Rizzo and Beane: Best Baseball Buddies

Billy Beane is famous for this stupid book some idiot wrote about him. Granted, they wrote the book about him because he was really good at managing a Major League Baseball team while under extreme budget pressure, which is admirable. But it's still a stupid book, and it became a dumb movie. Is it Billy Beane's fault someone wrote a stupid book about him? Of course not, but ever since he has enjoyed a reputation as the top GM in the Major Leagues, if not the most well known GM in US Professional sports. His own signings say he's "sexy."

Mike Rizzo is not famous. Nobody ever wrote a stupid book about him. Maybe his wife tells him he's sexy, if she's nice to him. Despite these obvious differences, Mike Rizzo and Billy Beane are baseball buddies. They like to trade, a lot. Like, tons. Since Rizzo's tenure began he's moved more players with Billy Beane than he has with any other GM with four trades and more than a dozen players shutting between the two coasts. One would question the thinking behind doing so much business with a GM reputed to have such an unassaiable understanding of the business of baseball- and yet, Rizzo is a solid 4-0 when trading off with Mr. Moneyball. I mean, if you're into scoring these things like that.

16 November 2010 - Josh Willingham for Henry Rodriguez and Corey Brown

Who needed Josh Willingham for the 2011 season? Because the Nationals sure didn't. Mike Rizzo's club finished the 2010 season dead last in the NL East and with the expectation that Stephen Strasburg would lose a season to Tommy John Surgery. It made perfect sense to move Willingham, and after having one of the best seasons of his career the return ought to have been substantive. The Athletics finished only 9 GB of the Rangers in 2010, good for 2nd in the AL West, and were looking to improve. They snatched him up

If a person was tempted to use a straightforward approach to evaluating this deal, such as comparing WAR totals, you'd say this was a pretty good deal for all the other teams in the NL East. It removed Josh Willingham for his final contract year before Free Agency, and added two players who have had a negative WAR at the pro level in the two seasons since. The move must have worked out great for the Athletics given they got their second best batter by WAR... for a team that finished 74-88.

Josh Willingham now swings his bat for Minnesota while Henry Rodirguez still provides cheap depth to the Nats bullpen and Corey Brown waits for injury callups in AAA. Combined, they've yet to earn in their baseball careers what Josh Willingham was paid in 2011 to slug for a team that finished 22 games out of first in a four team division. Given the Nationals finished 21.5 GB of the Phillies themselves, did either team really need Josh Willingham for the 2011 season? No, but the Athletics got stuck with the hot potato and the Nationals got controllable young players.

23 December 2011 - The Oakland Athletics traded Robert Gilliam (minors) and Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals for A.J. Cole (minors), Tommy Milone, Derek Norris and Brad Peacock.

Nats fans might long remember this trade as a Christmas present from Billy Beane, the kind of gift only Moneyball can buy. The story at the time was simple enough: Gonzalez was getting too good, and about to earn too much money, for a club that it didn't have much of a chance of making up 22 games on the Rangers and Angels in one season, the former team having made two straight World Series.

Then Gio Gonzalez was extended on terms that seemed friendly when he was just a humble front-end starter with control problems.

Then he became a Cy Young candidate.

Then the Angels collapsed. Then the Rangers collapsed. And at the worst possible time, the Athletics ascended.

Following the 2011 season the Nationals and Athletics were in similar positions but making different bets on their future trajectory. Rizzo bought high on his team, Beane sold low on his. Beane might have been pleasantly surprised by the success of his club but it sure didn't fit into his plans.

3 August 2012 - The Oakland Athletics traded Kurt Suzuki and cash to the Washington Nationals for David Freitas (minors).

When Suzuki left Oakland they were about 4 GB of the Rangers. Just about a month earlier they had been 12 GB. Either way, Kurt Suzuki was the most productive C on the Athletics roster and in the middle of a playoffs hunt he was shipped out for a single minor league prospect. Perhaps the .218/.250/.286. slash line was underwhelming, but Suzuki went on to hit .267/.321/.404 the rest of the season. In platoon roles, neither Derek Norris nor George Kottaras did any better for Oakland. Dave Freitas ranks in the Top 20 prospects in the Athletics' system, so perhaps it's not too bad a loss for the Athletics. But he might not ever earn a PA in the Majors and yet Beane gave away the best Catcher on an eventual playoff team to have him.

16 January 2013 - The Oakland Athletics sent A.J. Cole (minors), Blake Treinen (minors) and player to be named to the Washington Nationals. The Seattle Mariners sent John Jaso to the Oakland Athletics. The Washington Nationals sent Mike Morse to the Seattle Mariners.

Now that Texas and Anaheim don't look so scary Beane wants to improve his club quickly. When one considers that the Athletics were in this transaction solely for a catcher it's best to recall that the last two deals shaping the Athletics' current platoon involved the Nationals. Capitalizing on a need largely shaped by himself, Rizzo is able to regain the best piece of the best trade he's yet to make. And a couple other prospects to sweeten it, why not? It is perhaps too early to evaluate the winners in this trade as the players don't even have their new jerseys yet, but the deal has earned good grades for the Nats from a number of baseball commentators who felt the Nats got good value for a redundant player.

Taken altogether the movement of Major League players leaving and joining the Nationals on account of deals between Rizzo and Beane looks like this:

To Nationals
Corey Brown
Henry Rodriguez
Gio Gonzalez
Kurt Suzuki
Three Prospects

From Nationals
Josh Willingham
Tommy Milone
Derek Norris
Michael Morse
Two Prospects

On the Macro level, this exchange looks pretty good. The odds aren't great of any of the pitchers the Nats gave up having even one season like Gio's 2012. The Nats got solid players with plenty of team control and one elite pitcher. The Nats gave up a couple sluggers on the final years of their contracts and some midlevel Major Leaguers they likely didn't have room for in any case. Keep making deals like this and perhaps it will be Rizzo as the star of Moneyball 2: Moneyballer.

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