INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Billy Beane's back was planted against a wall on Wednesday, but only in a literal sense.
Figuratively, as he carried on a lively conversation with media types during the General Managers Meetings at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells, Beane was as free as a child running along a beach. The most unexpectedly successful of seasons can be highly liberating, even if you're a shortstop shy of feeling complete.
Consider where the Oakland Athletics' personnel maven stands -- operator of the most stable club in the best division in baseball, champions of the American League West -- and where he was exactly one year ago.
No one has to remind him he was busy trying to sell off premium assets (pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey) to the highest bidders in order to collect prospects in the hope of building toward a better day.
Nobody, including Beane, could have imagined that day arriving so soon.
"It changes quick," Beane said. "This business is so fluid. One good thing about what we did last year was that it was transformative."
With a limited budget, the A's don't sign big-money free agents and rarely keep big-time talent when it's time to take flight. Beane routinely taps into his creativity, giving something up to get something back.
"You get stupid when you have to turn over your team every few years," he said. "Every time you do it, there are uncertainties.
"We had two goliaths in our division -- the Angels and Rangers, two of the best teams in the game. We traded our three best players because they weren't enough to allow us to compete. We acquired 10 players [in the swaps with the Nationals, Diamondbacks and Red Sox]. People sort of shut us off at that time.
"But our offseason didn't end."
Under the radar -- where he has grown accustomed to operating when movie stars aren't playing him on the big screen -- Beane began making moves.
He signed center fielder Coco Crisp. He signed a heralded but untested outfielder from Cuba, Yoenis Cespedes. He signed a former Cy Young Award winner, Bartolo Colon, who seemingly was at the end of the road.
An outfit that looked fit for 100 losses in Spring Training, the A's won 94 games and seized the AL West on the final day, thumping the two-time defending AL champion Rangers in delirious Oakland for a sixth consecutive victory.
Manager Bob Melvin and Co. very conceivably could have taken the strange magic all the way to a Bay Bridge World Series against the Giants if a certain right-handed gunslinger hadn't intervened in the AL Division Series.
"Dude named [Justin] Verlander kind of sobers you," Beane said. "If only we could have gotten by Verlander -- twice -- and the rest of the [Detroit] team. He was just so dominant. In Oakland [in Game 5], he was not going to get beat.
"I thought [Tigers manager Jim] Leyland did a smart thing when he said you're going to have to beat him. Don't worry about pitch counts. That was a pretty savvy statement. Our guys didn't read it. But it psyched me out."
If not for a double dose of Verlander, it could have been the A's and Yankees in the AL Championship Series. Riding all that momentum, lifted by a wild Oakland crowd, the A's could have been engaging the Giants in the autumn showcase.
"A lot of what-ifs in the playoffs," Beane said.
Funny how it works out. Having unloaded three quality arms last winter, Beane finds himself with a stock of quality young pitching. He has no intention of sacrificing any of it to fill the one hole on his club, at shortstop, vacated by Stephen Drew.
"We're not going to do that," Beane said. "In years we've been successful, it's because we've had good young pitchers. Small markets that have had success -- Tampa, Minnesota -- developed their own pitching."
Drew, acquired from the Diamondbacks in August, apparently is too expensive for Oakland's taste. If Beane moves on to a less costly free-agent option, names such as Alex Gonzalez, Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Theriot and Maicer Izturis are out there.
The A's added gifted center fielder Chris Young in a deal with Arizona shortly after Verlander ended their season. At the cost of infielder Cliff Pennington, Melvin has depth in the outfield with Young joining Cespedes, Crisp, Gold Glove winner Josh Reddick and Seth Smith.
"We plan on holding them," Beane said. "One will go to the DH spot. As soon as you think you have everyday players, somebody goes down."
Beane and Melvin like their young catchers, Derek Norris and George Kottaras, and corner infielders Brandon Moss, Chris Carter and Josh Donaldson. Second baseman Jemile Weeks is a talent, and Scott Sizemore is coming off knee surgery.
The young rotation, with Colon returning from a drug suspension for depth, should be even better. The bullpen is lights out.
The Angels have three rotation spots open -- Zack Greinke would cost owner Arte Moreno another small fortune -- and their leader for the past five years, Torii Hunter, is shopping around for a new home.
The Rangers could have a whole new look offensively with Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli in free agency.
Compared to those issues, and given Beane's history, Oakland's search for a shortstop doesn't look terribly daunting.