No surprise that Beane remains ahead of curve
Players like Chavez, Donaldson latest examples of Oakland's ability to adapt
He's 30 years old and has spent all or part of nine seasons in the Minor Leagues. He has been traded four times, waived once and sold for cash once. As a side note, it wasn't a pile of cash.
The Oakland A's are right-hander Jesse Chavez's fifth organization. When general manager Billy Beane acquired him from the Blue Jays in August 2012, few eyebrows were raised.
If you're looking for one player that represents the genius of the A's -- that is, Beane's genius -- Chavez could be him.
Or perhaps that player would be A's third baseman Josh Donaldson, a former catcher Beane got from the Cubs in 2008. Oakland converted him to third base, and pretty soon the club had a consistent, productive offensive player and one of the two or three best defensive third basemen in the game.
To put it in more simple terms, Donaldson is so athletic and so confident, he could probably play anywhere on the diamond. At the moment, he appears to be behind only Mike Trout in the American League Most Valuable Player Award debate.
"He's a really good athlete," Beane said. "He might be the best all-around athlete on the team. When you look at him, that wouldn't jump out at you. He's very competitive, very confident. He wants to beat you."
Back to Chavez. The A's liked him even though other teams had given up on him. Beane and his staff believed Chavez's stuff would translate well in the big league level if he got a legitimate shot.
Chavez made 35 relief appearances and had a 3.92 ERA last season. Looking back on it, Beane thinks those 35 games set him up for this season's dazzling success.
"We liked him in the Minor Leagues," Beane said, "and felt he'd never really got an opportunity in the big leagues. Last year, we were able to introduce him in a role that allowed him to get comfortable and get his sea legs."
This spring, the A's brought Chavez to Spring Training with the idea that he would compete for a starting job. He pitched so well he might have won a spot anyway, but when Oakland lost two starters -- A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker -- to season-ending injuries, Chavez got the opportunity he'd always hoped for.
The A's are 7-1 in Chavez's eight starts. His ERA is a dazzling 2.44 ERA. Chavez doesn't have a blow-you-away fastball, but he throws a very nice cutter, throws strikes and mixes in a changeup and curveball.
"He was always in our long-term plans," Beane said.
OK, Billy, what did you know about this Chavez that others didn't? Be honest. It just us guys talking.
"That crazy statistical analysis," Beane said.
He laughs when he says this.
"Objective numbers," Beane said.
Maybe you've heard that the A's can do more with less than any other baseball team on the planet, and they've been doing it for more than a decade.
Michael Lewis wrote a book about the A's called "Moneyball," and it changed the baseball world forever.
Statistical analysis -- that is, using complex math models and projections to construct teams and evaluate players -- has given every team a chance to compete.
When Oakland became successful, other teams copied it, and at times, improved upon it. Almost every team has a statistical analysis department, although some are more invested than others.
As a result, Beane was forced to find new and better ways to do things. "Moneyball" has changed so much the last decade that its formulas are barely recognizable from those early days.
"We've had to reinvent ourselves a few times," Beane said. "There were things we were doing 10 years ago we weren't able to continue to do. To constantly solve the challenges we have is not easy. It's very self-satisfying for all of us. The same fraternal atmosphere exists in the front office that we have in the clubhouse. We're co-workers, but we're also best friends."
Here's what hasn't changed. Beane still does it better than anyone. Despite having the baseball's 25th-highest payroll and being hit hard by injuries around the diamond, the A's are leading the AL West (and if their success continues, they'll win the division for the third year in a row). At 25-16, they have a 2 1/2-game lead over the second-place Angels entering Friday's games. Oakland is first in the AL with a 2.99 ERA and second in runs. Donaldson has evolved into a star, but the A's are getting contributions from all over the place: starters Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray, catchers Derek Norris and John Jaso, left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and others.
If the A's have a weakness, it's that they've blown eight saves, and Beane's acquistion of closer Jim Johnson hasn't worked out. But Oakland also has a deep bullpen with a bunch of power arms.
At the moment, there's no reason to think the A's aren't headed for a third straight October matchup with the Detroit Tigers.
"We've stayed very, very consistent the last few years," Beane said. "We had a winning record every month last season, a very consistent group. We try to make sure people enjoy coming to play here. We don't micromanage them in the clubhouse. We treat them like men, and it makes for a collegial clubhouse."
Manager Bob Melvin is a huge part of the equation. He has long been one of baseball's most well-liked and respected men, both as a player for 10 years and a big league manager for 11.
"He's the perfect maestro," Beane said. "He has this unique ability to be liked and respected. There's a fine line a manager has to straddle. To have players like him and also respect him is not an easy thing to do."
And there's Beane. He's the guy unafraid to try new things, unafraid to innovate. Inside baseball, Beane has built an organization that stands for something special. As the season unfolds, he has come to love these current A's.
"These guys have a sense of when to have fun and when to turn the page and get ready for the next day," Beane said. "This club the last couple of years was able to enjoy the moment and start again. We don't have a lot to offer in terms of facilities, the brick-and-mortar stuff. But the one thing we can do is create a great atmosphere. This one is no different."