PHOENIX -- A's general manager Billy Beane is one of the smartest men in baseball. But sometimes Beane is credited with ideas that aren't even completely his.
The Athletics' unusual, seemingly illogical quick change from 2008 seller to late-2008 and early 2009 buyer has many in baseball suggesting that it's a case of Beane's mad genius at work. But it actually appears the impetus for the seemingly sudden switch actually came from above. According to one competing owner, the idea to change course and go for it this year came mostly from A's owner Lewis Wolff, who is telling friends that he's tiring of rebuilding and wants to win. According to that owner, Wolff gave a "win now" order.
Beane doesn't deny that Wolff sparked the idea, saying the owner made his suggestion "in a good way." Anyway, Beane went to work, forming a fun and dangerous $58 million team by combining a conglomeration of proven every-day players. Oakland made one monster trade for superstar Matt Holliday and signed multiple free agents to complement one of baseball's best stashes of young and talented starting pitchers.
The A's are considered to have among the best prospects in baseball (the Rangers, A's, Marlins, Rays and Red Sox are often cited as the top five), but are also giving themselves a shot to win now. If it works, it could become the blueprint for others.
"We are trying to rebuild, but also trying to put the best team on the field within the framework of rebuilding," said Beane, explaining the unusual strategy.
The celebrated GM, who initiated last year's stark rebuilding plan by trading away veteran pitchers Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, is the one who executed the new battle plan. And characteristically, Beane implemented the plan in superb fashion. He deserves credit for that (along with A's execs David Forst, Billy Owens and others).
With Wolff's go-ahead, Beane and Co. acquired Holliday, who is one year from free agency and an obvious rental star, to anchor the offense and shock the baseball world. Beane later added ex-A's icon Jason Giambi for power and fun, then waited to sign Orlando Cabrera, a consistent producer who just might be the bargain of the winter at $4 million, steady reliever Russ Springer and finally former superstar Nomar Garciaparra, who brings even more spice at only $1 million guaranteed. Oakland's front office is nothing if not adaptable; a few years ago, when then manager Ken Macha suggested they get Garciaparra, the Athletics' famed stat guys nixed the idea (of course, Nomar comes cheaper now, too).
"Billy did a tremendous job. He got Holliday, Giambi, Cabrera and Springer for what the Dodgers paid for Manny," one competing GM pointed out, though that GM conceded Beane gave up three prospects for Holliday and draft picks for the Type A free agent Cabrera.
Holliday gives the whole lineup credibility, but old friend Giambi adds a dash of panache. Only a minute or two after Giambi said Yankees GM Brian Cashman told him they weren't picking up his $22 million option (he had to be told this?), Giambi called his old boss and friend Beane, looking for his old job back.
Beane told Giambi on that phone call, "We're going to do some big things."
"I really bought in," said Giambi, knowing his old boss as he does.
Giambi said he feels like a kid who left home, went away to college (though for seven years) and is returning home to his parents -- though Beane is actually only a few years older than the 38-year-old Giambi, who does still seem like a kid in many ways.
The quick-strike acquisition of Holliday signaled the A's had partly moved out of the rebuilding phase. But Beane was also determined to surround Holliday with offensive firepower. After they failed to land Rafael Furcal, who appeared determined to stay in the National League, Giambi came for a relatively reasonable $5 million, then came Cabrera and Garciaparra for $5 million combined.
Giambi could go into sales when his ballplaying days are done. After inviting me to talk (who does that?), Giambi gushed, "You should see some of our young arms!"
Beane felt all along that he had the pitching talent, no matter how young, to survive in their spacious ballpark. Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzarro are three of the better young pitchers in baseball, although they may all be a year away.
In any case, Beane was determined to give his young staff its best chance to win games, starting with the superb Holliday, who's surely a one-year rental at the most. Actually, he might only be a half-year rental. Beane isn't averse to trading stars even after a good first half, as he did last year when the A's were several games over .500 but sold off stars because it didn't look like they'd beat the Angels.
"I'm going to treat it like I'm coming here for 100 years, and not just one year," Holliday said. "I am coming to prepare, to perform and to play at the highest level."
Holliday was never a guy who needed extra motivation, but it can't hurt to see the comparably productive Mark Teixeira receive $180 million over eight years as a free agent. "You follow some of these things. I'm happy for him," Holliday said. "He gets the chance to play where he wants. I'd be extremely grateful if I were to be able to have the chance to play somewhere for eight years."
That's not going to happen here, not with the A's. But he's sure to be in for a very fun half year, or year.
Alex Rodriguez probably made the best possible decision. By having half the operation now and half in November, he's expected to be able to last through the year once he returns (the estimate is sometime between late April and late May). Doctors, in fact, are saying it's "85 to 90 percent" that he makes it through. This means the Yankees aren't even calling about alternatives now.
A-Rod just could not adjust mentally to the idea of playing with a tear in the labrum of his right hip, people familiar with the case tell SI.com. "The pathology moves to the head, and it's difficult for most players to play without thinking about something like this," one competing GM, unfamiliar with A-Rod's thinking, said.
Nobody's blaming him for equivocating over a very important decision, but when the Yankees announced a few days ago that Rodriguez would try to play through the injury, they must have thought he would. Eventually, Rodriguez took noted hip specialist Dr. Marc Philippon's best advice, which was to have surgery now. He'll have the surgery in two parts, the first to suture up the area and the second to round out the hip bone that had become squared over what Philippon told him was 10 years of deterioration.
