June 08, 2012

Billy Beane And The Ka’aihue Caper

Which do you want?

Do you want the Moneyball (the farcical book and ridiculous movie) version of Billy Beane where he’s a ruthless Gordon Gekko-like corporate titan who treats the players as chess pieces and moves them regardless of feelings or personalities according to what’s best for the team and winning?

Do you want a hard-edged and intelligent architect who also has the empathy and understanding that is similar (again in the farcical book and ridiculous movie) to Beane’s relationship with his young daughter? A man who triumphed in the face of adversity and and achieved a success in the baseball front office he couldn’t achieve on the field while simultaneously slaying his own demons from that failed playing career?

Make a choice.

The stories about Beane are nonsense. He’s not a genius. He’s not an idiot. He’s not overrated or underrated. He is what he is and what that is is a mediocre GM who found a way to win for a brief time by using statistics and techniques that had yet to become widespread in use or understanding.

As other clubs have taken the successful aspects of stat-based techniques, paid for on base percentage and found other ways to win without spending the money of the Yankees and Red Sox, Beane’s clubs have fallen back to what they were in the mid-late-1990s before Beane stumbled onto his “secret” by luck, necessity or both.

Now the A’s are a haphazard mix of young and old; of players from the past and players for the future; of has beens and never weres; of players who he found and players who he overpaid for. It shows on the fields as, after a surprisingly quick start, they’ve staggered to where most observers thought they’d be at 26-32 and promising to get much worse as the season moves along.

But there won’t be a Major League-style, Barbra Streisand “There’s A Place For Us”, island of misfit toys victory for this group. They’re going to lose 90+ games by the time the season is over and again Beane and his bosses will be pleading MLB for a new ballpark; the freedom to move to San Jose; or some lifeline to save baseball in Oakland.

There is no happy ending here.

But that doesn’t mean that Beane is the epitome of evil or a beacon for the unsung upstarts in the administration of his club.

There’s a large controversy as to the treatment of first baseman Kila Ka’aihue because the A’s designated him for assignment yesterday while he and his wife are awaiting the birth of twins. You can read the storyhere on Fox and read about the reaction of his teammates at the “injustice” in this slanted, twisted and intentionally inflammatory piece on Yahoo.

Is it injustice? Did the A’s do anything wrong?

Ostensibly Ka’aihue was dumped because Brandon Moss is in Triple A, had an out in his contract if he wasn’t in the big leagues by next week and they were going to need his bat for the upcoming games.

Let’s look at the perceptions of this decision in comparison to reality.

The A’s dumped a player with no concern about him personally or his family.

The implication is that because they designated Ka’aihue for assignment that they left him hanging with twins on the way, no job and no means to pay for their care.

Of course it’s nonsense. Ka’aihue is still technically a member of the Athletics organization. The designating for assignment is to create space for Moss by removing Ka’aihue from the 40-man roster. A team might claim him, he might clear waivers or the A’s can release him. I doubt any team is claiming him, so that leaves a release or going to Triple A. If he’s released someone will pick him up.

But Ka’aihue continuing his playing career is irrelevant in the context of what would happen if the CBA allowed his medical coverage to be gone once the decision was made to remove him from the 40-man roster.

Here’s news: he’s still covered and will still be paid based on his big league contract. He won’t have to leave Oakland for 10 days and if his babies are on the way any day now, I’m sure the A’s—if they’re going to send him to Triple A—will let him stay in Oakland until everything is settled.

The A’s gave Ka’aihue a chance to play that the Royals never did.

On an annual basis in the minors, Ka’aihue put up absurd on base numbers with power. But the Royals never gave him a legit shot to play. The closest they came was in 2011 when he started the season as the regular first baseman, received a month and was sent to the minors when he didn’t hit.

The A’s let him play in 39 of their 58 games and the left-handed batting Ka’aihue was consistently in the lineup when there was a righty pitching against the A’s. He got a chance and hit just as poorly as he did in his brief opportunities for the Royals. He, his teammates and the stat-loving people who worshipped his minor league numbers cannot say he didn’t get a chance. A 28-year-old minor league veteran who posted a .234/.295/.398 slash line with 4 homers and below average defense at first base can’t complain about being dumped after 139 plate appearances.

What else could the A’s have done?

They’re not going anywhere this season so I suppose they could’ve kept him on the roster until the Moss deadline of June 15th and/or waited until Ka’aihue’s kids were born. They could’ve given him more time to see if he started hitting. Or they could’ve done what they did. It’s not as if Moss is a youngster who’s killing Triple A and waiting for a chance to play and Ka’aihue was blocking his path. Moss is a 28-year-old journeyman as well and, as mentioned before, the Athletics’ season is going nowhere.

But this isn’t the monstrous treatment of a player with no leverage it’s being portrayed to be. The A’s needed a roster spot and Ka’aihue was the prime candidate at the position from which they needed to cut some dead weight. His A’s teammates can complain about it but if they look at it objectively, there’s no arguing with the decision because the player wasn’t playing well and this isn’t a charity. The A’s don’t owe him any more than what he’s gotten and will continue to get based on the basic agreement.

He’s still getting his benefits. His family is covered.

So what’s the problem other than the stoking of a fire by twisting facts and tugging on people’s emotions and suggesting that Beane is kicking a pregnant woman out on the street to fend for herself as she’s about to deliver twins or that Beane is hiding behind his assistant David Forst?

There is none.

If you’d like to pick on Beane, there are plenty of other reasons—milking the Moneyball farce; using his “genius” as a shield to do what he wants while wrecking his team; contradicting exactly what he was supposed to be but never was—but the Ka’aihue caper isn’t a reason to attack him. Ka’aihue didn’t hit and he’s getting dumped. It’s as simple as that.

 

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