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Bit By Bit: Beane's Bonanzas & Blunders

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UPDATE, SATURDAY MORNING: As discussed in notsellingjeans' fanpost, the Angels have reportedly offered Beltre 5 years, $70M, with Boras reportedly now officially seeking 5/85 for Beltre, or a 6-year deal and the Angels indicating they will not increase their offer. My official position on this is that the A's should now make a "final offer, take it or leave it" of somewhere from 5/75-5/80. If Beltre signs with the Angels for less, the A's have made a true effort, if the Angels match or beat the A's offer then at least the A's have made the Angels pay up, and if he signs with the A's it's worth it to make Oakland arguably the favorites in the AL West.

Count me in as pretty darn pleased with the off-season so far. Process-wise, I think Beane has done well more often than he has erred, though it is, as always, a mixed bag. Today I will break down -- you didn't let me finish -- today I will break down each move, roughly in chronological order, to separate out which ones I think deserve praise and which deserve to be panned. You can, if you finish your peas and your Science homework, weigh in with your own perspectives...

Adrian Beltre - Bonanza  Let's get the most controversial one out of the way first, as the off-season pretty much kicked off with a 5 year, $64M offer to Adrian Beltre. Many consider this negotiation to be in the "blunder" category, but I am in the minority who believe Beane has done well so far -- though obviously how it plays out will go a long way to establishing who was right all along.

What Beane has avoided are three negotiation killers: Having your offer(s) used for leverage to sign elsewhere, bidding against yourself, and making panicky high offers when you don't need to. Early on, he made a fair offer -- high on the years, so-so on the dollars -- but one unlikely to be accepted on the spot. And then he has sat back, knowing that if Beltre has any interest in playing for the A's and/or getting the best offer then Oakland will be contacted before any deal is signed elsewhere, while the list of potential suitors has shrunk and no bidding war has emerged. If no one else makes an appealing offer, the A's hold all the cards. If another team does, the A's can probably match, exceed, or pass, without engaging in a back-and-forth bidding war or guessing what it will take to get a deal done.

Initially, Boras said he was seeking 5 years and $90M for Beltre and initially the A's said they would welcome Beltre for 5 years and $64M. It appears likely that the figure that lands Beltre will be closer to $64M than it is to $90 -- maybe a lot closer -- and that's assuming any other team is even willing to offer 5 years, which is a big if.

The A's may not get Beltre (heck, we don't even know how much they want him anymore, though I assume they still do), and if a division rival lands Beltre without grossly overspending the A's might look bad in the end. But Beane has played "chicken" with Boras without blinking and personally, I think Billy has won. Especially because even after a series of moves between November and today, the A's still have the payroll flexibility to make the best offer in the end if that's what they wish to do.

Hisashi Iwakuma - Blunder  Not a big one, and in fact one that reversed itself when the A's got their $19M posting fee returned, but I don't think either side did well here. Agent Don Nomura erred by being utterly insane, but the A's paid an awful lot for the rights to negotiate with a "roll of the dice" #3ish starter.

The problem was, the posting fee was high enough that the A's, in order to get a worthwhile deal in the end, had to make a pretty meh annual offer to Iwakuma. Both sides would have been better off had the A's won posting rights for about $14-$15M and then been able to make a better offer to Iwakuma without overpaying in the end. Luckily, negotiations fell apart and the whole thing became nothing more than an amusing trail of bizarre tweets.

David DeJesus - Bonanza  DeJesus was a vintage Billy Beane pickup: Someone good enough to be worth adding, not good enough to cost a ton to acquire, coming off one freak injury that helped sap a little of his trade value. The result? Oakland adds a solid defensive COFer with a career OPS of .787 and wOBA of .342, in exchange for Vin Mazzaro, a decent young pitcher but one whose career so far has been marred by questions about upside and attitude, and Justin Marks -- likely the more painful loss of the two long-term, but a lower-level pitching prospect nonetheless. Most importantly, the A's upgrade at the position (COF) in most dire need of a boost and they did it for the price of a #5 starter who appeared to have pitched his way into the club's doghouse.

Rajai Davis - Blunder  The decision to trade Davis for two minor league relievers puzzled me then and puzzles me now. Davis is not expensive, plays a solid defensive CF, and as a result is a valuable understudy if you happen to have a starting CFer with an extensive injury history. Meanwhile, as a 25th man on your bench you couldn't do a whole lot better than a "game changing" pinch runner, a good platoon starter, and an excellent defensive COFer. By trading Davis in favor of keeping Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney, the A's have made themselves more vulnerable in the unlikely (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!) event Coco Crisp misses substantial playing time. Had Rajai been dealt to upgrade the team in a meaningful way, that would be one thing; dealing him for a couple "ok" minor league relief arms? Bad move.

Jack Cust - Blunder  I am not going to get into how good or bad Jack Cust is. Let's just accept him as a guy with terrific on base skills, no defensive skills, and power/slugging that is currently difficult to project. For the $4-5M he might have cost in arbitration, tendering him should have been a given, and to let him slip away -- for $2.5M no less -- before a replacement was secured was just foolish. Conor Jackson should have been dumped twice: Once to leave payroll and "backup OF" room for Rajai Davis and when that didn't happen, to leave payroll room for Jack Cust. Curse you, Valley Fever! {shakes fist}

Hideki Matsui - Bonzana  Had the A's signed Lance Berkman, for more money than Cust and very hard to predict results, the DH blunder train would have made one more stop. However, if there was a signing that could take the sting away from Custblunderfest, it was signing Matsui to a remarkably team-friendly deal: one year, $4.5M (minus the revenue his Japanese Godzillaness is worth to the A's).

Matsui has reliably been good for a .360+ OBP and more power than anyone on last year's roster was good for, and while at age 36 he is a decline candidate that decline has not evidenced itself yet in regards to OBP or the ability to serve as a legitimate "middle of the order" (say #5) hitter.

Josh Willingham - Bonanza  Another guy who actually belongs in the middle of a batting order, Willingham was obtained for an awfully low price: an erratic reliever and a 25 year old "toolsy" prospect who Ks as if every opposing pitcher is, well, Henry Rodriguez.

Willingham, unlike many good hitters, has already expressed an openness to discussing an extension with Oakland, so this may or may not be a "one year rental." If it is, the draft picks Willingham yields the A's will help offset the loss of two prospects, and if it isn't the A's might have a solid bat in the COF for the next 2-3 years.

Suddenly at COF, a position where a black hole would have constituted an upgrade two months ago, Oakland has two guys who combine for a career .800 OPS, one of whom plays excellent defense and one of whom hits for good power, and the A's have, in the mix, a luxury "4th OFer" in Ryan Sweeney. Just the fact that Matsui and Willingham can bat #3-#4, while former "miscast middle-of-the-order hitters" Kurt Suzuki and Kevin Kouzmanoff would probably bat #6-#7 in the current lineup, tells you a lot about how much the A's offense has improved since season's end.

Brandon McCarthy/Rich Harden - Bonunder? Blanza?  Not big moves, but a perfectly fine addition of depth with McCarthy offering another option for the vacancy left by Vin Mazzaro and Harden being an intriguing candidate for the Kerry Wood role of "perpetually injured starter becomes dominant set-up man" -- also known as the Keith Foulke role of "90MPH fastball and killer changeup makes hitters go crazee!"

Conclusion: Sure, adding Beltre now would be the icing on the cake, but with or without the single-nutted one I think the A's have put themselves "in the conversation" in the AL West, and they have done so still with enough payroll flexibility to add now or add later as opportunity (or Scott Boras) knocks. Not a bad month's work at all.