Billy Beane

Why A's Bob Melvin, Billy Beane believe Khris Davis will bounce back

Why A's Bob Melvin, Billy Beane believe Khris Davis will bounce back

OAKLAND -- For all of the positive developments in the A's 2019 season, there still is one giant unsolved mystery.

What in the world happened to Khris Davis?

After recording at least 40 home runs and 100 RBI in each of his first three seasons with the A's, while incredibly batting .247 all three years, Davis plummeted back to earth this year. The 31-year-old slashed just .220/.293/.387, all career-worsts, with only 23 homers and 73 RBI.

"I know it was frustrating for Khris," A's executive vice president Billy Beane said. "I think he probably put a lot of pressure on himself. Khris takes a lot of pride in his role on the team and being that guy who's the 40-homer, middle-of-the-lineup guy. I think he was trying to find the answer as much as anybody, and it certainly wasn't for a lack of effort on his part or the coaching staff's.

"But we expect him to come back next year and return to his annual 40-homer, .247 (batting average)."

Davis actually got off to a tremendous start this season, batting .265 with 10 home runs and 19 RBI in his first 17 games. A week later, he signed a two-year, $33.5 million contract extension. That's when everything started to go wrong.

In his next 14 games, Davis failed to hit a home run, batting a lowly .189 during that stretch. Then on May 5, he collided with the left-field side wall in Pittsburgh, suffering a left hip contusion. From that point on, Davis hit 13 long balls in his final 97 games.

"The injury kind of sidetracked him," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He wasn't injured at the end of the year. For a guy that's used to being 'the guy' and is consistent at .247 with 40-something home runs and 100 RBI, it's hard. It's hard. You can get down on yourself and you can lose confidence.

"And then when it continues, it starts to snowball on you a little bit, and I think that was the case with him."

The question now is whether Davis can find a way to revert to the Khris Davis of old. Both Melvin and Beane are confident that he can and will.

"I expect him to come back and produce like he always has, and I know he expects the same thing," Melvin said. "Sometimes you just need a little bit of distance from a difficult year. When you look at the back of a baseball card, there's always going to be a year -- your worst year is going to be on there.

"He's been so consistent for us that it stands out, but I think he and we expect him to come back and do the things he has in the past."

Beane is on the same page as his manager regarding Davis' future, too.

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"He'll come back and he should be healthier. He had some little injuries at the beginning of the year that possibly could've been a factor. He hasn't used that as an excuse, to his credit. But they were there. He had the collision with the wall in Pittsburgh and then other issues as well. Again, he didn't use it as an excuse, but it's quite possible that there were some things that happened as a result of those injuries that messed with his mechanics a little bit.

"But he's got the offseason to forget about it and come back like we know he can."

Why A's signing Marcus Semien to long-term contract would energize fans

Why A's signing Marcus Semien to long-term contract would energize fans

Though reaching the postseason and succeeding might seem of the highest priority for the A’s, and let’s assume it is in the immediate, two issues with considerably further reach cannot go unaddressed.

One of them is a ballpark that could sustain the A’s for decades to come. Yeah, it’s needed.

The other is shortstop Marcus Semien. Yeah, he’s needed.

Both matters are related to putting more fans in the seats.

Getting Semien’s signature on a long-term contract, preferably this winter, is of greater urgency than another ballpark study. Why? Because as long as the A’s continue their practice of cycling out popular talent, they may never generate any momentum to help sell such a project.

We understand that money is of utmost importance for a ballpark; without it, there is nothing new in Oakland or anyplace else. But momentum means broad engagement. Ask the Warriors.

That Semien, 29, has spent this season punishing opponents makes him the latest test case for the slogan, “rooted” in Oakland. Insofar as he faces only one more year of arbitration before he can become a free agent after the 2020 season, Semien’s future is being monitored by fans coming to the Coliseum and, moreover, those wondering if it is safe to reconnect.

Trade him this offseason -- his market value is astronomical -- or any time after and the A’s, a quality club light on attendance, can expect yet another dip in season-ticket renewals.

A long-term deal, however, sends a signal that the A’s are investing in themselves at the top, which is what so many local fans are waiting to see, rather than facing another December with the man running the show, Billy Beane, spinning golden tripe in an attempt to explain moving today’s asset for tomorrow’s potential.

“That’s a first-world problem when your shortstop is pricing himself out of your market,” Beane told NBC Sports Bay Area last week.

