What's wrong with the A's?

July, 16, 2009
7/16/09
8:35
PM ET
Columist Monte Poole diagnoses the Athletics' woes:
    How on earth did such an accomplished franchise, with such a celebrated architect, plummet to such pathetic depths?

    Oh, many are the ways.

    And nearly all of them lead back to our man Billy.

    There is Beane's 2003 decision to let Miguel Tejada walk, while keeping Eric Chavez and signing Chavy to the largest contract in A's history. Billy bet on a player who, while promising, lacks the alpha male characteristics required to lead a contender.

    There is the rationale behind that, which Beane explained by saying Chavy was younger than Miggy, that there was no heir apparent to Chavy at third base and, lastly, that Crosby was ready to replace Tejada at shortstop.

When Beane "let" Tejada walk (didn't Tejada have a choice in the matter?) here's what Tejada and Chavez had done in the previous three seasons, with Win Shares in parentheses:

Chavez .282/.345/.522 (73)
Tejada .285/.339/.485 (83)

Three obvious differences between them:

1. Chavez had a bit more power than Tejada.

2. Tejada played a tougher position (shortstop) but Chavez played his (third base) better.

3. Tejada was more durable, playing 162 games in each of those three seasons (and for three more seasons after leaving Oakland).

When Tejada signed with the Orioles, he was 27 and Chavez had just turned 26. Not a real difference there.

Except Tejada wasn't actually 27. He was 29, as we learned last year. Did the A's know all the time? I don't know. But I do know that people were questioning Tejada's age even when he played for the A's, and I have to think management at least suspected the truth.

Let's review, then: You've got two players with roughly the same demonstrated value, and one is three years older than the other. Which would you try to keep?

Yes, maybe Billy Beane could have guessed that Chavez would suffer a string of injuries that would essentially end his career and cost the A's a great deal of money. This isn't intended as a gesture of absolution. I simply mean to suggest that considering what Beane knew in the winter of 2003-04 -- when Tejada signed with Baltimore and Chavez signed a long-term extension with the A's, for roughly the same money -- the choice was easy to defend.

Was Bobby Crosby ready to replace Tejada? In Crosby's first season as Tejada's replacement, he was the American League's Rookie of the Year. No, that wasn't actually a great season, but Crosby played significantly better the next season, when he was healthy. But he was healthy just half the time, and since 2005 he hasn't played well even when healthy enough to play.

It could have worked. The A's could have featured one of the best left-infields in the majors. It just didn't work out, because neither of the left-infielders have been anywhere near healthy. Maybe somebody should have known what would happen, but I will submit that the ability to forecast Chavez's and Crosby's injuries does not exist now, and certainly did not exist six years ago.

Poole lists other problems: the failure of Daric Barton, various draftees who haven't produced, and the ill-advised trades of Nelson Cruz for Keith Ginter and Andre Ethier for Milton Bradley.

I don't know if those things are much help, though. The Red Sox and the Dodgers have made plenty of mistakes, and they seem to be doing pretty well. What about the Rays? They traded Edwin Jackson for Matt Joyce!

No, what's ailing the Athletics and the Indians and the Diamondbacks and the Padres is far more interesting than a few moves that haven't worked out (some of them eminently defensible). Now we -- and more importantly, they -- just need to figure out what it is.

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