Is Oakland Redefining How to Build a Roster?

hi-res-158539406_crop_exactThe A’s had one of the deepest rosters in baseball a season ago and it appears that Billy Beane is looking to build a similar roster in 2013 as well. In adding outfielder Chris Young, catcher John Jaso, and shortstops Hiroyuki Nakajima and Jed Lowrie, Beane took one of the most versatile rosters in baseball and made it even more flexible. Nakajima and Lowrie should be able to bounce around the infield, providing solid defense wherever needed. Chris Young is probably the best 4th outfielder in the league.

The platoons at 1st base, 3rd base, and catcher should all be able to produce at an above average rate and we haven’t even gotten to the loaded rotation yet, you know, the one that was 2nd in the AL in run prevention a year ago. And the best part for all you moneyball lovers out there, is that the A’s have done all this work on a shoestring budget. Oakland had one of the cheapest rosters in the Majors a year ago and unless a deep-pocketed buyer suddenly shows up by the bay, they will have one of the cheapest rosters again in 2013. So how is Billy Beane able to do it? Should GM’s opt for more for on base percentage and positional flexibility when building a roster? And should the rest of the league be taking notes?

The Jed Lowrie/Fernando Rodriguez for Chris Carter and prospects swap is exactly the kind of trade Beane seems to be making constantly. It’s like clockwork. It’s part of his idea that a Major League roster constantly needs to be churned. Signing players to long-term deals is fiscally crippling, particularly to a team with low revenue streams like Oakland, so Beane avoids the practice all together. Instead he opts for value deals. Guys who are still arbitration eligible like Lowrie. Guys who aren’t given the playing time their talent deserves, like Chris Carter or Josh Reddick. Guys who are recovering from injury, like Bartolo Colon. The list goes on and on, but one thing remains the same. The finances aren’t there yet Beane is always able to run a decent team out onto the field. It’s brilliant, really.

Look at the players the A’s have churned through already this offseason. Chris Carter posted a 137 OPS+ in 67 games, he’s going to be 26 next year and he’s gone. Jonny Gomes popped 18 homers and destroyed left-handed pitching but he won’t be back either. Beane has to be chuckling at the thought of Boston paying Mr. Gomes $10 million for 2 years after paying him a cool million last year. Cliff Pennington provided a ton of defensive value and he’s gone.  Same goes mid-season pickups Brandon Inge and Stephen Drew as well.

Instead A’s fans will get Chris Young, Jed Lowrie, Hiroyuki Nakajima, and John Jaso. That may not sound like a murderer’s row, but that’s a definite improvement, especially if Nakajima is the defensive wizard in America that he’s been in Japan. Lowrie should be a huge upgrade over Pennington and Young is much, much better than Gomes, especially once you consider his Gold Glove range compared to the new Red Sox more statuesque abilities. John Jaso was basically the only thing about the Mariners offense that didn’t disappoint last year and now he’s in Oakland too. He should form one of the strongest catching platoons in the Majors with Derek Norris and it will cost the A’s just under $2 million dollars to do it. All of which begs the question: why aren’t more teams following suit with the platoons?

A year ago Oakland used platoons more than any other team in the big leagues and they used them with greater success than anyone else. Most franchises will usually leave one or two positions to a platoon, like the Yankees did at DH a year ago or the way the Tigers dealt with the corner outfielders. But Oakland has taken things to a new level. In 2012 the A’s platooned at 1st base, 3rd base, left field, catcher, shortstop, and 2nd base.That’s nearly an entire roster full of players platooning and outside of the middle infield spots all of the platoons worked. Don’t believe me? Look at the evidence:

  • At 1st base Oakland ranked among the top 10 in baseball in homers, slugging percentage, and OPS thanks to Chris Carter, Brandon Moss, and Daric Barton. The cost, you ask? Just under $2 million, which is basically nothing in the funny money world of baseball.
  • At 3rd base the A’s combined to rank 10th in baseball in homers and RBI. They spent less than $1 million total on Josh Donaldson and Brandon Inge, who was acquired for the veteran’s minimum after the Tigers released their long-time 3rd baseman.
  • In left field Oakland ranked among the top 10 in baseball in homers, runs scored, and RBI while ranking 3rd in OPS. Yoenis Cespedes played 57 games in left and his $6.5 million dollar deal made up a majority of the cost for the position. Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith, and Collin Cowgill took care of the rest of the games and made about $3 million combined. This group of players also got a majority of the playing time at DH, where the A’s were about league average.

If you’re keeping score at home, Beane spent somewhere around $13 million to successfully fill 4 positions (1st, 3rd, left, DH) for the entire season. And those positions weren’t just filled with dreck either. Simply put, the A’s were able to coax somewhere around 12-13 Wins Above Replacement out of a group of players that almost every other team in the Major Leagues could have had at a bargain. If the going rate of wins was somewhere around $5 million per win a year ago, then Oakland got about $75 million dollars worth of value out of $13 million they spent. That’s some savvy spending.

Now, not all of Oakland’s platoons worked wonders. The A’s could never find the right mix of ingredients behind the plate, at 2nd base, or at shortstop a year ago. Oakland didn’t get a lick of offense at any of those positions in 2012, but that’s only given Beane something to tinker with. But even with those failures a year ago the A’s were still able to tally up 94 wins and the AL West crown. If Beane’s revamped shortstop, 2nd base, and catching platoons pay off Oakland will be even better in 2012.

His method may be a little harsh and it may make rooting for the A’s tough, but it most definitely gets results. In Beane’s 15 years at the helm, Oakland has been in the playoffs 6 times, they’ve had two different 100-win teams, claimed 5 division titles, and they’ve been .500 or better in 10 seasons. The A’s have never been a big budget ball club and they’ve usually carried one of the lowest payrolls in the game. No team has been more cost-efficient during the last 15 years than Oakland and they’ve done it while winning. And that folks, is just about the toughest thing you can do in baseball. All hail the platoon.



  1. Out of Left Field

    Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if Beane has gone crazy with some of his deals, but they always work out. I’m really excited to see what the A’s can do this year.

  2. Pingback: Bottoms Up in Houston « TheCutoffMan
  3. Pingback: Oakland Gets Offensive « TheCutoffMan

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