A's get results while division foes spend away
Rivals may grab winter headlines, but Oakland has back-to-back AL West titles
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- There have been repeated attempts to purchase the American League West title in recent years. Those haven't worked, because the Oakland Athletics, a team that isn't able to buy a championship, keeps winning the division.
In the last two years, the A's have not only won the division but have the best cumulative regular-season record in the AL.
The Athletics have not needed to make the big splash with free-agent signings because they have had pitching in both quality and quantity, and because their lineup, heavy on platoons, mixing and matching, has produced more than adequately. Other teams get the big offseason attention. Then the games start and the A's, quietly it seems, just win.
"That's the way we like to do things in Oakland -- quietly," A's manager Bob Melvin said Tuesday.
Winter Meetings Action
|Day 4: Dec. 12|
|SS Clint Barmes||1-year deal with PIT||Yes|
|OF Brian Bogusevic||Traded to MIA||Yes|
|2B Robinson Cano||10-year deal with SEA finalized||Yes|
|RHP Joba Chamberlain||1-year deal with DET||Yes|
|OF Nate McLouth||2-year deal with WAS finalized||Yes|
|OF Michael Morse||1-year deal with SF||No|
|1B Mike Napoli||2-year deal with BOS finalized||Yes|
|OF Justin Ruggiano||Traded to CHC||Yes|
It was Melvin's turn for a managerial session with the media at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort for the Winter Meetings. One of the questions he received was particularly inevitable, regarding the Seattle Mariners' reported 10-year, $240 million splurge on second baseman Robinson Cano.
"This is my third full year with Oakland, and I've had this question three years in a row," Melvin said with a smile. "[Two years ago] it was [Albert] Pujols, and then it was [Josh] Hamilton, so we're used to it in our division. It's something you have to deal with. We concern ourselves more with us than we do with the other teams, although that's probably a nice little pickup for Seattle, definitely."
Pujols signed with the Angels after the 2011 season for $240 million over 10 years. Hamilton signed with the Angels the following year for $125 million over five years.
But the Athletics have to concern themselves with production, more than money or the lack of it. Their financial limitations are well documented. But there is no recent record of those limitations destroying their effectiveness on the field.
"I don't even concern myself with the payroll," Melvin said before referring to the admirable work of A's general manager Billy Beane. "Billy's been able to maneuver and do his thing. We've had a payroll that's not among the highest in the league, but we've been able to be successful. So as a group, we feel like we're a good team regardless of what the payroll is. We don't talk about it; we don't address it as a team. It's not a distraction for us, and we don't think it holds us back.
"Our front office has done a great job over the years of operating under those constraints."
The Oakland front office has acted not only effectively but rapidly this offseason. With starter Bartolo Colon and closer Grant Balfour in free agency, the A's have obtained Scott Kazmir for the rotation and Jim Johnson as the closer.
The A's also added setup man Luke Gregerson, making a deep bullpen even deeper. And Craig Gentry adds speed and superior outfield defense. The overall outlook is relentlessly positive.
"We feel like we're improved and improved from the team that's won the West the last two years," Melvin said.
The Athletics traded promising but oft-injured lefty Brett Anderson to Colorado on Tuesday in return for lefty Drew Pomeranz and pitching prospect Chris Jensen. Pomeranz was a first-round Draft choice, fifth pick overall, in 2010. He has struggled with the Rockies, but the A's are not alone in believing that he could regain his form by pitching in an environment other than Colorado's altitude.
Even when A's players performed below expectations, plusses can be found. For instance, outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick were in that category in 2013.
"For me, what was actually encouraging was that the rest of the guys picked up the slack," Melvin said. "And we know that [Cespedes and Reddick] are going to have better years than they had last year, too."
There is a similar premise with the lineup, the platoon combinations creating necessary production in the absence of a set -- and presumably much more expensive -- lineup. What is the key in getting players to accept part-time roles?
"It's communication," Melvin said. "They have to know how we're trying to do things. It's getting them to buy in. Everybody wants to be an everyday player, but we're trying to let them know that what we're doing is going to benefit the team.
"Now, they're not always going to like what they hear, but as long as you're communicative with them, they can prepare for the job that you have for them. I've felt to this point that this is the best way to do it.
"We seem to have those players on our roster. We don't have many Robinson Canos on our roster. We have a few guys who play every day. The other guys know they have to do some things well to get the at-bats. I'm probably lucky on having the guys I do. They don't make it about them. They understand it's about the team."
No, the A's still don't have any Robinson Canos. But yes, they have won their division the past two years. This is not a fluke. It is the triumph of the standard baseball virtues over mega-millions.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.