Some major-league players have played through labral tears, and while HIPAA laws prevent teams from revealing medical conditions, it was learned that first baseman Dan Johnson played through a similar injury with the help of cortisone shots.
Doctors say Rodriguez's hip injury isn't as severe as those suffered by Chase Utley and Mike Lowell. But that doesn't make the situation great. There's still a 10 to 15 percent chance that he won't be able to play through the season. If that happens, the Yankees will have to consider outside alternatives.
Rodriguez's new everyday buddy is expected to be the noted Canadian physical therapist David Lindsay, who designed a workout program for Tiger Woods. Lindsay, an expert in golf and hip injuries, is expected to go to Colorado to be with A-Rod, then accompany him to New York to continue the recovery program.
Lindsay, from Toronto, is a world-class physical therapist, and represents a step up on the friend scale from cousin Yuri Sucart.
I don't care what anyone says, I like the WBC, where we saw ..
1. A wonderful Dutch Treat. That Netherlands' 3-2 victory over the Dominican is an upset of miracle proportions.
2. A Canada team without Ryan Dempster or Harden put a scare into the U.S.
3. Pudge Rodriguez take a step toward getting his next job with a 4-for-4 day, including two home runs and a stolen base. The Marlins and Astros, no matter what they say publicly, are interested. Though Florida does like current catcher John Baker.
4. Pedro Martinez looks worthy of a new job, as well. He's apparently talking up a Dodgers reunion, an idea that was trumpeted in this space several weeks ago (and ridiculed by several e-mailers -- you know who you are). It makes more sense than ever, as the Dodgers are worried about their pitching.
5. Jose Reyes congratulate hated rival and Dominican teammate Miguel Olivo after two Olivo home runs. A Reyes-Olivo fight is a memorable moment in the Mets' late-2007 collapse.
6. Carlos Lee, well, he looks as big as all of Texas now.
7. As for Chipper Jones, it's a good thing there's still four weeks to go before the season starts.
8. I always thought Venezuela manager Luis Sojo would manage in the big leagues one day.
9. My one WBC bet: Whichever team loses, Team USA or the Dominican Republic, A-Rod will be blamed. Or if either wins, he will be ridiculed for the team winning without him.
• The Giants want to see more out of $60-million man Aaron Rowand. Said one Giants person, "He needs to kick it into gear."
• The Giants' release of good guy Dave Roberts hurt some teammates, especially Randy Winn, who said, "On a personal level, that hurt. There's not another guy like him."
• The Giants took a lot of heat from competitors for giving Edgar Renteria $18.5 million over two years when the consensus was that Renteria's on the downside. A Giants person explained the deal by saying Renteria's agent (Barry Meister) was asking for three or four years. As for Renteria, he said., "I wanted to play in The National League. It was a perfect deal for both sides."
• Orlando Cabrera, meanwhile, seemingly a better player now, got $4 million for one year from the cross-Bay A's. He called the market "weird," but doesn't seem bitter.
• New Dodgers second baseman Orlando Hudson sat out a game with a sore wrist, the same wrist that kept him out last year. Hudson suggested the wrist is what kept him to his $3.38 million contract (plus incentives) but said he believes he's much better now and will be fine.
• Outfielder Xavier Paul, who can hit, run and throw ("a cannon" said one Dodgers person) but is only average defensively, is making a big impression on Dodgers manager Joe Torre.
• Indians catching prospect Carlos Santana is wowing them in Arizona. "He's one of the better catch-and-throw guys in the game," one GM said. "He's going to be one of the top five catchers in the game."
• Hanley Ramirez looks like he might be ready for a big year. He certainly is a lot bigger. Reports out of the Marlins clubhouse indicate that he's gained 25 pounds, from 199 to 224.
• Young Rangers catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has looked much improved, according to folks out in Arizona, and is penciled in to start 110 games.
• Rangers backup outfielder Frank Catalanotto is available in trade, and probably better suited to the National League. He's an excellent pinch hitter, but won't have much use in that role with that stacked Rangers lineup.
• Andruw Jones is starting to show signs that he's getting his hitting timing back, but the perennial Gold Glover hasn't looked as comfortable in center field. ("That could just be because it's his first spring in Arizona," one scout suggested.) Jones has told Rangers people that he might be flexible on the March 20 decision day for him. As of today, he isn't making the team, though.
• Negotiations toward a big deal for Rangers star Josh Hamilton are just getting going now.
• Angels ace John Lackey is in extension talks with the team, though club insiders say talks are "preliminary." The Los Angeles Times has estimated his likely take at $75-80 million for five years.
• Very young Brewers outfield prospect Lorenzo Cain also looks terrific. He may be a year or two away, however.
• A's third-base coach Mike Gallego, being kidded over being a managerial candidate, responded, "Maybe a manager of McDonald's ... Ronald might be up in the stands scouting today."
• Bobby Crosby might want out now. But that $6 million salary makes him untradeable.
• Nationals executive Mike Rizzo might not have the title of GM, but others are saying he appears to be serving in that role (though needs to run everything past club president Stan Kasten, who's finally freed from Jim Bowden). Others believe this is probably something of an audition for Rizzo.
• Doug Davis, who heroically came back after thyroid cancer last year, is dealing with something less serious now: a triceps flare-up
• Congrats to deserving Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who's getting a $30 million, five-year contract extension a couple years after being diagnosed with lymphoma. It's great news for the Sox, and for Lester, a quiet and great kid.