What Has Beane Done *Right* This Year? Part 1

OK, I admit, that header is phrased in such a way as to interpret it as a rhetorical question and an implicit slam on Beane.

But that's not my intent ... today.

Given our recent upswing in fortune, I thought we might jump that ol' bandwagon and look back on the personnel moves Beane made going into, and during the course of, this season that have worked out for the better.

I think it makes sense to consider Beane's moves in separate categories: FA acquisitions and Rule 5 claims, trades, addition-by-subtraction ballast-overboard, in-system promotions and contract extensions, and 40-/25-man roster manipulation (the latter to include DL moves and non-moves).

I'm going to break each of these categories down in a separate installment.

Today, I'll address a category that has not always paid dividends for Beane: free-agent signings. In the offseason, Beane signed Alan Embree, Shannon Stewart, and Mike Piazza, moves that were all eminently questionable:

  • Embree is of a class -- LHRPs -- who are notoriously inconsistent year to year, and he was signed to what seemed an inordinately long contract
  • Stewart had, like Frank Thomas, been in an injury-induced downward performance trend, but didn't have the potential high returns of the Big Hurt
  • Piazza was a bit of an enigma (how would he adjust to DH'ing and the AL; was he physically worn down; had his bat speed dissipated) and was signed for more money than might have been advisable

Beane also brought in Erubiel Durazo and Todd Walker during Spring Training; Walker contributed some quality PAs, while Durazo never stuck with the club but did provide reasonable backup insurance in an area (1B/DH) where the A's actually seemed understaffed at the beginning of the season. In addition, Beane claimed Jay Marshall in the Rule 5 draft from Tampa Bay the White Sox; Marshall provided some effective innings early, but his Rule Fiveyness has been exposed of late and he's pretty much dropped to the bottom of the bullpen rotation.

With the exception of Piazza's slow start and his subsequent early happenstance injury, I think it's fair to say that Beane has had one of his best FA years in '07. Embree has been the savior of the 'pen, Stewart has been the lone high-contact/high-AVG hitter in the lineup and has been remarkably healthy despite playing far more often than projected, and Piazza is really heating up of late to boost the moribund offense and potentially raise his trade value.

Given Beane's sketchy track record in signing FAs, and his ability this year to limit long-term liabilities while plugging some holes at the margins of the roster, I think 2007 may represent some of his best work to date.

The FA market really is aptly named: it's the most "free" talent "market" in MLB (in the sense of there being no real limits or structures on buyers or sellers), and "agents" are always right in the middle. As a consequence of the limits and strictures on the other components of the talent market, though, FAs are almost always poor bargains from a cost/risk/return perspective, with buyers uniformly over-paying, paying for past performance, and paying for players likely to decline.

One can argue that Beane overpaid for Piazza, though it does make some sense that part of the cost of Piazza can be ascribed to the value of having kept him off the roster of the Angels (not that that's made much difference in the standings).

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