(Lately Peter Gammons has been saying, more or less, that Billy Beane is going to tank 2005 as a rebuilding year and shoot for 2006. I don't buy it. I think too many in AN are getting caught up in the negative feeling: trade Zito, trade Hudson, trade Durazo, get prospects, maybe we can be good again some day. I was writing the following as a comment on ohad's diary about Gammons' remarks on ESPN, agreeing with monkeyball's observation that every year is a retooling year for the A's, but my comment metastasized to where it needed its own diary entry.)
The A's "re-tool" every year. It's important to understand that "re-tool" does not necessarily mean "dismantle" (although sometimes it does). Some teams, like the Indians a few years ago, or the Mariners in 2004, hit the wall because too many people got old and/or expensive at the same time, and have no rational choice but to tear down the mess and start over. Beane, on the other hand, has been remarkably good at retooling on the fly, balancing outgoing talent with incoming talent without any "collapse" seasons. Damn difficult, especially given the onerous budgetary constraints, but he's done it very well. There is no reason to expect either the intentions or the results to be very different in 2005.
I saw the Gammons bit on Sportscenter, too, and not only does does seem insistent in recent weeks that the A's are going to have a down year in 2005, but he implies further that they are going to almost deliberately scrap the 2005 season as a necessary sacrifice on the road to better things in 2006 and beyond. A lot of ANers seem to be endorsing this defeatist notion. Bullshit!
Mychael Urban quotes Beane as saying, "We expect to contend for a division championship in 2005 no matter what happens this winter. That is, and will always be, the goal here." That's pretty damned emphatic, isn't it? Believe him! If 2005 is a bad year, it won't be by design, it won't be a deliberate write-off. Beane may not always give away his innermost thoughts, but there's no evidence that he flat-out lies about his intentions. And EVERYTHING in his record indicates that he is as loath to write off the present in favor of the future as he is to sacrifice the future to the present.
Beane famously said of his first playoff team (in 2000) that it would be the worst team the A's would field in the next several years. Sure enough, in 2001 and 2002 the A's fielded great teams that gave Oakland an outstanding chance of grabbing a championship, although that unfortunately did not happen. In 2003 it was still a very good team, and in 2004 a somewhat less good team, but still good enough to have a reasonable shot at the whole shebang with good health and a few breaks. In 2005 we should have another good team, one that could win it all if things break right (or, admittedly, win 80 games if all the breaks are bad ones).
Now the kernel of truth in what Gammons says is that 2004-2005 may in fact represent a low point in the A's talent cycle, with 2006 and 2007 having the possibility of a surge back to 2001-2002 levels. But it isn't necessary to accept Gammons' conclusion that the bottom of the cycle (if 2005 is the bottom) must be the kind of ugly year usually associated with the term "rebuilding year." Beane's balancing act means that even the transition year offers the team and the fans a shot at all the marbles if things go well.
And another thing: after 2003 the A's lost both Tejada and Foulke, two superior performers, high-level All-Stars. They still won 91 games. After this season the best player they are losing is Jermaine Dye, whom age and injuries have reduced to a merely average player. A bunch of pitchers had subpar years and can expect some rebound. And over 2004-2005, the influx of talent (Swisher, Johnson, Street, Garcia, Blanton) for once outweighs the outflow.
So buck up, AN! It's more than 3 months till the start of spring training--a little early to be giving up on 2005, don't you think? Forget Peter Gammons. The A's have both the intention and the ability to be competitive in 2005. They won't have as good a shot at grabbing the brass ring as the Red Sox will, or the Yankees, or as good a shot as the 2001 A's had, and maybe not as good a shot as the 2007 A's will have, but they'll have a respectable shot. More than most teams, by far, and better than some teams (e.g. the 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins) that have actually gone all the way. How much more can you ask for?
And you know what? Even if they do have an off year, they'll still have a shot--probably a better shot--in 2006, and again in 2007. There's enough talent coming up, and the management is in good enough hands (Schott notwithstanding), that the A's could remain competitive if they lost all three of the big three, painful as that would be (and I'm sure they'll hang onto at least two of them for next year and I hope to retain at least one long-term). We have a small-market team, but we're lucky: we have the most special of such teams. Hope is not irrational. Do not be overly influenced by yammerers on ESPN or the sour ending of the recent season. Sure, it's an uphill battle for the small-market, disrespected Oakland A's, but victory, when it comes, is sweeter for David than for Goliath, don't you think?
Keep the faith.