"Don't mess with success" is a ludicrous pointer to give Billy Beane, especially after over a decade of accusations — observations, really — that his teams choke upon reaching the playoffs.
Success? The A's have played in eight playoff series with Beane running the ship. They've lost seven. And when they did sweep the Twins in the 2006 ALDS, they lost four straight games to the Tigers the following week. That team's manager got fired and its core retired, got dealt or left for greener pastures. Under Bob Geren's watchful eye, the A's missed the playoffs in each of the next five seasons.
Oakland is lucky. It's the mark of a successful franchise that discontent can be so rampant within a fanbase even after seven playoff appearances in 14 years. But appearances clearly don't cut it in Oakland anymore.
So here came the 2014 A's, looking every bit as good as the 96-win team of 2013. As good, even, as the 2002 squad that won 103 games and took a break from losing for the better part of an entire month. But 2002 wasn't good enough, and 2013 wasn't good enough, and none of the other years were good enough.
On every logical level, Oakland's squad in late July was well equipped to win a World Series. They had three front-line starters in Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray and Jeff Samardzija. They had the one of the league's two best offenses, the best run differential, a dominant bullpen and the requisite starting pitching.
Those elements were certainly present in 2002, and were there for the most part in 2013. In each of those years, there was no reason to change a thing as the trade deadline approached. Beane operates logically. He didn't do anything beyond a subtle move here and there to shore up depth.
Billy Beane is no Einstein, but it seems he's finally bought into that man's definition of insanity. It was time to change things up.
Acquiring Jon Lester is a very good way to change things up. Lester is the type of player who guides teams to rings, and has done it before. He's the real deal. When are a team's chances of winning better: When Yoenis Cespedes has 15:1 odds to homer off Justin Verlander, or when the guy opposing (the 2012 version of) Verlander is every bit as good?
It was a trade. Maybe it didn't work out. It still might, weirdly enough. Because the A's play the Phillies three times, and then the Angels. And Anaheim finds that series so meaningless that it's sending Wade LeBlanc to the mound for Tuesday night's matchup. And then the A's finish with four games against Texas. And don't let the last three days fool you. The Rangers are very, very bad.
Lester in the Wild Card, with Samardzija, Gray and Kazmir coming alive in the playoffs. Who knows? It would certainly be less strange than the A's going 24-33 post-All Star Break.
But it doesn't matter whether or not the trade worked out, because it symbolized a long-awaited departure from Beane's "only in the regular season" methods that fans had been getting antsy about. (I still think that's ridiculous, by the way. The 2014 rotation, maybe, is marginally better than the one led by the Big Three in 2002, and that team did nothing in the playoffs. Baseball in May is the same as baseball in October.)
The fans who are currently upset with the front office got exactly what they wanted: for the people calling the shots to stop playing it safe. For the A's to try to win not with a ragtag group of late-blooming fringe prospects and homegrown talent, but with some of baseball's biggest names.
Oakland is authoring one of the biggest collapses in baseball history, right in front of our eyes. And somehow, there's still a very real chance that Jon Lester will take the mound in a winner-take-all Wild Card game.
Sometimes you take a leap of faith and things work out beautifully. Sometimes you trip and fall on your face. And maybe that's what happened. Maybe Beane and the A's really stepped in it this year. But Beane went for it. He finally went for it. Can you ask for anything more?