SAN DIEGO -- These are the times Billy Beane loves most of all. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. He loves to be doubted. He feeds off it, is motivated by it. He's as competitive as any man you'll ever meet.
Through the years, Beane has learned to drown out the noise. In fact, this gift is a significant part of his genius. He simply does not care what others think. He believes in what he's doing. He believes in his people.
For the last 17 seasons, Beane has run the smartest, most efficient operation in baseball. He's the architect of eight playoff teams despite payrolls that typically rank in the bottom five.
He revolutionized baseball with his use of analytics, evaluating players in a way they'd never been evaluated before. These days, every team employs analytics to some extent, and yet, the A's continue to be innovative, unafraid and successful.
Beane may not be listening to what others are saying, but he knows the buzz around the Oakland Athletics this offseason. What is Billy doing this time? What is he thinking? Why has he given up on the 2015 season?
He can tell by the questions reporters ask, by their tone, by the skepticism. Again, though, the bottom line is that he doesn't care.
So here we go again.
In the last 11 days, he has traded three All-Stars for nine players between the ages of 18 and 26 years old. Only one of them -- third baseman Brett Lawrie -- has significant Major League experience.
In dealing third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto, first baseman Brandon Moss to Cleveland and pitcher Jeff Samardzija to the White Sox, he acquired four infielders, four pitchers and a catcher.
|"We're not going to concede anything in terms of the upcoming season."|
|-- Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane.|
For a farm system left depleted by a series of trades for veterans, Beane appears to have significantly replenished it. At least that's the plan. But he no longer has three of the players who helped the A's make the playoffs last season.
"What we're trying to do is walk that delicate balance to getting younger and also trying to be as good as we can as quickly as possible," Beane said. "We've never been an organization that says, 'Hey we're going to punt for the next five years and get a top 10 Draft pick.' That's not in our DNA. It's just not who we were, and we're not going to do that. How competitive we are is yet to be determined, but the idea wasn't to not be competitive in an effort to rise up the draft chain."
He didn't have to trade a single one of these veterans. That's the part that has led to some second-guessing. Samardzija could be a free agent after next season, but the A's would have had control of Donaldson for four more years and Moss for two.
Beane saw it differently. He saw a club that finished 11 games behind the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West and wasn't going to re-sign free-agent pitchers Jon Lester and Jason Hammel.
He could not see the A's making up those 11 games on the Angels by standing pat. He thought his Minor League system didn't have the depth it had before the trades for Lester, Hammel and Samardzija last summer.
"We had to take a hard look at where we were," Beane said. "It's an overused line, but hope's not a great strategy. We knew the losses we were going to have. We knew where the payroll was going. We knew the Minor League system was thin. You're looking at the bottom falling out at some point, and if we see it coming, we're not going to keep going there.
"We're just trying to be realistic and pro-active. A year from now, we probably would have hit ourselves for not doing what we knew was the obvious. Now is the time to get the organization healthier again in terms of acquiring young players."
So he attacked his roster just as he did three years ago when he dealt three All-Star pitchers for 10 players who were about as unknown as the guys he just acquired. With those deals, a narrative was written.
The A's would not win in 2012.
That narrative was incorrect. The A's won 94 games and the AL West in 2012.
OK, here's the fun part about this offseason. With a smaller payroll, with roster flexibility, Beane intends to go on a cautious spending spree.
He has an assortment of players targeted. Three years ago after he'd made those three trades and after the Oakland-is-done columns were written, his acquisitions made less news.
He signed Coco Crisp, Bartolo Colon and Yoenis Cespedes and traded for Seth Smith. Those players, along with some of the talent he acquired in the three trades, helped the A's succeed in 2012.
He would like to write that script again. One of the players he acquired from the White Sox is 24-year-old Marcus Semien, who probably will be Oakland's starting shortstop on Opening Day.
He also got at least two starting pitchers from Toronto -- Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin -- who could compete for jobs in 2015. He got Lawrie as well. And with Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir at the top of a nice rotation, with Crisp still in center and Josh Reddick in right, the A's still have a chunk of players from successful teams.
Write off the A's? Not yet.
"Now it's hopefully looking to add," Beane said. "It's not to say that we couldn't make trades, but I don't think they'd be perceived as quite as dramatic as these might have been."
So regardless of what else Beane does, the A's almost certainly will be younger and less of a known quantity in 2015. That said, they still may compete. At least that's the plan.
"What's fun is ultimately having a product that has a chance to get better each day," Beane said. "I'm always worried when you get on the other side and are starting to get worse. And you know as a general manager when you're around the club everyday, you know your Minor League system, you know the issues you're going to be facing during the season."
In other words, he changed the A's before he was forced to change them. He has done this before every few years as the A's approach a point where payroll will force them to make tough decisions.
It's offseasons like this one that have established his brilliance, and in that way, shown every other club a blueprint for succeeding without great wealth. His impact on the game can't be overstated.
In the end, though, he will be evaluated again by the games the A's win in 2015. He's fine with that. He's confident, too. Could this be his finest hour? Probably not. He has had too many to count.
Richard Justice is a Sports on Earth contributor and columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.