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A real head scratcher

Even by Beane's standards, these are wacky moves

Posted: Friday December 16, 2005 1:05PM; Updated: Sunday December 18, 2005 12:06AM
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Milton Bradley brings his prodigious talent -- and temper -- to Billy Beane's Oakland A's.
Milton Bradley brings his prodigious talent -- and temper -- to Billy Beane's Oakland A's.
Nick Laham/Getty Images

It's hard to argue with what Billy Beane has done in Oakland over the past several years. But, Billy being Billy, there's always that opportunity.

Let me give you three shots at him here ...

• Beane signed a soon-to-be 34-year-old starting pitcher, for a very un-A's like price of $21 million-plus for three years, and then, instead of immediately spinning off another player -- that's what Beane always has done -- he said that he may just stand pat with the seven starting pitchers he has.

• He traded one of his best minor-league players for a hot-headed switch-hitting outfielder that two other teams couldn't get rid of quickly enough.

• And he still may be talking about signing a 37-year-old (he'll be 38 in May) designated hitter who has played all of 108 games in the past two seasons.

This is beyond Billyball. This is so crafty it's practically crazy.

It's hard to argue with Beane, no matter how goofy his moves might seem, because an awful lot of his goofy-looking moves over the course of his general managing career have turned out beautifully. True, his A's haven't made it into the postseason in the past couple of years. True, they haven't done so well the four times that they have made it in the past six seasons. Still, the A's are usually right there in the playoff hunt -- they won 88 games last season and 91 in 2004.

Beane, as we all know, thanks to that little bestseller that came out a couple of years ago, is a veritable genius at doing a lot with a little. Since taking over the A's before the 1998 season, Beane, the protagonist in Michael Lewis' Moneyball, has never had a payroll that has cracked the top half of the league. In every year but one he's had to work with a payroll in the bottom third.

Yet, since '99, the A's haven't finished lower than second place in the American League West. Beane knows what he's doing.

Just for argument's sake, though ...

Esteban Loaiza? He's a big, fairly durable guy, and in 2003 he won 21 games with the White Sox, finishing second to Toronto's Roy Halladay in Cy Young voting. But last year, away from his pitcher-friendly home park (RFK Stadium in Washington D.C.), Loaiza had a 4.71 ERA and hitters knocked him around at a .306 clip. I'll grant Beane that starting pitching is ridiculously expensive these days. A.J. Burnett -- this is still hard to fathom -- talked $55 million out of the Blue Jays. Still, Beane's paying Loaiza $21 million?

Milton Bradley? If Joe Torre managed the Yankees as badly as Bradley has managed his anger, the Yankees would be the Reds. The Indians didn't want Bradley. The Dodgers surely didn't want Bradley. Beane? He needs a right-handed bat to take the heat off lefty-swinging Eric Chavez, and Bradley's a switch-hitter. Everybody gets along in the A's notoriously easy-going clubhouse, so Beane figures Bradley will do just fine.

Frank Thomas? Isn't the Big Hurt getting a little long in the tooth? Hasn't he been hurt a lot? What in the heck is Beane thinking here?