Hard as it is to believe, people once again are lining up to set Billy Beane on fire.
This ritual never gets old. Beane trades a proven commodity for a bushel of unknown quantities. Fans erupt in outrage. And our favorite part — the A's continue to throw contending teams on the field on a more-or-less annual basis.
As we speak, they are on track for their ninth winning record in the past 10 seasons. And Joe Blanton is asking the Philadelphia Phillies equipment manager if he has anything in a 48 stout.
In other words, same as it ever was — at least since the day nine years ago when Beane discovered the Mets would willingly give up Terrence Long and Leo Vasquez for clubhouse canker sore Kenny Rogers. Only the reaction to Beane's trades seems to be changing.
There was hooting when he offloaded Dan Haren and Nick Swisher last offseason. There was hollering when he dealt Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin less than two weeks ago.
The trade of Blanton on Thursday ignited the unrest anew, though at this point that must be partly a function of conditioned response.
For one thing, Blanton, while likable enough, is the epitome of an average starting pitcher. During his five years with the A's he won one more game than he lost, and his ERA was .01 higher than the league average.
For another, Beane's Warren-Buffett-channels-Branch-Rickey methodology is precisely what has kept the A's a) economically viable, b) competitive and c) economically viable since he took over for Sandy Alderson before the 1999 season.
While, we hasten to add, the Kansas City Royals are 275 games under .500, the Pittsburgh Pirates 202 games under, the Montreal/Washington Expos/Nationals 160 games under, and, well, you get the idea.
And for yet another, it must be occurring to even the most pie-eyed optimist that the fates have it in for this year's team.
When your first baseman is lost after diving head first into the bottom of a pool, you at least have to consider the possibility that some kind of poltergeist is afoot.
In short, to quibble with Beane's MO is to just not get it, or to love the feel of raw egg dripping off your chin. But at this point, we will give the fans this much: He is the picture of a guy who has fallen in love with the journey at the expense of the destination.
We're not saying that's how it is. But we acknowledge that's how it might look from the All You Can Eat seats. In the past nine months Beane has traded seven big leaguers for 20 prospects. If past results are any indication of future performance, more than a few of those prospects will develop into top-notch talent. And if the fans know their Billy, that talent will then be traded for more prospects.
It's a great way to make sure you keep expenses in line. But if all you ever do is exchange players on one side of the career arc for players on the other, do you ever have enough talent to reach the World Series?
That question, we would submit, is at the heart of whatever fan unrest Beane's recent flurry of wheeling and dealing has inspired. But we would also submit there is another component at work here, that being the emotional connection fans feel with their favorite players.
Beane, the high minister of counter-intuition, has demonstrated fearlessness in allowing his best players to move on, while doing the same in their absence. Reason being: The only way to keep them is to pay market value (or above), the only reason to do that is sentimentality, and sentimentality skews the business model.
That's how he sees it, anyway. To fans, an emotional connection drives the dynamic. Which is how Beane and those who would put a match to his pant leg can both be right when it comes to the care and feeding of their favorite team.
In a related development, Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street never leave home without their change-of-address forms because, well, you know.
Contact Gary Peterson at email@example.com.