Beane, A's perfect fit with recipe for continued success
GM again has Oakland smartly positioned to thrive despite budget this year and beyond
Billy Beane has had his chances to leave the Oakland A's over the years.
He's smarter than that.
Beane has mastered the world of the small-budget franchise. Those skills don't necessarily transfer to somewhere else.
Andy MacPhail found that out when he left the Minnesota Twins to take over the Chicago Cubs. Sharp as he is, MacPhail was suddenly in a different world, and without the infrastructure he had built with the Twins, where he oversaw the building of 1987 and 1991 World Series champions.
The A's haven't won a World Series in Beane's 16 seasons as their general manager, but they have been among the most successful franchises during that time, advancing to the postseason seven times, claiming a Wild Card and six American League West titles, including each of the past two.
And he's done it on a budget.
The A's have never been in the upper half of payrolls during Beane's tenure, and they have ranked among the bottom 10 teams in payroll 14 times, including all seven times they advanced to the postseason. They ranked 29th in 2012 and 27th last year.
Low-budget success is a lot more than being able to read computer printouts and run a calculator.
More important is how Beane is able to see a window of opportunity and capitalize on it.
There are going to be stretches of struggle that a franchise like the A's will have to deal with, but when success is on the horizon, it is important not to be blinded by the frustrations of financial constraints.
Beane's 20-20 vision was evident again on Friday.
Coco Crisp was signed a two-year extension that binds him to the A's through 2016 with an option for '17. That's the longest guarantee for anybody on the A's roster. Crisp, 34, is also the oldest player on the A's roster.
He has been the leadoff catalyst to Oakland's back-to-back AL West titles.
And that came after an offseason in which the A's signed free-agent left-handers Scott Kazmir and Eric O'Flaherty to two-year deals. They acquired closer Jim Johnson from the Orioles and then signed him to a one-year deal, keeping with their philosophy that closers generally have short life spans. In Beane's 16 seasons, the franchise has had nine different pitchers lead them in saves, five in their seven postseason campaigns.
An email sent to Beane asked him if the signings underscored the fact that "in smaller markets, you look for winds of opportunity and have to be focused on maximizing them?"
The answer was emphatic.
"Yes!!!" he replied.
It's the A's way, initially mapped out by Sandy Alderson, a mentor to Beane.
The A's won four division titles in the five-year stretch from 1988-92. They went seven years without a postseason appearance, and then returned to October activity from 2000-03. They won the AL West again in 2006, but that was their only postseason appearances from 2004-11.
And now they will open 2014 as the two-time defending AL West champions. They aren't intimidated by having to financially tread water in a division in which, during the past three years, the Angels signed Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson, and this past offseason Texas traded for Prince Fielder and signed Shin-soo Choo while Seattle laid out 10-year, $240 million to lure Robinson Cano.
Why? Because they know they over the next two seasons, the only changes they will make to their roster are ones they believe will make them better.
By keeping Crisp from becoming a free agent in the fall, every A's player except Johnson, shortstop Jed Lowrie, middle reliever Luke Gregerson and utility infielder Alberto Callapso is under contractual control for at least two seasons.
Beane understands that a team like the A's can afford to pay the salary of a star player, but only as long as he is indeed a star, which is why it is important to keep the long-term commitments as short as possible.
As big a challenge as that is, it actually was an advantage for the A's in the bidding for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes two years ago. The A's made a four-year offer, with the caveat that they wouldn't offer arbitration after the deal expired. It was two years less than the second-shortest guarantee.
It also meant that after four years of establishing himself in the big leagues, Cespedes can have the chance to revisit the free-agent market.
Two years later, Cespedes isn't anxious to shop for a new home.
In the aftermath of the extension for Crisp, Cespedes would be open to an extension, too. He told the Bay Area media that all things being equal, he wants to spend his big league career with the A's.
He has had a glimpse of Beane's vision, and likes what he has seen.