Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/19/14

Even before the theatrical release of Moneyball, Billy Beane‘s actions as Athletics general manager were beginning to come under the microscope more often. This is just what happens to a general manager when his team doesn’t win, and Beane’s hasn’t reached the playoffs (nor sported a winning record) since the 2006 season. Now, the microscope falls upon his latest move: the signing of Cuban wunderkind Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36 million deal, even with a full outfield of Seth Smith, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Colin Cowgill and Jonny Gomes in tow. Although there are plenty of risks with the signing of a player like Cespedes, marginalizing players like Smith (much less Gomes or Cowgill) is not high on the list. Not when the Athletics so desperately need elite talent.

The post-2006 Athletics have been defined by a severe lack of elite talent, particularly on the position player side. Only nine position players have even reached 4.0 WAR overall since 2007, and only one player has posted a 5 WAR season in that stretch:

We talk a lot about winning on a budget here at FanGraphs — the concept of “$/WAR” is a big one, and especially when we talk about the Oakland Athletics, a team that has a restrictive budget due to a bad stadium and a less-than-ideal revenue stream. The A’s — and the Rays and other small-market teams — need to have a low $/WAR to win, not because $/WAR is the end-all be-all of baseball franchises but because there’s a strict upper limit on the “$” part of the expression.

The “WAR” part — which, ideally, means real wins — has to come from somewhere, and that’s where the need for elite talent comes from. Even in their down years, the Athletics have done a fine job of producing good, affordable pitching — Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Dan Haren, and Brett Anderson are (or were) all solid pitchers when healthy. They’ve also done an admirable job of getting something out of cheap players like Mark Ellis and Ryan Sweeney and Cliff Pennington. Without the elite talent to buttress the team, though, the A’s have just been adding a bunch of spare parts into 70-win teams.

Seth Smith would be a fine piece on many teams. A team can make the playoffs with him as the seventh or eighth best position player if they have an Albert Pujols, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, or Matt Kemp type (or two) around as well. He’s a good bargain. The Athletics didn’t have to give up much to get him.

But the Athletics desperately need a star. The easiest way (at least mathematically) to get that $/WAR down is by increasing the “WAR” part, and it takes elite talent to make the kind of dent the A’s need to get back to respectability. Here’s where Yoenis Cespedes comes in. There’s uncertainty, there’s risk, but there’s also extreme potential. Kevin Goldstein called him the 20th-best prospect in the game today, and he has the tools to become an elite outfielder. The A’s had to take a risk on Cespedes — he’s the only free agent talent of his kind they can afford to bring into the organization.

The A’s still need more beyond Cespedes to compete with teams like the Rangers and Angels. He may turn out to bust, or he may turn out to be average. But the Athletics rarely get a chance to infuse their organization with talent unless it’s through the draft or unless they have to give away talent of their own. This time, they jumped, and if that means Seth Smith is relegated to the bench and the outfield is crowded for a few years, so be it.

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

WATCH: Klay Thompson takes knee to head from Ariza

DeSean Jackson skips Redskins OTAs, goes to Cavs game

Texans to be featured on HBO's 'Hard Knocks'

WATCH: Ducks score controversial goal

Report: Ray McDonald arrested for violating restraining order

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Braves, Dodgers complete six-player swap

USA Soccer, CONCACAF losers in FIFA’s ‘World Cup of fraud’

Report: Tom Brady suspension appeal date not set yet

Are the St. Louis Rams setting up Nick Foles for failure?

LeBron: Didn't see Cavs reaching Finals at start of season

Pete Carroll: Communication with Russell Wilson is ‘great’

Lil B takes credit for Harden's terrible game, lifts curse

Riley Curry steals show at postgame news conference

Warriors beat Rockets in Game 5, advance to NBA Finals

Kentucky fan in Louisville has 38-1 sticker on car

Nick Kyrgios talks sex before tourneys, dating female players

Jared Dudley: 'Melo is most overrated player in NBA

Garrick Sherman bashes NCAA in epic drunken Twitter rant

Adrian Peterson denies reports that he wants to be traded

Report: Bulls players told Tom Thibodeau will not be back

Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders "gets it"

Bucs DE George Johnson is a dog show enthusiast

The 3-point shot has become a divisive metaphor in the NBA

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

USA Soccer, CONCACAF losers in FIFA’s ‘World Cup of fraud’

The 3-point shot has become a divisive metaphor in the NBA

Corey Crawford is the weakest link for the Blackhawks

Star player missing OTAs? Keep calm...

Transfer rumors: Drogba, Pirlo and Gomez linked to MLS

Cano's slump: The good news, bad news

Disappointments of the MLB season

UGA wants SEC to ban transfers with misconduct issues

Long's great reaction to Bears releasing McDonald

Crazy stats from the NBA Playoffs

Royals' Guthrie sets records in blowout

Bears cut McDonald after incident

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.