like Barry Zito or Miguel Tejada or Tim Hudson. 

Just a bunch of guys who believe in the strategy, believe in each other and believe they’re great when not many people even know their names. Josh Donaldson being one of them.

They may not be household names, but they play like they should be. And if they keep on winning, everyone will know who they are.


All statistics, unless otherwise noted, come from FanGraphs.com

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Oakland A’s: Athletics Will Still Beat out Big Spending Rangers, Angels

Say what you will, but Billy Beane is not averse to making decisive moves. Adding guys like John Jaso and Jed Lowrie may not be as sexy as Josh Hamilton, but the Oakland Athletics have further addressed offseason deficiencies with their moves. 

With Lowrie in the fold, the A’s now have someone with real Major League pop to fill in voids all over the infield. That means players like Eric Sogard and Adam “Skolnick” Rosales have less at-bats in meaningful situations. I like them both, but neither should be hitting more than 70 times a year in the big leagues. 

The reality is, the A’s were not far away last year and the two biggest holes in the lineup have been addressed with a trio of potentially big time upgrades in Jaso, Lowrie, and Hiro Nakajima. Yes, losing Chris Carter has the potential to take home runs away from the lineup. As a matter of fact, I anticipate that happening

However, you sometimes have to pull from a position of strength to address a position of weakness. There is no guarantee what Nakajima will give the A’s.

Lowrie would be a fantastic alternative at shortstop. He also fits at second, third, and first base as well. Scott Sizemore hasn’t played second base in the Major Leagues with any consistency. In other words, having a player with a real pedigree in waiting can only help this infield.

But the separation Oakland has from both Texas and Los Angeles, er Anaheim, is in the starting pitching. One to five, no team in the AL West is better than the A’s in terms of pitching. The Angels tried to address their deficiencies with outsiders Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson, and Joe Blanton. Good luck. They aren’t on the level of the departed Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana. 

Meanwhile, Texas has issues with a lack of starting pitching and the potential issues with Nelson Cruz being implicated in the most recent PED scandal in baseball. The reality is, Oakland’s status quo is still the best in the division until proven otherwise. No team has the depth of pitching combined with a solid lineup one through nine in the division. Oakland doesn’t have a Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, or any other marquee name (though Yoenis Cespedes is darn close) yet.

What they still have is the best overall team in the American League West.

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A’s New Shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima Must Think Brad Pitt Is Actually Billy Beane

The Oakland A’s have a new sensation in Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, a man who is completely smitten with his general manager, Billy Beane

Then again, he may just be a smitten kitten over the man who played Billy Beane in Moneyball, Brad Pitt.  

CBS Sports spotted this tweet from the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:


Wait, Billy Beane? The guy on the left?

The A’s have more than a shortstop with a slash line of .311/.382/.451 while playing last year with the Seibu Lions, via NBC Sports. They have a gushing 30-year-old who is completely taken with the dude that hired him. 

From there, the quotes spiraled into Twitter comedy. 

This tweet gives us this faux quote we could only hope he would say:


Guy Haberman gives us an actual quote and a reference to the hype dance the A’s did last season, calling upon the powers of Weekend at Bernie’s:


Back to Slusser, who has it right:

This guy is going to be gold all season.

The A’s have a new shortstop and Beane has a huge fan in the field. 

Just when you thought we would never see the words sexy and cool sidled up next to the name “Billy Beane,” our new favorite player is introduced to the majors. 


Hit me up on Twitter for more sexy and cool. 

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Oakland Athletics: Should Billy Beane Deal Yoenis Cespedes?

Oakland Atheltics General Manager Billy Beane got into the act of big trades before the World Series even got started. He stepped into the middle of the Miami Marlins trying to dump Heath Bell and walked away with Chris Young in exchange for virtually nothing.

Re-energized by the Division Title and possibly by Moneyball being on BlueRay, Billy Beane is looking to make the defending American League West Champions even better in 2013.

The Young trade has given the A’s a surplus of talented outfielders. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, Billy Beane has no intention of trading Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, Seth Smith, Yoenis Cespedes or Young.

But of course he will deal one of them, because there are too many teams that could use a solid outfielder and Beane is too clever to say something like “Man, I got to get rid of at least one of these guys. Let’s hear some offers.”

Coco Crisp seems like the most likely player to be moved due to his contract. But according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, Billy Beane seems to want Crisp in Oakland. “Everybody knows how important this guy is to this team,” Beane said of Crisp, adding he “is a personal favorite of mine.”

Reddick or Smith could be used in a trade for either bullpen depth of a starting infielder.

But why not Cespedes? If the objective of a trade is to get the maximum value in return, Cespedes would be the most attractive trade chip.

The Cuban defector, who had a star rookie year in Oakland, will be 27 years old next season. He is a right-handed slugger with some speed and a flair for the dramatic.

He his .292 with an OPS of .861, 23 homers and 82 RBI in 129 games his rookie year. He also stole 16 bags.

Most contenders would covet a bat like that, especially one that will be under contract for the next three seasons at a total of $28 million.

But there are some red flags. He has some wrist issues as well as hand and hamstring problems and is not a very good defensive center fielder.

That being said, his trade value is at its peak right now. And last year Beane showed the advantage of making a potentially risky trade of a young player.

In 2011, the A’s looked like they were building around young pitchers like Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey and Trevor Cahill. Bailey was 27, Gonzalez was 25 and Cahill was only 23. It looked like a solid pitching foundation.

Beane instead traded all three when teams were willing to give up more for them. In the process he acquired Ryan Cook, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, Jarrod Parker and Josh Reddick, among other minor leaguers.

The A’s would have depth in the outfield and might pick up the infielder and reliever to give them the team that would repeat as Division Champions for Cespedes.

He might never be worth more than he is now. It would be worth hearing at least what the offers are.

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