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COHN: Grant Balfour's injury no emergency in Beaniverse

A's GM, an old-fashioned wheeler-dealer, will find a way to compensate

Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane during a news conference introducing new shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima on Dec. 18 in Oakland.

Eric Risberg / Associated Press
Published: Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 6:29 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 11:12 p.m.

We were talking about Oakland A's closer Grant Balfour the other night on CSN Bay Area and how Balfour needed surgery and won't be ready for another month or so. Host Jim Kozimor asked the relevant question: If Balfour can't return in four weeks, is Oakland in a pickle — not that he used the word “pickle.”

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Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane during a news conference introducing new shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima on Dec. 18 in Oakland.

Eric Risberg / Associated Press

Kozimor, Barry Tompkins and I batted around — bunted around? — the idea that the A's already have two potential closers in Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, so there's no need for an SOS.

And then it occurred to me. The A's are in no trouble at all. This is Billy Beane's team. He thinks closers are overrated and refuses to pay big bucks for them.

But that's not even the point. The main point is Beane himself, the kind of man he is, and he will get a closer if he needs one. So I said on air, happily stealing an idea Marty Lurie recently gave me, that Beane is an old-style baseball man. Think Branch Rickey or Bill Veeck, if you can remember back that far. Think of baseball before free agency when GMs would wheel and deal players like kids trading baseball cards.

Kid One: “I'll trade you one Mays for two Clementes.”

Kid Two: “You gotta be nuts.”

Beane is a throwback to another era despite his sandals and shorts and his rather hip appearance — that last bit would make him laugh. He has brought the 1950s back into ball. He is always dealing. He never stops. That is his MO and it got the A's into the playoffs last season and it is wonderful.

Quick note on Dealing Billy: His 2012 team was almost entirely anonymous. The Angels said they respected the A's but they didn't know who they were.

I didn't know them either, although they had lots of guys named Brandon. This year they have fewer Brandons and you have to wonder if that will adversely affect them. Is there a Brandon Gap?

Beane can wheel and deal like a maniac — in the good sense of maniac — because his players are young and many are not free agents, aren't even up for salary arbitration. Beane owns them. He deals.

Here are some examples of Dealing Billy, God love him.

He needed a power-hitting outfielder. He got Cuban expatriate Yoenis Cespedes. Most people never heard of him.

In mid-December, A's free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew signed with Boston. Did Beane panic? Please. The next day, he signed Japanese free-agent shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima.

One door closes. Another door opens. This is the Beane Universe — call it the “Beaniverse.”

Take the case of Bartolo Colon, the pudgy guy who got suspended a big 50 games last season for drug cheating. On Nov. 3, Colon elected free agency. The same day, Beane re-signed him. In the Beaniverse the past does not exist. Colon can help the team. Colon is in. For now.

On Feb. 4, Beane got second baseman Jed Lowrie — he needed a second baseman — for longtime A's prospect Chris Carter among others.

You're in, you're out. Or as Dorothy said (yes, THAT Dorothy), “People come and go so quickly here.”

Beane already had traded pitcher Tyson Ross to the Padres, Ross from Oakland's Bishop O'Dowd High School, Ross one of the A's benchmark prospects. Not any more.

Beane needed depth at catcher. Last August, he had said bye-bye to Kurt Suzuki, once considered the face of the team. (No sentiment allowed in the Beaniverse.)

So, in January he traded with Seattle for left-handed-hitting catcher John Jaso — it was a three-team trade, something Beane specializes in. And Jaso will be in Oakland until he isn't in Oakland.

A few days ago, Beane signed pitcher Hideki Okajima.

Over at the Giants, Brian Sabean — perhaps the best in the business — is always trying to preserve the team, keep it together, hold onto that fabulous pitching. Beane — perhaps the best in the business — is always building up the team and then tearing it apart. It seems he remakes the A's on an almost-daily basis. Both GMs are right. Neither is wrong. They have totally different approaches. It's like the difference between conservative and liberal.

Go to the A's website. Look up “Transactions.” They never end, like footnotes in a scholarly book about the sex life of fruit flies. And the transactions are in the smallest type. You almost need a magnifying glass to read them.

The meaning?

Baseball players may have big bloated names among fans and in the papers.

Not in the Beaniverse.

They all are the same. They are movable, tradable details. No one is safe. No one can afford complacency. Beane's players play hard or they're gone.

One imagines Beane has this mantra tacked on the wall over his desk: On your marks. Get set. Trade.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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