Billy Beane has always sliced the season into thirds. The first third you spend assessing what kind of team you have and what you need. The second third, you go out and try and plug the holes.
The final third is always for the stretch drive when the team comes together in one beautiful symphony of success. Is it any coincidence that the A's always seem to get better as the season rolls on?
That being said, this season might be a little different. Because while Billy Beane is as competitive as anyone and he hates losing, he's also in the process of building for the future and making sure that this team is set up for a title run in 2006.
This is directly from my interview with Billy back in January:
BB: I'm not going to go on record and say what is going to happen just because it's not a good idea even if you're the New York Yankees. But anyone who knows me knows that I've never given away a game or an inning in my life as a general manager. I'm excited about 2005. I'm even more excited about 2006. Despite this being a very difficult winter with the departures, it has also been one where when I look around the diamond, I look at Chavy and he's back next year, I look at Crosby and he's back next year, I can look at second base, they're back. I can look at catcher, he's back, I can look at the outfield, they're back. I look at the five projected starters and they're probably around another five years. The fact that we've laid a foundation excites me. I think in 1999, I said after we won 87 games, this would be the worst team we would have over the next five years.
That's how Billy feels about this team. So, when thinking about what he might do to help this team out, keep an eye towards the future. Does that mean that if the A's are only a few games back from the Seal Beach Angels later in the season that Beane won't pull something off to try and put the team over the top, a la Jermaine Dye, Ricardo Rincon and Ray Durham? Of course not.
But in my opinion, if he's going to do something early to try and kick start the offense, it's more likely to be to go more youth oriented. So a Wily Mo Pena or Austin Kearns for instance. If Kiko Calero is healthy, and he seems to be, Calero could very well become a closer for the A's if Dotel is moved. And there are many teams in need of a closer right now. I guarantee Billy realizes this. The market is high for that role. Or even just a good, solid reliever. At the same time, he isn't going to want to weaken the pen too much just yet.
So, someone like Kearns, who is 24 years old, making under a million dollars and has been an OPS machine in his healthy season and a half, 2002-2003, would be an ideal fit. Pena is 23 years old and is making $440,000 this season. His 2005 OPS is off the charts (1.165) and the Reds don't have enough outfield spots for their players. At the same time, Pena has struck out 16 times and only walked twice. A big no-no when Beane looks at acquiring players. Kearns on the other hand has struck out 26 times, but he's also walked 10 times.
So ultimately, in my opinion, affordable with the potential to grow with the nucleus of this team is the way that Billy would go if he was going to make a deal this early. Someone like a Mike Sweeney would come along only later in the season if the team was in contention for the division title and needed some veteran presence.
Unless of course, he's changed his mind and Lewis Wolff has gone Steinbrenner on us. But even if he did, I'm not sure Billy would run the team that way.
A couple other quick thoughts:
- Shakeups can happen in the form of callups and/or send downs (witness the Menechino move a couple years ago). But I don't think Dan Johnson will be coming up just yet. DJ will have the first base job in 2006. It's his. No question. But unless Durazo is moved, DJ will be stuck in Sacramento until September. It's just reality. Plus, who are the A's going to send down? Charles Thomas? I don't think so unless it's just to try and get his swing right and get him some regular playing time. They are kind of handcuffed in this regard.
- Scott Hatteberg isn't going anywhere, so we need to give that up. He's going to be the first baseman until at least September 1. If anyone gets traded, it would be Durazo because of his significant salary and the fact that Ruby would definitely bring better returns than Hatteberg. The Mad Hatter will likely be joining the A's front office in some capacity after this season.
- Dan Meyer will likely be at Triple-A until after the All Star break. Billy Beane loves starting the arb clock as late as possible. There's no doubt in my mind that Meyer will be no different.
- The window to trade Eric Byrnes is not closed contrary to popular opinion around here. Byrnes is one of the streakiest hitters you'll ever see. He will eventually catch fire and Beane will again investigate dealing him, if not sooner (there have to be some GMs that love Byrnes ability to steal bases while also hitting a bomb or twenty). $2.2 million is a lot of money for what the A's are getting from left field right now.
- Dotel is a really valuable trading chip right now and we know how Billy loves to horde his chips. I imagine that Dotel will not be moved until Beane is sure that Calero will last the season. Billy also needs to make sure that the pen is deep enough to be able to withstand Calero's move to the closer role. It might not be just yet. But if Cruz turns things around and Jairo Garcia proves he has some modicum of control, it very well might be.
Of course, Billy is probably seeing or plotting something none of us have thought of yet. That's just Beane's way.