I don't think it's any big secret that I consider Billy Beane the best general manager in the game today. I've even suggested that Beane is the best general manager since Branch Rickey (though if you strapped me to a chair I'd probably have to admit that it's a little too early to make that particular judgment).
Nobody's perfect, though, and it might be fun, if not particularly informative, to take a look at the Billy Beane moves that have not worked out. Beane took over from Sandy Alderson immediately after the 1997 season.
With each deal, listed will be the date, the players involved, and Bill James' Win Shares earned by each player since the deal.
Gained: Kenny Rogers (48) and $5 million
Lost: Scott Brosius (63)
A case where Win Shares don't tell the whole story. Brosius was coming off a miserable 1997 season in which he'd batted .203 with 11 homers in 129 games, and there was little reason to think he'd rebound the way he did for the Yankees. And Rogers, who like Brosius had struggled badly in '97, also rebounded with a great '98 campaign, going 16-8 with a 3.17 ERA for the A's.
What's more, in 1999 Beane traded Rogers to the Mets for Terrence Long, who totaled 35 Win Shares in 2000 and 2001 for the Athletics. Rogers totaled 26 Win Shares for the A's before the trade. So if you sum Long's 35 and Rogers' 26, you get 61 Win Shares ... or virtually the same number (63) racked up by Brosius in the four seasons after the initial deal. And while Brosius has retired, Long and Rogers both soldier onward. Plus, the Yankees paid the A's $5 million to help pay Rogers.
Gained: Mike Fetters (14)
Lost: Steve Karsay (31)
Fetters went 1-6 in 48 games for the A's before being sold to Anaheim on August 10, 1998. Karsay spent much of that season in the minors, but since then he's been one of the game's better set-up men, at least when he's been healthy enough to pitch.
Gained: Justin Miller (0) and $350,000
Lost: Jimmy Haynes (12)
Miller reached the majors with Toronto this season, and has a 6.49 ERA in eight games. He's still only 24, though, so at least there's hope. Haynes started 62 games for the Brewers after the trade (he's now with the Reds), but his 5.11 ERA over that span wasn't much to write home about. At this moment, Miller's got at least a decent chance of finishing with a better career than Haynes. And when you're the Athletics, $350,000 is a considerable amount of money.
Gained: Billy Koch
Lost: Eric Hinske
With less than two months to go on, it's impossible to evaluate this trade with any sort of precision (or Win Shares). That said, we should probably expect Hinske to enjoy a long and productive career; Joe Randa with more power and perhaps a bit less batting average. Koch, meanwhile, is a 27-year-old closer with a 3.73 career ERA who gives up too many walks and too many hits to be considered a premier closer. He's going to have some nice years, but he's probably not going to become Robb Nen or Trevor Hoffman.
On the other hand, Hinske hadn't played one game in the major leagues before this season, and he was not regarded as a hot prospect in many quarters. So Beane may not have gotten any more than he did for Hinske.
Before beginning this exercise, I assumed that I'd find at least a few horrible deals in Beane's history. I did not. He's been running the Athletics for nearly five years, and the only deal remotely resembling a clinker was the Karsay-for-Fetters deal. And we're talking about a couple of set-up men there.
On the other side of the ledger, there are seven or eight trades that must be classed as unqualified successes for Beane.
Now we've got Jeremy Giambi for John Mabry, which will almost certainly be lopsided in terms of eventual Win Shares. Giambi is 27 and he can hit: Mabry is 31 and he cannot hit. But how good a player is Giambi, really? He's a terrible baserunner. Historically terrible. He's a terrible outfielder, to the point where pitchers cringe when they see his name next to LF on the lineup card.
And how good a hitter is Giambi, really? Yes, he's got a world of ability; his minor-league stats were actually better than his big brother's. But he turns 28 in September and he's got a .423 career slugging percentage. Sure, Giambi might become the next Matt Stairs, but he also might be out of baseball in a few years. It's up to him, but in the meantime it looks like the A's just got tired of waiting to find out.
And given Billy Beane's track record, it's safe to assume that he knows what he's doing this time, too.