Not since 2002—when the highly sought-after GM accepted, then rejected, an offer to become the GM of the Boston Red Sox—has Billy Bean’s relationship with the Oakland A’s organization been any sort of talking matter. But after what will be five straight non-winning seasons (including no playoff appearances), the team’s uncertain future in Oakland, and perhaps a strand of helplessness at the idea of making this franchise a winner, Beane may be ready to take on a new challenge with a new team, in a new, more exuberant baseball market.
Sussan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a column Wednesday stating that it is very likely that Beane would be open to accepting an offer from the Chicago Cubs should they be interested, citing “baseball people” and some others who “know him well” as sources.
Slusser also pointed out some relevant circumstances that make Beane leaving now, as opposed to in the past or in the future, both a plausible and sensible move.
It’s no secret that the A’s higher-ups are frustrated about the glacial pace of Major League Baseball’s panel looking at a potential Oakland move. Within the A’s organization, there is concern that if the ownership group does not get approval to build a stadium in San Jose that the team might be sold and that Beane, who has a minority stake in the A’s, would head elsewhere.
Beane is signed through 2014, but his relationship with owner Lew Wolff is believed to be good enough that Wolff would grant him permission to interview elsewhere if he so desired. Plus, Beane has a hand-picked successor, assistant general manager David Forst, ready to take the job. Forst has chosen not to pursue several other general-manager opportunities.
The Cubs, after a string of disappointing seasons, recently fired their GM, Jim Hendry, last week.
Their 2011 team payroll of $125 million is sixth highest in Major League Baseball, compared to the A’s 21st ranked team payroll of $66 million, which would give Beane the financial flexibility he has never been given in Oakland.
After what looks to be a fifth straight non-winning season and more than one failed rebuilding attempt, Beane may have grown dejected at the prospects of fielding a winner with the A’s in the near future.
Beane has always been driven by the concept of building a winner from scratch with a fraction of the payroll of other clubs. But it may have finally occured to him that doing so requires an ability to steer away from making too many mistakes in personnel, which requires savvy, foresight, and, of course, a little bit of luck. The success of A’s teams in the early 2000s—generated by a combination of factors: great drafts, timing (all of them came up at pretty much the same time), lower player salaries (Jason Giambi, the AL MVP in 2001 and their highest paid player, made $6 million that year), the steroid era, and that thing called luck again—may have blinded both Beane and A’s fans to the reality that putting together such a remarkably talented team that could contend for years at a fraction of other team’s payroll was not bound, or even likely, to happen after every rebuilding process.
Beane has an ego—illustrated by the best-selling book Moneyball—and it is this drive that propelled him to spurn the Red Sox and continue rolling up his sleeves in a business landscape that is the equivalent of an FCS football program trying to beat out the likes of Ohio St., USC, and Florida for the National Championship.
Oh, it was also the minority stake A’s owner Lew Wolff gave to Beane once he decided to head for Boston in 2002.
It was not Beane’s “love” for the organization that brought him back, which Slusser cited Beane as saying back in 2002. It most likely had more to do with Beane’s daughter living in Southern California, but, as Slusser mentions, she is now going to college in Ohio, no longer serving as reason to stay out on the west coast.
This speculation comes at a time when some A’s fans are as willing to let him go without a fight as they ever have been.
I have previously written how Beane has botched the post-2006 rebuilding process—twice—and that any other GM, under the same or any other circumstances over the same course of time, would have been canned for producing the same atrocious and embarrassing teams, such poor drafts, and, this year, woeful and inexplicable roster management.
Beane has gotten comfortable—too comfortable—and the smart, intellectually and competitively restless man that he is, knows it may be the right time to accept a new challenge that puts him at a more equal playing field with the top tier organizations in baseball.
Fellow Swingin’ A’s writer Jason Leary recently wrote Part 1 of a four-part series that will evaluate the Billy Beane-led post-2006 rebuilding process, so be sure to check that out in the coming days and weeks…and be sure to leave your thoughts.