A's deserve their spot among the game's elite teams
Like manager Melvin, Oakand isn't flashy, but steady bunch far from flukes
There is nothing that particularly stands out about the Oakland A's -- except their success.
There was a feeling among the general public that the A's were lucky a year ago to overtake a fading Texas on the last day of the season to claim the American League West.
The A's answered those doubters, and then some, this year.
There wasn't any drama at all. Oakland officially put an end to the divisional race during the weekend, and now a franchise that hadn't had a winning record in five consecutive seasons heading into last year has won back-to-back division titles.
And they do it without much fanfare.
"Marquee players are not available to us," said vice president and general manager Billy Beane. "We had a [regular-season roster] of 25 functioning Major League players. You can have a roster with three or four star players and five or six poor players. I'll take the team that is pretty good [from] top to bottom."
That's what Beane has.
And it works.
The A's went into Wednesday's game against the Angels with 94 wins, one fewer than Boston, and more than the 28 other Major League teams.
It works because not only do the A's have depth on their roster, but manager Bob Melvin has been a master the past two years at maximizing the abilities of that roster. The only certainty about the A's is that the lineup card has to be checked every day.
"[Melvin] is open-minded," said Beane. "He is a tremendous communicator. The players respect him, the media respects him and the front office respects him.
"Even when he was in the other dugout, he was a guy I was impressed with. We were lucky a guy like Bob was available when we [dismissed Bob Geren during the 2011 season]. When you change managers in the middle of the season, you don't usually have a lot of talent available. Bob was available. He's a fantastic fit."
The bottom line is Beane can tinker all he wants, but unless the right man is in the dugout to piece the puzzle together, nothing positive will happen. There are a lot of pieces looking to be put in the proper spot, and not one of them actually came up through the A's system.
The only original A's player among the starting nine is Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who signed with the A's in the spring of 2012 in a negotiation that benefitted the A's, because they didn't have as deep of pockets as the other teams in pursuit.
While others were offering six or more years, the A's signed him to a four-year, $36 million deal that allows Cespedes to become a free agent when it expires.
Cespedes, who will turn 30 shortly after the contract expires, felt his four years in Oakland would enhance his bargaining power. The A's felt that four years was all the further their budget could stretch.
"We aren't a team that can talk about a six-year plan," said Beane. "With our current [financial] situation, even this was a stretch, but we felt it was one we could take. "
The A's only have two contracts guaranteed past this year -- Cespedes through 2015 and Alberto Callaspo through '14. They have options on the contracts of four others for next year, including Brett Anderson, who also has an option for '15.
"In general, we need to keep a very fluid roster. It's not bad. It gives us an ability to make adjustments when we feel they are necessary. We don't feel trapped [by a contract]. Most of our players are short commitments and not a lot of dollars. "
The A's have only used 18 pitchers this season, but they have employed 26 different position players, which is more than any other team in the American League. They have had 17 players appear at DH, eight at second base, seven at first base, six in both center field and left field, five at shortstop and third base, and four at catcher. Twelve A's players have more than 200 plate appearances.
Josh Donaldson is the one consistent regular, having started 153 games at third base. The only other A's players with more than 100 starts at one position are Josh Reddick in right and Coco Crisp in center (104 apiece), and shortstop Jed Lowrie (112). Cespedes has started 90 games in left, Derek Norris has made 70 starts behind the plate, Brandon Moss has made 87 at first, and Eric Sogard has made 97 starts at second.
"What we try to do is take a guy's strength and put him in a position to do succeed," said Beane. "When the game situation changes we bring in a player with a different set of skills. The last two years we have been designed to have interchangeable parts. "
It has worked.
"For some reason, we won 94 games [last year], second to only the New York Yankees, and it was perceived a fluke," said Beane. "This year? … We have a real mature core to this team. We win on the last day of the season last year, and you are on an emotional high. But when you come to Spring Training you don't know what's going to happen.
"We came out wanting to win, and we have. We won in Spring Training and we've won in every month of the season. We [clinched] on Sunday and the celebration was nice, but it was subdued. The big party was last year. We still have work to be done, and we know it."
Give Melvin credit for that. He's the guy who has to keep the day-to-day focus on winning the current game, not relishing in the accomplishments of the previous day or week or month.
"He's not flashy, but he's so consistent," said Beane.
It's Melvin's way of managing and the A's have adopted that style for the way they play.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.