Lest you find the headline to be crass, note that I am referring to the animal itself: that stubborn beast whose tab in china shops keeps rising. The saying goes, "There is none so blind as he who will not see" but perhaps it should also include, "There is none so deaf as he who will not hear."
When Billy Beane made the super-controversial trade of Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester, it was widely referred to as a "bold move". It wasn't bold, though, so much as it was dumb. While I personally feel the Samardzija-Russell trade will harm the organization far more in the long run, that trade at least made sense. You trade "future" for "now" or you trade "now" for "future". What you don't do is try to improve your team now by dismantling some of the very core of that same team.
No one on the A's is going to come out and say, in blunt words, that they feel their GM messed up. The players are far too professional to throw their GM under the bus in a public forum. About the closest you're going to get, publicly and on the record, is a more measured quote like, "You're going to miss somebody like that no matter what, especially when you're used to having him in there for so long protecting so many guys...We definitely struggled with it for a while." You know it's bad if you get something as blunt as, "It's the reality. When you take a few guys out of the clubhouse and add a handful of new guys, as much as people don't think it's a big deal and we're all professional out here playing a game, there's something to chemistry and having an identity as a team." The former quote is from Josh Reddick who, as a player under contract is going to be cautious, the latter from Jed Lowrie who, as a free agent, is more free to speak his -- and perhaps many of his teammates' -- mind.
Beane's response was to insist that without Lester the A's don't even make the wild card game, as if the team, bolstered offensively by Cespedes' contribution to the lineup, could not have been expected to manage a 16-30 record down the stretch.
No one can say, for sure, what would have happened to the A's with Cespedes and without Lester, nor can they say to what extent Cespedes' presence on the team in the lineup mattered and if so how much and in what way. Injuries didn't help and had Oakland not choked away the wild card game, for all we know this Lesterful and Cespedesless squad would be up 2-0 on the Angels right now. But if ever there were a time for a GM to say, "I thought I was doing the right thing but man, it backfired," perhaps even to add the 'l' word ... "and I've learned..." ... this would be the time. Instead he says an off-season priority will be to add a right-handed bat. You don't say.
This is not about Cespedes himself or whatever magic, per se, he brought to the A's team. Disrupting the core of this year's team in the quest to improve this year's team is not bold. It's just not smart. I think Lowrie nailed it when instead of falling back on the tired -- and frankly nebulous -- term "chemistry," he reached (and didn't dive late) for the word "identity".
The A's knew they were good as ta team whose identity included, and somewhat revolved around, Cespedes. Jesse Chavez, #3 starting pitcher? Stephen Vogt, unlikely hitting hero? Down 4-0 early? No problem. I don't know how much chemistry the A's lost in the July scramble, but no doubt they lost or changed their identity. And to hear it from the players themselves, speaking as freely as each of them sees fit, you are already hearing the truth that may conflict with your own ideas about how it should be. What matters isn't what should matter, but rather what does matter.
And if the A's want to be successful going forward, their usually excellent GM needs to be less bull and more open to listening and hearing, because 2014 was derailed in part by a move that was never bold. It just wasn't smart. Not then, not now. And please, not ever again.