You may have missed the announcement. In fact, we’d bet large money on it.
Brown may have been a member of baseball’s faceless fringe, but he had a story that set him apart. See, he was the unwitting face of the business model with which A’s general manager Billy Beane confounded the grand old game from 1999-2006.
Maybe you read the book.
In “Moneyball,” author Michael Lewis detailed Beane’s counter-intuitive approach to baseball. He did this in part by presenting Brown as a tool to tell the story. A marginal draft pick in his own mind, Brown found himself picked by the A’s in the first round in 2002 because he fit Beane’s statistical profile. A’s scouts were appalled because Brown had neither the physique nor the physical characteristics of the traditional can’t-miss prospect.
Because of the book, Brown gained notoriety he neither sought nor welcomed. Now he has called it quits at the precise point at which Beane’s Moneyball model appears to have run its course.
Its origins were humble enough. A flurry of trade-deadline deals in 1999 propelled the A’s to their first winning record in seven years. Over the next seven seasons, they averaged 95 wins and made five playoff appearances, even as commissioner Bud Selig was openly talking about contracting the franchise.
Beane did it by drafting players who became huge stars, then letting them leave as free agents. He did it by renting veterans who played a season (or two) in Oakland, then left as free agents. He did it by trading players approaching the prime of their careers for prospects. He did it by placing value on players other teams deemed undesirable, but who could take pitches, draw walks and hit home runs.
Thus, the A’s had their first losing season since 1998. After which Beane backed up his stated intent to rebuilt by trading stalwarts Dan Haren, Nick Swisher and Mark Kotsay (with, presumably, Huston Street and Joe Blanton to follow).
Naturally, people are wondering if Brown’s retirement symbolizes the end of the era. And they’re asking:
Can Beane remake the A’s into a playoff contender? That’s a tall order based merely on the law of averages. Put it this way: The Yankees aside, no major league team has a streak of postseason appearances exceeding 1. Meanwhile, eight teams have failed to make the playoffs for at least 10 years running.
Doesn’t Beane’s analytic mad genius give him an advantage? Doubtful. The book explicitly detailed his methodology, as well as the delight he took in fleecing fellow GMs. Thus, he now must co-exist with GMs who either embrace his model to some extent, and/or who wouldn’t talk trade with him on a bet.
Before the 2006 season they gave third baseman Eric Chavez the contract Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, et al, never got — $66 million over six years. Chavez’s numbers have trended downward ever since, as has his health.
That same offseason, the A’s outbid the Giants by for Esteban Loaiza ($21 million, three years), and got 12-9, 4.62 and an embarrassing DUI for their trouble. They waived him last August.
Kotsay was extended at market rate by previous ownership in 2005, whereupon his problematic back became a debilitating concern. The A’s will pay $5.3 million of his salary this season even though he’s with Atlanta.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
So there’s a lot working against him as he tries to recapture lightning in a bottle, maybe even more than he had going against him nine years ago. The only certainties are that this season figures to be a competitive wash, and that Jeremy Brown will have nothing to do with it.
Connect those dots as you see fit.
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