As you all know, Moneyball was about finding cheap, undervalued players for pennies on the dollar. The A's simply couldn't afford first-rate talent at first-rate prices, so they had to be efficient and crafty instead. Paying twenty bucks for twenty dollars worth of goods would leave the A's with one of the worst teams in the majors. Billy Beane had to go discount shopping.
Which player provided the most production for the least amount of money? I've identified a few contenders for the Moneyball crown.
John Jaha (1999-2001)
Jaha was a DH for the Brewers from 1992 to 1998. He had a few quality years, but after posting a terrible 0.2 WAR in 273 PAs in his final year in Milwaukee, he became an unwanted free agent with no defensive skills. The A's signed him to a minor league contract in 1999, and he went on to hit .276/.414/.556 for a 150 wRC+ in 570 PAs, racking up 4.2 WAR as a DH. He was the 12th most productive batter in the majors that year, finishing 18th in the MVP voting, and he made a paltry $525,000. He didn't play much in his final two years, but it sure was a fantastic 1999.
Scott Hatteberg (2002-2005)
Of course. Scott Hatteberg, Pickin' Machine. A catcher drafted by the Red Sox in 1991, he became a free agent after the 2001 season. The A's signed him to play first base, because they loved his OBP abilities. In 2002, he had a wRC+ of 120, and UZR thought he was +6.2 runs above the average first basemen. His salary? $900K. Also, come on. Just plain crazy.
Erubiel Durazo (2003-2005)
Durazo played sparingly for the Diamondbacks, but his first real full-season dose of playing time came in Oakland. In 2004, he hit .321/.396/.523, a wRC+ of 138, all while making $2.1MM.
Frank Thomas (2006, 2008)
How can a slam dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer be underrated? When he's 38, jettisoned away from the only team he ever knew. Frank Thomas put up a season for the ages in 2006, batting .270/.381/.545, a wRC+ of 139. Now, let's be fair, that 2006 season was only the 12th best season of his career. But at age 38? While making the veteran's minimum of $500,000? That's some great value. I'll never forget the look on his face when he made the final out of game two of the ALCS. With the A's down by three and the bases loaded, he missed a pitch by a millimeter, turning a thunderous game-winning grand slam into a pop up fly ball to CF. As soon as he hit it, he knew, and he slammed the bat down.
Jack Cust (2007-2010)
When Mike Piazza went down on the disabled list, the A's called up a former top prospect with 200 home runs in the minors. He hit a home run on his first day. Two more on his fourth game. And another home run in his fifth, sixth, and seventh. He finished the year batting .256/.408/.504, a 143 wRC+, while making the league minimum. Over his whole career in Oakland, he had a 128 wRC+, including two more years above 130.