Oh, yes, Semien, making $5.9 million on a one-year contract, will cost a bundle. Wielding an impact bat at a premium position, he could command a contract around $15 million per year. Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, for example, in Year 4 of a six-year pact worth $75 million, will make $15 million in each of the next two seasons, according to Spotrac.

Semien is closing out a season plucked from a rookie’s fantasy and a veteran’s wish as he blows out the candles on the cake. He’s hitting for power, with 32 home runs. He’s reaching base 37 percent of the time. He’s crossing the plate, with 120 runs. Semien is the A’s MVP. By most significant offensive metrics trails, he's only behind a guy named Mike Trout.

“I don’t know that anybody’s been more important to a team than Marcus has,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said the other day.

As if his numbers are not enough, Semien has played in all 156 games and is a solid clubhouse presence.

One more thing, and it should be of influence to the A’s: Semien is local, born in San Francisco, growing up in El Cerrito, graduating high school in Berkeley (Saint Mary’s) and spending three years at Cal.

For those who tend to examine boxes, they are checked. All of them.

Semien came to the A’s from the White Sox nearly five years ago, along with pitcher Chris Bassitt and catcher Josh Phegley, for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa. The deal was about potential, and for a while the A’s were unsure of Semien’s.

“He was the headliner in the deal,” Beane said. “We were going to make it work at short because we thought he had a chance to be a pretty special player.”

Noting Semien’s poor fielding, Beane lured longtime A’s coach Ron Washington back to the team and gave him a project. Four years later, Semien is a top-five all-around shortstop and gives no reason to question his work ethic.

“The only thing we’ll take credit for is having absolute belief in him and not wavering from that,” Beane said. “He did it all himself. At no point did we panic and give in to the narrative that, ‘Hey, this guy can’t play short.’ And, look, he’s a Gold Glove candidate, one of the best players in the league.”

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Heavy decisions on Oakland’s fabulous corner infielders, Matt Olson (first base) and Matt Chapman (third), are years away because they can’t see free agency until 2024. DH Khris Davis signed a two-year extension in April and will make $33.5 million over the next two seasons.

Sure, the A’s could throw a one-year contract worth, say, $13 million at Semien and maybe he’ll sign another one-year deal to return in 2020. Maybe.

But if the franchise wants a few cheers from the clubhouse while scoring points among its fans, a long-term contract is the way to go.

The smartest way. Maybe the only way.

Billy Beane, still a ball of emotion, vows to enjoy A's MLB playoff run


Billy Beane, still a ball of emotion, vows to enjoy A's MLB playoff run

OAKLAND — The A’s are hip-deep in the American League playoff race, so high-revving architect Billy Beane is at his most obnoxious.

The man who has been pulling strings and spinning gold in Oakland for the better part of a quarter-century likes winning but does not enjoy the process. Not in September, when he is compelled to spend much of his energy fighting within himself, trying to keep panic from rioting inside his gut.

Anybody who has been around the A’s for a few years, such as manager Bob Melvin, understands that if the team matters in September, there will be moments when folks must brace themselves from Hurricane Billy.

The blessing for everyone is that Beane is acutely aware of this. He’s 57 years old, with 22 seasons running the baseball side of A’s. He has learned a few things along the way but still is not able to keep cool in the heat of high stakes.

“I’m just as wired, but in a different way,” Beane told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday. “I don’t demonstrate it as much as I did when I was younger. But I still need my outlets. You can’t take that away. You just can’t.

“I’m glad it’s like that. Bobby [Melvin] will tell you — anyone who I’ve worked with will tell you — when we’re not good, usually I know when we’re not good and it’s usually my fault. And I’m a kitten. I’m the easiest guy to work for.

“When we’re good, I’m a son of a bitch.”

Melvin doesn’t disagree. Not verbally, at least. Asked how things were going with his boss, the manager raised his eyebrows and cocked his head.

“It’s that time,” Melvin, in his eighth full season, said with a grin.

“But I will say this: My relationship with Billy is good. It’s never been better than it is now.”

There is a lot for both men to like, as these are good times for the A’s. They enter a weekend series against Texas with a 14-4 record in September, a 92-61 record overall and a two-game lead in the American League wild-card race.

The magic number for Oakland to reach the postseason for the second consecutive season is down to eight. The A’s, once again, are flourishing in the underdog status that comes with operating under one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball.

