Yesterday, the Oakland A’s traded relievers Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Washington Nationals in exchange for reliever Blake Treinen and two minor leaguers. It’s no great crime for an out-of-contention team to unload two aging but valuable relievers—Doolittle and Madson boast 2.35 and 2.43 FIPs, respectively—but even GM Billy Beane is acknowledging that Oakland’s constant unloading of good players has grown tiresome.
Here’s what Beane had to say to the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday:
Really, what’s been missing the last 20 years is keeping these players. The frustration isn’t that we’ve had success; the frustration is that after success, we haven’t kept them. And we need to change that narrative by creating a good team and ultimately committing to keeping them around, so that when people buy a ticket, they’ll know that the team is going to be there for a few years.
The important end of the sentence is rebuilding and keeping them. This is my 20th year on the job. There are only so many cycles that I can go through before I get as exasperated as everybody else.
Finding players has never been an issue for us. Keeping them and ultimately keeping the faith and commitment from people who follow the team, that’s got to be done by keeping them around. Again, I’ve been assured by ownership that that’s what we’re going to do as it parallels with the stadium.
That’s the crux of it, right? How can you say you’re rebuilding if the rebuilds so often lead to more rebuilds? What’s the point in developing young talent if they are traded away within a few years of reaching their potential? Sonny Gray looked like an ace-in-the-making in 2014 and 2015, and after a rough season in 2016 he’s in the midst of a decent bounce-back campaign. In all likelihood, he’ll be the next player out the door.
The A’s are only three seasons removed from having three consecutive winning campaigns, which followed five straight seasons of .500 ball or worse. Beane has certainly proven himself capable of pulling off an effective rebuild, but his failure has been in lengthening the time between rebuilds. As soon as a guy like Yoenis Cespedes comes along and helps the team start winning games, the clock on his inevitable exit starts ticking.
Of course, nothing is easy for Beane. The team is extremely screwed over by its bad stadium situation, and its owners seem to have no interest in actually investing in the baseball team they own. If the owners don’t want to pay good players what they’re worth, then jump-starting each rebuild is about the best Beane can do. It’s only going to get worse now that MLB has written the A’s out of its list of recipients for market-share revenue.
Wherever you decide to place the blame makes little difference to A’s fans, though, who never know who they can form emotional attachments to in any given season. Pity those who buy jerseys! But good on Beane for being honest and sharing in his fans’ frustration, and for not pretending that it doesn’t hurt to see the team’s best be sent to better homes year after year. Better luck next season, guys.