Hollywood probably isn’t paying any attention anymore, but what Billy Beane has wrought with this 2014 A’s team would make a far better movie than “Moneyball.” It shouldn’t just blow your mind how good and how complete this club is, but how many machinations Beane and his cohorts have made to make to create what Oakland has today — a team that looks like it can finally break that postseason first-round spell and at least get to the World Series, if not win it.
Let’s just start with the rotation. Somehow, a club that lost Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin on Day 1 to season-ending injuries, AND lost Bartolo Colon to free agency, AND lost Brett Anderson in trade, AND wound up sending Dan Straily to the minors early on somehow comes out better on the other end by Beane beating the competition to Scott Kazmir, and now Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammels, to go along with Sonny Gray and 3-4 guys who can ably fill the fifth spot (Jesse Chavez, Tommy Milone, Drew Pomeranz and Brad Mills). Really, that’s a shell game success story unlike I’ve seen in years with any baseball rotation reclamation.
In the bullpen, you’ve got Dan Otero, a guy the Giants DFA’ed as a primary setup guy to go along with Luke Gregerson, acquired for Seth Smith, a good player but one the A’s barely miss. You haven’t yet seen the best of lefty Eric O’Flaherty, a free agent coup at $1.5 million. There’s another young stud lefty in Fernando Abad, acquired for a guy still in Class A, John Wooten. OK, so the Jim Johnson thing hasn’t worked, but the A’s are hardly the poorer for it on the field even though it might have stressed them at the bank. With so much depth elsewhere, they could make their converted first baseman Sean Doolittle the closer after two standout seasons as a setup man. Doolittle is a movie unto himself, actually, when you consider how unlikely his myriad transformations have been. Ryan Cook’s still here starting to look like the Cookie of old. He was part of the Jarrod Parker for Trevor Cahill deal.
The everyday lineup offers so many incredible plot twists. The converted catcher who will likely be named an All-Star Game starter Sunday. Josh Donaldson’s ascendence is just off the charts amazing. What a player. He crushed his 19th homer in Saturday night’s 5-1 win over Toronto and also made another death-defying catch in foul territory, crashing into the tarp roll near the stands at full speed yet hauling in a critical first out in the eighth inning.
You’ve got three solid catchers, none of them named Kurt Suzuki. Brandon Moss at first, looking at a 100-RBI season. A three-headed monster at second with Alberto Callaspo, Nick Punto and Eric Sogard. Jed Lowrie, down average-wise this season but still productive at the plate and better defensively at short. Two big first basemen in reserve in Nate Freiman and Kyle Blanks.
The outfield we know well. Coco is Coco. Yoenis Cespedes is having his finest season both offensively and defensively and may be a starting All-Star, too. Josh Reddick has been hurt and inconsistent when healthy, but it’s hardly mattered because of another key Beane move — acquiring the versatile Craig Gentry for former No. 1 pick Michael Choice. That deal was a head-scratcher when it first came down, but it’s turned out to be another Beane coup. Choice has eight homers for Texas but he’s hitting .179 with 50 strikeouts in 197 at-bats. Gentry may not have Choice’s power but he’s hitting .273 with 15 stolen bases and has been a veritable life-saver playing all three outfield spots. After watching Gentry, it’s easier to see why the A’s had no problem letting San Fuld go at season’s outset.
Now the Samardzija-Hammels chapter begins. What will they add? Judging by all the other successful moves Beane has made to strengthen the team, the odds are good it helps drive the A’s home to a third straight A.L. West title. With Kazmir, Gray and Samardija as your prospective 1-2-3 starters for the playoffs, you can’t ask for much more.
And let’s not forget one other critical move that makes the Moneyball era look weak — the hiring of Bob Melvin, who has made all the moving pieces work so magnificently. Melvin has already distinguished himself as the best manager Beane has ever hired, and it’s not even close.
I’ve long tossed it, but I wish I still had the Baseball America issues from the past few years that have tried to project the A’s roster three years ahead. Boy, those projections must look like a disaster at this point. There’s a hollow pit in A’s fans stomachs that Addison Russell will never be in their team’s lineup, and when you hear Derek Jeter comparisons, it makes you all the sicker. But it’s all about winning now, because by the time Russell is ready to star, many of the key pieces of the current A’s — Kazmir, Cespedes, Donaldson, Crisp — could be gone.
In the few spare moments I had Saturday night, I tried to come up with my own Baseball America-style projection of the A’s for 2016 if the A’s had made all the same draft picks but didn’t have a general manager as bold as Beane to throw in all in a blender and emerge with so many new, unpredictable pieces. I had Michael Choice, Billy McKinney and Ryan Sweeney in the outfield, Russell at short, Jemile Weeks at second, Grant Green at third (I know, a reach), Chris Carter at DH, Suzuki at catcher, and of course, the eternal Daric Barton at first. The rotation would still include Cahill and Anderson and Gio Gonzalez, and who knows about the other two. Tyson Ross maybe (and Ross is having a nice year for the Padres) and I suppose Gray has to be in there as well, since he was an actual top draft pick that didn’t get dealt.
Anyway, like that team better than the current version? Thought not.