That’s a product of Beane at his best, knitting a team that has the talent to win and allowing his manager to provide the daily voice. Billy and his staff have hunted value buys ever since he was promoted to general manager in 1997, one year after the team was sold by the Haas family, which prioritized winning over the profit margin.

This is the third incarnation of A’s under Beane to post at least two consecutive seasons with at least 90 wins. The first lasted four seasons, 2000-03, is most identified with the term “Moneyball” but also had the benefit of fabulous young talent, some inherited and some purchased on the cheap. The second lasted two seasons, 2012 and 2013, and featured a broad assortment of starting pitchers, the best of which was ancient Bartolo Colon.

Not one of those six teams won a playoff series. Plenty of regular-season success, nothing in October, and Beane has had to live with those money-time failures as well as being a man portrayed by Brad Pitt in a movie based on the quest of a baseball executive.

Does Beane need, at some point, a World Series win to validate the book, the movie and the hype?

“It’s never been about me, and I mean that,” he said. “But I can see the impact of a championship on a city and the people who follow that team. I’ve never felt like winning a championship was about any sort of validation. I’d always thought if that were the case, you’re probably a little insecure, if that’s what you’re looking for, for your self-esteem.

“I have, however, seen the impact of a team’s performance on the people who follow that team and the community. The thing that impresses me most, and it’s the coolest thing, is when I’m in Danville and the A’s are good, I see A’s stuff everywhere. And I take so much pride when that’s the case. And the depressing thing is when we’re not good and I don’t see it anywhere.”

The A’s have struggled to retain fans, many of whom have abandoned the Coliseum in the wake of constant roster turnover that strips good teams and starts a rebuild. The incarnations keep the payroll at desired levels but are tough on those who buy tickets, especially when they know the team is profitable.

That’s not Billy’s problem, even those he owns a small percentage of the A’s. He’s given a budget, and his job is to deliver the best possible team within those parameters. The 2019 team payroll of $93.1 million, according to Spotrac, ranks 25th among 30 MLB teams. It’s less than half that of the Yankees ($218 million), well behind that of the Astros ($168 million) and considerably lower than that of the Twins ($124.9 million).

Oakland is winning with a formula we’ve seen before: Young talent — Marcus Semien, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, to name three — having productive seasons, enough pitching to stay in ballgames and wonderful clubhouse chemistry.

“Each group we’ve had has been very unique, and this one is no different,” Beane said. “This one is really businesslike on the field, not really that emotional on the field, but as soon as the game is over, a switch just comes on. It’s like the disco ball comes out and everything. It’s a sight the public doesn’t see.

“It’s not something you wouldn’t want your kid to see, which I can’t always say for postgame celebrations. It’s just really funny.”

That’s as close as Billy comes to having fun in September, watching happy players — on those occasions when he can stay at the ballpark long enough to see it. It’s That’s rare, though, that he can bring himself to watch the game, much less the end of it.

By the time the A’s gritted out a 1-0 win over the Royals in 11 innings on Wednesday afternoon, Beane was long gone. He left after seven innings. Couldn’t take the drama. He didn’t stick around Tuesday night, either, leaving the ballpark with Oakland trailing 1-0 after six.

He drives along, as in the movie, telling himself he’ll check the score at specific intervals. To just, you know, follow his team. After all these years on the job, Billy still doesn’t trust himself to respond with the poise and clarity needed in a moment of crisis.

“Listen, if there’s a play in the fifth inning on May 26, which is about Game 40, that one little micro event is probably not going to impact the end of the season,” he said. “However, if I react the wrong way emotionally to that micro event, that decision I make could impact the season. And that’s what I want to stop myself from doing.

“I remove myself when I’m getting emotional.”

Should the A’s find their way into October, Beane vows he will, in fact, accept the playoffs for its focused intensity and that he actually will enjoy that process.

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“I’ve always been somewhat realistic,” he said. “When we get to the postseason, I’ve kind of gotten to the point where it like, ‘Hey, you know, try and enjoy it, because you never know when you’re going to be back.’

“There is an element of luck that goes on that either helps you or hurts you. And there’s nothing you can do about it. So just enjoy the hell out of it while you’re there.”

Until then, though, Billy is going to have moments when he is a walking, talking vessel of hell. If he hasn’t learned to turn down the fire by now, it’s not likely he ever will.