Happy Holiday Season. As a special present to you, the Oakland A’s fan, your team traded its best player, Josh Donaldson, for four guys.
One of the guys is shortstop Franklin Barreto who’s supposed to be the bee’s knees according to some calculation or other the Money Ball smart guys use. According to one down-to-earth calculation Barreto is 18 years old, which means no one knows what he’ll be when he grows up. This we know for sure. He can’t buy a Bud in California.
Look, we understand why Billy Beane keeps trading and unloading his star players — see Yoenis Cespedes, see Carlos Gonzalez, see a cast of thousands. Repeat after me: The A’s are a small-market team and they have a bad stadium and they can’t pay premium prices for premium players and, gosh, they have to trade and finagle and cut corners just to stay afloat.
This is where the violins come in and you whip out your hanky and wipe away your salty tears. This is where you tell yourself the A’s have the best crutch in baseball. No one expects them to win or even keep the team together. But they have the best excuses of any team in the known world, and for this they deserve credit.
Beane himself is a specialist at excuses. You might say he’s made his reputation and fortune on them. The A’s excuses are so good I cannot refute them, although I admit they bore me. Either you compete or you don’t compete. And when you trade one of the best players in baseball for four guys, when you trade a better third baseman than Pablo Sandoval, when you trade a guy you could have kept by paying a little extra dough you should feel ashamed. Even if you have the finest excuses.
But there’s something else that stinks about trading Donaldson and all the others. It’s a blatant violation of the sacred contract between fans and a team. Call it an unwritten contract. Call it a contract of faith in each other — fan and team. Call it a code of honor.
The contract says the team brings in the players, constructs the team around certain essential players, and the fans come to care for those players almost like family. The fans buy and wear their jerseys and call them by their first names and feel a personal stake in their performance and wellbeing. As a sports writer, I do not feel any of this identification with players. But I understand it. I respect it. And I know it is necessary.
The San Francisco Giants go out of their way in their fidelity to the contract. They do not dump players casually. They do not catch fans by surprise or disappoint or hurt them. You know Buster Posey is the catcher. Brian Sabean is not about to trade Posey to Toronto because the Blue Jays knocked his socks off with four guys no one in the Bay Area ever heard of, one of whom probably doesn’t shave yet.
Brandon Crawford plays short for the Giants and that pink-faced kid Joe Panik plays second and Hunter Pence plays right field and Madison Bumgarner is their best pitcher. Can you imagine trading Mad Bum after what he did in the World Series? Beane might have traded him. Probably would have traded him. For some guys.
I could go on with the Giants roster and how Santiago Casilla is the closer and Jeremy Affeldt is the set-up guy and how Giants fans identify with the players. Are invited to identify with the players. Are invited to sign the contract.
Forget about it with the A’s. You identified with Donaldson — good guy, terrific player — and the A’s broke your heart. Did it without a second thought. Made you feel like a fool for even caring. The A’s are great at making fans feel like fools. It’s what the A’s do. Even though they have great excuses, there is no excuse for continually violating the contract.
So, whom do you root for on the A’s? You can’t root for the players because they’re just visiting, always have one foot out the door preparing to move onto the next team.
You know who the only constant is? I’ll tell you.
It’s Billy Beane. He is the one constant. If you are a Beane fan, you can go to bed thinking, “Billy did it again. Got four players for one. He is the best Fantasy Baseball manager in the big leagues.”
Somehow rooting for the GM doesn’t equal rooting for Donaldson or rooting for the A’s to be a contender instead of a cut-rate rebuilding unit — yet again.
The A’s should change their name from the A’s to the Beanes. As a nickname, they could shorten Beanes to B’s. The A’s could go from being the A’s to the B’s. In a disappointing season — hold onto your hats for 2015 — we could call them the B-minuses, although that grade may be entirely too high.
So, yeah, the A’s exiled Josh Donaldson to Canada and, if you go by cold logic, they had every reason for what they did.
I don’t like it. Neither should you.
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.