(At BP Milwaukee, we’re continuing to look back at relevant articles that have appeared at Baseball Prospectus in previous years. The archives at BP remain free for everyone, and they’re worth exploring in depth. So much knowledge is available to anyone who takes the time to peruse the site. In relation to the Milwaukee Brewers, though, this particular article by R.J. Anderson caught my eye. It tells the story of the Oakland Athletics — the quintessential small-market, sabermetric ball club that somehow found success against all odds — and how they have recently eschewed “en vogue” rebuilding techniques. We’ve spent so much time comparing the Brewers to the Cubs and Astros, while the Athletics offer a profoundly different model to emulate, if desired. Anderson’s article cuts across the grain and is very much worthwhile.
As always, I’ve included the opening excerpt to read, but please follow the link at the bottom for the article in its entirety.)
To think Billy Beane entered the 2012 season in an unenviable position. His Athletics had won 70-something games for the third time in four years, spurring the ever-active general manager to retool his roster for the umpteenth time. Beane removed the veterans; he traded Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey for prospects, and wished David DeJesus and Josh Willingham all the best as they departed through free agency. Beane would later balance the subtractions by adding Coco Crisp and Bartolo Colon—moves that (seemingly) doubled as peace offerings to the union—but the net result was a payroll trimmed of about $15 million.
All the departures caused the A’s to abandon their short-term aspirations in pursuit of the future. Beane, who has worked with a bottom-six payroll since 2011, was left to improve his roster using one of the game’s best farm systems. Built mostly through trades—the A’s have picked in the top-10 just once since selecting Barry Zito in 1999—Oakland’s farm system entered that pivotal 2012 season ranked fourth in the league; however harmful those aforementioned trades were to fan morale, the returns had nourished a once-weak prospect stable. It’s been said that in baseball you’re either selling hope or selling wins.
In the past half-decade, money-strapped teams like the Rays and Pirates have validated the tried-and-true methods for building good teams with young talent. The process goes something like this: collect prospects by the wagon-full, develop them, keep them as long as the cost is low, and trade the aging and expensive to fill the holes in the system. This practice can be slow and painful, but it has become known as the “Right Way” to rebuild.
Given the A’s aforementioned collection of prospects and their recent success—no team has won more games since the start of 2012—you would think they had authored the all-American rebuild story. But they didn’t; the A’s actually built a winner by ignoring that construct.
Beane has disassembled his farm over the past two years at nearly the same pace he had used to build it. Seven of the 11 top prospects ranked by Kevin Goldstein in January 2012 have been traded, including three of the top five. In fact, Goldstein’s current employer, the Astros, employ as many of those 11 players on their active roster (two) as the A’s do—though Jarrod Parker would give the A’s the lead if he weren’t disabled. Beane’s aggressive prospect trading extends beyond those 11: he moved two players from the bottom nine, pushing the total to nine of the 20 players listed. The A’s didn’t just trade the spare parts. They traded half their farm.
Please read the remainder of the article at baseballprospectus.com for FREE by clicking HERE.