Sporting News MLB
November 8, 2012
By Chris Bahr
Oakland Athletics vice president and general manager Billy Beane is Sporting News’ 2012 Major League Baseball Executive of the Year, as selected by a panel of 57 major league executives.
Beane was presented with the award Wednesday night at the league’s annual general managers meetings, which are being held this year in Indian Wells, Calif. Voting for the honor, which Sporting News has awarded since 1936, concluded before the start of the postseason.
It is the latest honor for Beane, who was featured prominently in the Academy Award-nominated film Moneyball in 2011. Moneyball, based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name, chronicled the success of the 2002 A’s, whose roster was constructed using what at the time were unconventional means of evaluating talent and mining for undervalued players.
Although Beane’s approach has evolved, the success of his 2012 A’s closely mirrored that of the 2002 squad.
“There’s something to be said about starting the year under-promising and over-delivering. I think it’s a much better way to go about it,” Beane joked. “It makes life a little easier. We knew we were in a difficult position, and that was a challenge. I think privately we felt we’re not sure how good we are but we know we’re not (terrible).”
Picked almost universally to finish in last place in the AL West this past season, the A’s used a second-half surge to climb into playoff contention and a six-game, season-ending winning streak to overtake the Texas Rangers for first place in the division. Oakland’s 51-25 record after the All-Star break was the best in the majors, and the team spent only three days atop the division all season.
“We were a third-place team to begin with, so we weren’t holding onto anything special. I always felt like in our market you either have a playoff team or you’re building one. That in-between stage is sort of a no-man’s land in our market place. We’ve always tried to be aggressive,” Beane said. “Our division suggested with the Angels and Rangers that they were two of the best teams in the game, but we also felt we were better than people thought. We just didn’t know how good.
“We didn’t go into spring training saying we’re going to quietly win the AL West on the last day of the year. That’s a credit to Bob (Melvin) and the players.”
The architect of it all was Beane, who was roundly criticized last offseason for dealing young starters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill and closer Andrew Bailey. However, those deals proved quite fruitful, as they netted such key contributors as Josh Reddick (the team leader with 32 homers and 85 RBIs), Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook, Tommy Milone and Derek Norris.
Among Beane’s notable (and largely overlooked) pickups before and during the A’s 2012 season: first baseman Brandon Moss, outfielder Jonny Gomes, lefthander Travis Blackley, reliever Pat Neshek, third baseman Brandon Inge and shortstop Stephen Drew.
In perhaps his boldest and most unexpected move of last offseason, Beane surprisingly outbid everyone for the services of Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. Despite Cespedes being largely an unproven and unknown commodity, Beane gave the outfielder a four-year, $36 million contract. Cespedes contributed immediately, homering in the team’s second game of the regular season. In 129 games, the five-tool talent hit .292 with 23 homers, 82 RBIs, 16 stolen bases and a .505 slugging percentage.
Although Oakland’s second-half offensive improvement was key to its success, it was the rotation that led the way. Forced to use five rookie starters by season’s end—following the late-August suspension of veteran starter Bartolo Colon and the frightening early-September line drive that ended veteran Brandon McCarthy’s season—Oakland’s rotation finished third in the American League with a 3.80 ERA.
The end result was a 94-win team—only the New York Yankees finished with more wins (95) in the AL—that revitalized the franchise and its rabid fan base.