Monday, June 26, 2006

Straight A's for Billy Beane

by Doug Silversten

Who is the best all-around player in the game? That’s certainly a good way to get an argument going with some baseball fans. I would say Albert Pujols. Another might say Alex Rodriguez. A third would answer Vladimir Guerrero. All three of us would have legitimate claims to having the "right" answer.

Let’s try another question. Who is today’s best pitcher? I say Johan Santana. You say Pedro Martinez. No easy answer, as despite Pedro being "on the decline," his overall numbers this season are strikingly similar to Johan.

Who’s the best manager? You say Joe Torre. He certainly has the record and a great ability to deal with the New York media. Solid choice. I still say Bobby Cox, despite the Braves’ struggles this season.

Now, how about the game’s best general manager?

Unlike with the other questions, there can be no discussion. No debate. One GM is simply on a different playing field then the rest. And if you don’t already know the answer, then you haven’t been paying attention (or haven’t read the title of this column).

Billy Beane is the game’s best general manager. That’s it. Stop talking. No argument possible.

About midway through another season, and yet another Billy Beane A’s team finds itself in the playoff hunt...with a payroll within the bottom 10 of MLB...mostly comprised of unknowns.

Unknowns you say? How about future hall of famer Frank Thomas? How about future Cy Young award winner Rich Harden? How about 2004 Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby?

Um, all of the above have missed considerable time on the Disabled List this year. And this doesn’t even count Huston Street, the 2005 Rookie of the Year, who missed about two weeks, although he never landed on the D.L. The only true “star” who has played all season would be third baseman Eric Chavez.

Plenty of teams have injuries though, right? Look at this year’s Yankees.


Sure, the Yankees have had injuries to some superstars, but when you have a team full of them, you can afford to lose a few. Here is a list of Yankees who have not spent any time on the D.L. this year: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Randy Johnson, Johnny Damon. Cry me a river. Combine that core with the Royals bench, and you should have a contender.

The A’s, on the other hand, shouldn’t be able to afford the loss of key players. Depth and low budgets don’t go hand in hand. Yet, they did. Like they always do.

The A’s may miss the playoffs again for the 3rd straight year. If they make the playoffs or not is almost irrelevant and critics who point to that miss the point. Beane puts a contender on the field EVERY YEAR, despite a low payroll. From 2001 to 2004, the Mets had one of the highest payrolls and yet floundered each year. Yes, the Yankees, Red Sox and Braves (until this year) put out consistent contenders. However, with the resources they have, it is tough to credit the GM. It’s like Bill Gates buying every lottery ticket and then complimenting him when he wins.

Other teams with low payrolls occasionally make a run, although not as often as you think. But when they do, it is usually a flash in the pan. No low-budget team is as consistent as the A’s. The closest is the Twins and a) they always had a higher payroll b) were never as good as the A’s and c) didn’t do it for as long as Beane’s teams have.

Look, bottom line, Beane is, bar-none, the best GM in the game today. There is no comparison. No one comes close. What he has done with the payrolls he has had to work with in this era of competitive imbalance is absolutely, positively, truly remarkable. Reserve that spot in the Hall of Fame for him.

Next question.

Doug Silversten's column, "The Big Picture", appears alternate Mondays


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