For much of the past decade, the Giants and A's have been mirror images of each other - at least in terms of on-field success/lack thereof. In the first half of the decade, both teams fielded competitive, marketable teams based around the presence of a highly visible core of players - Bonds for the Giants and the Big Three for the A's. From 2000 to 2004 both teams won more than 90 games every season and vaulted into the post-season regularly on the backs of these players. Since 2004, however, both teams have struggled to compete (with the exception of the 2006 A's) and have moved on from their early-decade glory years and the players that defined those teams.
But that's just about where the similarities end. The Giants rode the Barry Bonds train into a new stadium and largely ignored their farm system while slapping together "veteran" teams year-after-year in an attempt to keep the train chugging along for as long as possible. After awhile, Giants GM Brian Sabean became something of a lightning rod and laughing stock among baseball circles for his almost pathological devotion to aging, past-their-prime players such as Omar Vizquel and Moises Alou - not to mention his much-harangued epic failure in signing Barry Zito long-term.
Billy Beane, on the other hand and rightfully or not, became a beacon of enlightenment in the game, based on his perceived cutting-edge adoption of statistical analysis, reliance on his farm system and perpetual search for the "undervalued" commodity.
Based upon these stereotypes, Billy Beane was, again - rightfully or not, more highly regarded than Sabean by many in the baseball world as he seemed to be more creative, progressive and efficient than his Giants counterpart. But as of Winter 2008, that dynamic has begun to change.
While both teams entered this Winter at basically the same point in the competitive cycle - namely, rebuilding - Sabean has been unusually active in the free agent market by smartly buttressing his fantastic young pitching core with a better bullpen (Affeldt, Howry), better offense (Renteria) and a stabilizing presence in the middle of the rotation (Big Unit). Even then, Sabean doesn't seem to be done yet as he's been linked to Joe Crede and even Manny Ramirez. Ohhh, and that farm system he supposedly neglected for so long has been rebuilt fairly well over the past few years and will start to graduate some solid talent within the next few seasons (Buster Posey, Tim Alderson, Madison Bumgardner, Conor Gillespie, Emmanuel Burriss, Angel Villalona). Bucking conventional wisdom in a very un-Giants like-way, it sure seems like Sabean is on his way to walking that "contending while rebuilding" tight rope that so many before him have tried and failed.
By contrast, Billy Beane has seemed to have lost a step in his dance with Sabean this off-season. His trade for Matt Holliday was a promising kick-start to the Hot Stove season, but since that time he seems to be spinning his wheels, spending too much time courting players that never really intended to sign with Oakland (Furcal) and neglecting the players that might be more inclined to sign with the team and improve more critical gaping holes in the starting rotation - players such as Randy Johnson and Ben Sheets (the latter of whom Beane has never even inquired upon).
Since Beane has a solid track record of building competitive teams out of the hot stove ether and eventually getting who he wants, I guess it would be wise to give him a mulligan for his personnel moves (or lack thereof) so far this off-season. And while Sabean's moves have good looked so far this Winter, it's hard to argue that building a competitive team in the uber-soft NL West is a lot easier than building one in the AL West (where the Angels continue to feature top-tier starting pitching and a deep bullpen designed to win close games).
Even so, for once, it seems like Sabean is gaining ground on Beane in the court of public opinion. It remains to be seen if the current status quo will remain into Opening Day 2009 and, beyond that, who knows if Sabean's frenetic activity will prove more productive than Beane's patient scheming...but at this point in time it sure seems like Sabean, rightfully or not, is doing a better job of accomplishing what both men are striving for: "contending while rebuilding" or "supporting the young pitchers" or whatever the hell they are calling it these days...