Lowell Cohn: Billy Beane’s internal struggle imperils the A’s
By LOWELL COHN | Dec 10, 2014

Billy Beane continues to betray A’s manager Bob Melvin.

Beane pretends he’s helping Melvin, pretends he’s getting value for players he trades away, pretends he’s remaking the team into something better. You don’t have to believe that blatant propaganda. Beane has made the team worse. He has divested the A’s of four All-Stars — Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Jeff Samardzija.

In return, he got some guys. Hell, I don’t even know their names. Well, I know Beane got Jon Lester for Cespedes and now Lester is a Cub. But these other guys are mostly prospects, hopefuls, nobodies so far. And we’re supposed to believe the A’s just got better?

And if these guys actually turn out to be good, Beane will trade them in a few years, for future nobodies. And the senseless, boring, laughable process will continue until Beane retires.

How is Melvin supposed to compete in the American League West? It could be the toughest division in baseball. The A’s stand a shot to finish last. “Go get ’em, Bob.”

As a fan, you can feel confused or angry or depressed about Beane’s horrific moves. But Melvin has to live with them. He has to smile and say the A’s will contend in 2015, and say he trusts Billy.

Melvin was on CSN Bay Area the other night giving a thumbs-up to Beane. Melvin smiled, although he probably wanted to throw up.

I have not discussed any of this with Melvin. I’ve known him too long and like him too much and respect him too much to put him on the spot. I’m taking a wild guess he is appalled Beane just destroyed the A’s. I bet he’s been appalled starting with the Cespedes deal, which murdered the 2014 season.

Melvin is a good soldier. He goes along with the company line, as he should. But if you and I noticed Beane traded his 3, 4 and 5 hitters, traded the guts of the A’s batting order, you have to assume Melvin, who makes out the lineup, also noticed this blatant and cynical player dump.

Come to think of it, I’m not so sure Melvin makes out the lineup. Beane, whom I like, is the most intrusive general manager in the big leagues. According to my sources — not Melvin — Beane tries to dictate the lineup EVERY game. At least, Melvin fights back. He usually loses.

Can you imagine Brian Sabean dictating the lineup to Bruce Bochy? It’s an absurd thought.

Beane has made a career of demeaning his managers — think about great guys like Art Howe and Ken Macha. And now he’s demeaning Melvin, a world-class manager with pride and brains.

I feel so angry for Melvin. He has the worst manager’s job in the majors.

Why is Beane disassembling a very good team?

Please don’t tell me the A’s are a small-market team and can’t afford players. They, at least, could have afforded some of the players they just got rid of. And they are not small market. They play in the Bay Area. Their owners are obscenely rich. They pretend they are small market.

This pretending suits Beane just fine. I’m getting psychological here, so please bear with me. And you, Billy, please bear with me.

I think Billy, handsome, brilliant, a born leader, is scared to death of failing. I think he needs a crutch. The crutch is the small-market fiction. If the team gets into the playoffs and almost does well, Billy is a genius. If the team sucks, Billy has an excuse. Small market. Never has a big-league executive had a better excuse, a more plausible way to keep his ego intact. Billy must have a fragile ego.

I’ll go further. Billy made his big push in 2014. He traded Cespedes for Jon Lester, in the process lousing up his team. Billy went all in with Lester and Samardzija like he never went all in before. And he failed. Got slapped down.

He doesn’t want to risk public humiliation again, so he’s gone all fetal position on us and sold off his assets. He won’t compete. It’s like a 12-year-old taking his ball and going home because he didn’t get chosen for the playground softball game.

I do not call this brave behavior.

Something else. Billy is part owner of the A’s. Have you ever thought about that? The interest of owners and general managers often conflict. Owners want to make money, to get rich. General managers want to spend money on the best players.

This leads to a constant state of tension. This state of tension does not exist between Billy and someone else. It exists inside Billy himself. The GM in Billy may want to keep Brandon Moss. The owner in Billy may tell him it’s better bottom-line business to trade the guy.

I am not saying Billy the owner intentionally sabotages Billy the GM. I’m saying it sure is something to think about. Billy needs to think about it.

Billy needs to think about a lot of things. If he’s not in baseball to win, why is he in baseball?

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 lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane during a news conference introducing new shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima Tuesday Dec. 18, 2012 in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)