5:51 PM CST, January 15, 2012
First in a series, counting down to the opening of spring training. First up: the Athletics, No. 30 in Phil Rogers' power rankings.
Loved the movie "Moneyball." If you weren't touched by Billy Beane's relationship with his daughter, you don't have a heart.
Back in the fall of 2002, Beane turned down a chance to jump from Oakland to Boston because he couldn't stand the thought of moving away from his daughter, whose mother lives in California. But Casey Beane is in her 20s now, going full steam ahead for an independent life, so Beane no longer has geographic limitations on his career.
He really should move on. But his deal with Athletics owner Lew Wolff has become a velvet coffin.
As a former player and scout who was a progressive thinker when that was seen as a baseball liability, Beane should be running one of baseball's better organizations. Instead he has stayed put with the stadium-poor A's, who operate at Oakland's Coliseum of Many Names, in baseball's low-rent district, across the bay from San Francisco's glittering AT&T Park.
There was talk in September and October that Beane was getting out, finally ready to consider one of several openings for general manager (most notably with the Cubs, Red Sox and Angels, but also the Orioles and Astros). But both Beane and his highly respected assistant, David Forst, stayed put.
Those two have since been occupied in stripping a roster that has steadily shrunk since 2007, the season that ended the eight-year run of winning teams in the Tim Hudson-Barry Zito-Mark Mulder era. You might think they would have wanted to improve it after a 74-88 season.
Yet Beane and Forst allowed their top run producer (Josh Willingham) to leave as a free agent and traded their top pitcher (Gio Gonzalez). Also moving on through trades or free agency were Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill, Ryan Sweeney, Craig Breslow, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui.
What had been a $67 million payroll in 2011 will come in much lower this season, somewhere under $50 million, with the re-signed Coco Crisp as the highest-paid player (2 years, $14 million) and catcher Kurt Suzuki and reliever Brian Fuentes the only others earning $5 million.
This is Wolff screaming loudly that he should be allowed to build a stadium in San Jose, which he has been barred from doing because it is San Francisco Giants territory.
There's no hotter topic on Commissioner Bud Selig's plate, and while it's at the top of the list of tasks he'll undertake the next three years — Selig accepted a two-year contract extension at last week's owners' meeting — it's unclear how he'll resolve it.
Looking at the Orioles' decline in attendance since the arrival of the Nationals — from 2.74 million in 2004, the last year the Nationals were still the Montreal Expos, to 1.76 million last season — you can see why the Giants aren't especially welcoming. There are other numbers to consider, however.
Wolff bought the A's for $180 million in 2005, and the growth of baseball in general and revenue sharing in particular has allowed their value to increase while the product deteriorates. Forbes lists the current value at $307 million.
Beane, whose contract runs through 2014, has a 4 percent stake in ownership. That's $7.2 million with the valuation at what Wolff paid for the team, $12.3 million at the current Forbes figure or a hypothetical $22.5 million if the A's move to San Jose and eventually gain equal footing with the Giants — currently valued at $569 million by Forbes.
In the meantime, manager Bob Melvin will be given a ridiculously punchless lineup — weaker than the team that was 12th in the AL with 645 runs last season — and a rotation with Brandon McCarthy as the Opening Day starter (Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson should be midseason additions after 2011 surgeries) in front of Guillermo Moscoso and three guys from a group including Bartolo Colon, Josh Outman and next-generation arms Brad Peacock, Jarrod Parker and Tom Milone.
(bullet) MLB should have a minimum payroll. It would require all teams to at least attempt to be somewhat competitive, and fairness is an issue. For instance, how much of an advantage will the Angels and Rangers have in the wild-card race because they have 19 games each against Oakland?
(bullet) According to Bill James' projections, the Athletics' most productive hitter next season will be DH Brandon Allen, with a slash line of .243/.327/.449, 22 home runs and 71 RBIs.
(bullet) Melvin is a major upgrade in the dugout, probably the best manager they've had since Tony La Russa (although Art Howe was much better than the movie's portrayal by Philip Seymour Hoffman suggests).
(bullet) MLB scoffs at Forbes' projections, but they're the best available.
(bullet) Wolff is very close to Selig, but so far that does not appear to have gained him any advantages.
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