This was the year the Athletics pushed in their chips, acquiring the likes of Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Adam Dunn, and especially Jon Lester. It didn't work out that way: the team with MLB's best record at the trade deadline ended up settling for a wild card and bowing out in a one-game playoff. GM Billy Beane counts that as a success.
Beane spoke in the A's clubhouse on "pack up your shit for the winter" day yesterday, and if he wants reporters to take anything away from this season's aggressive deadline moves, it's that those trades were made with the express purpose of making the postseason, not necessarily succeeding in it.
"The Angels were going to catch us," Beane told reporters. "They played nearly .700 ball from a certain point. If you go back to my quotes from when we made those trades, despite the fact of where we were, at no point were those trades made for the playoffs. I was adamant about it. I could feel the Angels breathing down our necks.
"What I didn't reveal was that I was also concerned about us, which was the point of the trades."
And on Jon Lester, for whom the A's gave up Yoenis Cespedes and who is now a free agent, and who pitched seven and a third innings of eight-hit, six-run ball in the one-game playoff:
"Simply put, if we don't have Jon Lester, I don't think we make the playoffs."
Maybe all of these statements are true. But if so—if the A's reversed gears from literally everything they've done over the last decade-plus, and gave up prospects and players under longer commitments for some win-now hired guns just so a team with a massive divisional lead could limp into the playoffs as a wild card—then Billy Beane really is playing chess while the rest of us are playing checkers.
One of the takeaways from Moneyball is that Beane believes the playoffs are a crapshoot, that getting there is the hard part and that every team that makes it has roughly similar chances of winning it all. That's what makes Beane's comments yesterday somewhat feasible; no matter how big the Athletics' lead was in July, the acquisitions were insurance that August and September would be successful enough to snag that ticket to October. That mission, at least, was accomplished.
I still don't buy it. By Beane's own metric—making the playoffs is the real success—his A's have succeeded wildly over the last 15 years. But by the metric of championships, they've been a huge disappointment, making the postseason eight times and never winning so much as a single ALCS game. Isn't it a lot more likely Beane believed he had a great team, saw a couple of available elite starters, and gave in to the understandable temptation to just go for it for once?And that he's now trying to put the best face on the fact that he probably won't have Lester or Cespedes next year?
"I'm proud of the fact we went to the playoffs for a third time in a row," Beane said.