Here is a link to my Thursday column after the A’s signed Billy Butler. The full text runs below:
The Oakland A’s are a great offseason team. One of the best.
No club wins a pennant or a world championship in the offseason like the A’s.
The A’s, under the stewardship of Billy Beane, just pulled off another major offseason coup. They signed former Royals DH Billy Butler to a three-year contract. People are falling all over themselves praising Beane because he did it again, won the American League title before November came to a close. This is so special.
I would like to add a significant note. The A’s also are a great pre-September baseball club. Take last season. They were 28 games over .500 in early August. Their phenomenal record was virtually unheard of and they were outscoring opponents by an obscene margin and many experts were calling them a great team and everyone was praising their platoon system of batting. Believe me, the A’s don’t get enough credit for what they do before September year in and year out.
I would like to add something else. This signing of Butler — more on his stats in a moment — is Beane’s best offseason signing since he nabbed closer Jim Johnson before last season. Johnson had 50 saves for Baltimore the year before Beane got him. And Johnson lasted almost to August before the A’s released him.
Maybe it’s unfair to compare the Butler and Johnson signings because, obviously, Johnson came to the A’s with more recent success than Butler. If I’m being unfair to Butler, forgive me.
Here’s the big point. A’s fans should no longer mourn the loss of Yoenis Cespedes because now they have Butler, a man who slugged, slammed, smashed nine home runs last season in 151 games. It’s an astonishing accomplishment. I mean, sure, Beane ruined the A’s chances last season when he traded Cespedes for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes, but now he’s back on track with Butler who, in addition to his nine big dingers last season had 15 the year before. It’s hard to find sluggers like that.
In a conference call, Beane explained why he made this epic Butler deal. “He’s a right-handed, middle-of-the-lineup guy, which is really hard to come by these days. His age (28), certainly his body of work over the last few years. He stayed very healthy his whole career. Bats are rare, not the easiest thing to come by these days.”
Ain’t that the truth?
Beane acknowledged Butler’s nine big flies last season was a bit underwhelming. Beane admitted he didn’t know why Butler’s power numbers fell off. He referenced Butler’s 2012 season when he hit 29 home runs with 107 RBIs.
In fairness, 2012 wasn’t that long ago.
Beane kept talking about Butler’s “body of work” — like Butler was a novelist or composer — to deflect attention from recent history. Beane admitted Butler’s two so-so years in a row drove down his value so the impoverished A’s could afford him. Now, we understand the logic of this move. It was good Butler had only 66 RBIs last season and pretty much sucked. That made him available to Oakland.
To put middle-of-the-lineup Butler’s stats in context, compare him to Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, that known power hitter. True, Crawford mostly batted eighth, just before the pitcher, which means he’s the worst hitter among the regulars. But a comparison with Butler seems warranted. Last season, Crawford hit 10 home runs, one more than Butler. Crawford’s slugging percentage was .389. Butler’s was .379.
Here’s some more Butler praise from Beane. “He’s always been a real good hitter. Had better years than last year. For a guy his size, he’s been a good hitter, a very tough out. It’s not often you get free agents in the prime of their careers when they still have some upside to them. He’s not a guy physically on the downside of his career.”
I should hope not.
Maybe Butler can help the A’s improve from September on. They are not so good at “from September on.” In 2012 and 2013, they got run out of the playoffs in the Division Series. Last season, despite having a terrific record for a long time, they finished 10 games behind the Angels and got dismissed — yes, dismissed — in the wild-card game by Kansas City. It is distressing when a team wins the World Series in the offseason but can’t win the wild-card game on Sept. 30.
Some of the blame goes to Beane. He loused up the team by trading Cespedes. Hardly anyone knew it at the time. I sure didn’t. Beane should have known. It’s his job to know.
And there’s something else. Beane is more intrusive than other GMs. What does intrusive mean in this case? I believe Beane involves himself in the day-by-day managing of the club. He doesn’t phone manager Bob Melvin once the game starts and tell him what to do. Nothing like that. But he gets involved with the lineup. And I imagine he’s the one who insists on strict platooning — which sometimes takes a hot batter out of the order.
This meddling is noticeable. I notice it. You notice it. The players notice it. There’s the rub. Beane runs the risk players will lose respect for Melvin, a perfectly respectable man and a fine manager. Beane should think about this.
But he doesn’t have to think about it right now. The baseball season is months away and life is wonderful and the A’s just won the World Series.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.