As opening day for the 2012 baseball season approached, many prognosticators had picked the Oakland Athletics
to finish last in the American League West. The division suddenly had two powerhouse teams. The Angels
had signed future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols
, and C.J. Wilson
, the ace of the two-time defending A.L. champion Texas Rangers
The A’s and Mariners would open the season in Japan one week ahead of everyone else. Their seasons were expected to be over by July, as losses would pile up early and often. One writer was inspired to comment, “It’s a shame that the Japanese fans have to watch the worst two teams in baseball.” Of course, any mention of the worst two teams in baseball that does not include the Houston Astros
may be disregarded.
Beane’s support had been dwindling for years as the team had now missed the playoffs for five straight seasons. The number of irate fans demanding that he be fired had increased substantially due to his perplexing offseason moves following the 2011 season. Beane had traded away three All-Star pitchers, Trevor Cahill
, ace Gio Gonzalez
, and closer Andrew Bailey
, for more prospects! Complaints rolled in with disgruntled fans wondering how long this would go on. They were angry and weary of this perpetual state of rebuilding.
To everyone’s surprise, their young talent matured quickly, players blossomed, and their magical 2012 season could be labeled True Moneyball. What they accomplished last season is the strongest evidence to date of Beane’s brilliance as a General Manager. Arguably, it was one of the most unlikely and majestic seasons a team “destined” for 90 to 100 plus losses has ever had.
Moneyball focused on the 2002 Athletics, a team that struggled early on, but won 103 games, including 20 in a row! This incredible feat was not accomplished by a roster full of no names, as the movie so inaccurately depicted. They had third-baseman Eric Chavez
, and shortstop Miguel Tejada
in their primes, as well as their “three aces”, starting pitchers Barry Zito
, Mark Mulder
, and Tim Hudson
Following the Cahill trade, the senior writer of Bleacher Report wrote, “Consequently, the A’s are intent on unloading their young talent to acquire even younger----and cheaper---talent. The Oakland A’s will likely field a junior varsity team of unproven prospects and minor leaguers next season. And their bounty of Parker, Cowgill, and Cook is an example." Jarrod Parker
, of course, turned out to be the ace of a very solid rotation.
In February, Oakland surprised the baseball world with the signing of Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes
. J.J. Stankevitz of csnchicago.com wrote, “Four years of Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t do much for a team that may not contend in the top-heavy AL West until the last year of Cepedes’ deal at best.” Michael Nargi wrote on BleacherReport.com, “They (the A’s) have a lot of flaws, so it seems odd that they decided to sign Cespedes.”
Danny Knobler of cbs.sportsline.com chimed in with his superlative wisdom: “The A's know they're not going to win this year, and probably not next year, either. That's why they spent this winter trading Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Baily for young prospects. But the plan has been to build a team that can win in 2014-15. If the A's are right about Cespedes, that's when he will be emerging as a true star.”
One fan remarked online: “Every year, the A’s come out saying that they’re playing for 3 or 4 years down the road, every year!” Wait a minute - Billy Beane is the ultimate competitor! I think it can safely be said that he works diligently with his scouts, and sabermetric team to try to build a winner every year. This is not to say that Beane expected to win in 2012, but his trades did stock the team primarily with major league ready talent.
Enough talent to give A’s fans the ride of their lives. Surprisingly, this “junior varsity team” somehow managed to play above .500 through May 21st when Tommy Milone beat the Angels to put the A’s at 22-21. However, they lost their next nine games, and looked much more like the team most had expected to see.
By June 30th, they had fallen 13 games behind Texas at 37-42. Amazingly, they fought their way back into contention and by July 28th were only 3 ½ games behind the Rangers and ten games over .500! Surely these kids would fade, wilting in the dog days of August, and the Angels and Rangers would fight it out for the division title. Instead, the A’s went 18-10 in August and began the last month of the season only 4 games out of first place!
After a crucial loss to Texas, the A’s were 5 games behind with only nine games left in the season. The dream of stealing the division from Texas seemed to be dead. Of course, the A’s won eight of those nine, most of them against the Rangers, and gave baseball its most dramatic finish to a season since…….well………………….2011!
Fans all across America would love to have Billy Beane as the General Manager of their mediocre and underachieving teams. When you consider the budgetary constraints he works under, the success he has had is remarkable.
Nobody knows what 2013 will hold for Billy Beane and his Oakland Athletics. Their pitching is still solid and their hitting looks stronger on paper. However, baseball is still a game of inches played between the white lines. Last season’s great success stories are meaningless as a new season approaches. Injuries, bad luck, season-long slumps, low production with RISP, etc can ruin the summers of even the most talented of clubs. There are so many variables that it’s impossible to accurately predict how it will all pan out.
Well, not entirely. You can pretty much take this one to the bank. The Seattle Mariners
will not finish the 2013 season in the cellar. You see, the Houston Astros are coming to town, and are destined to become the new residents of the cellar in the American League West.