Who is a better general manager, Billy Beane or Brian Sabean?
The Sporting News recently ranked all 30 big-league managers, ranked Beane No. 1 and Sabean No. 4, with Ben Cherington of the Red Sox and Dave Dombrowksi of the Tigers at No. 2 and No. 3.
One and four are lofty rankings for our two local guys. Beane and Sabean deserve those rankings and all the national respect they can get. The A's don't get nearly enough respect nationally, but that's another subject.
I am here to disagree with the placement of Beane and Sabean. On my list — aren't lists fun? — I place Sabean over Beane. Please understand, I am not putting down Billy Beane. He is a marvel. He is one of the best GMs in baseball and I am not disputing that. But I dispute putting him ahead of Brian Sabean.
I recognize Beane's shrewdness in assembling this season's team. His pitching is young and formidable. He lost two starting pitchers in spring training, and the A's still have the best record in the American League. If Sabean lost two starting pitchers the Giants would be sunk.
Beane showed his brilliance in picking up starter Scott Kazmir. Sabean showed his brilliance in picking up Tim Hudson.
Beane's batting order is loaded, even has a Big 3 — Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedis. The A's have threats up and down the order, an order which changes day to day. Manager Bob Melvin platoons all over the place.
Sabean picked up Michael Morse, the power-hitting left fielder the Giants absolutely needed.
You get the point. These are two GMs at the top of their profession.
I humbly, tremblingly rate Sabean higher than Beane and I admit up front this is a philosophical discussion. It's all about criteria, about what matters to the party doing the rating.
My criterion is championships. Did the GM win a championship? Or two?
The Sporting News gives Beane the usual Beane credit: "Consistently operating with one of the smallest payrolls in baseball, Beane has built the A's into consistent winners, with six division titles and a wild card since 1997."
That's all very impressive, but where is the championship?
Beane does not get extra credit for laboring with a small payroll. He does not get extra credit for being the in-spite-of GM. "In spite of the incredibly crummy payroll, he still puts out a contender" — or something like that.
The payroll, or lack of it, is the A's internal issue. It's their problem. They sure make money. Their ownership is rolling in dough. Beane deals brilliantly with his available reality. But when someone wins the World Series, Major League Baseball doesn't put a footnote, "Beane might have won the Series except for the A's shrimp payroll. Shed a tear."
I reject the popular argument Beane could do better — would have won multiple championships — with a higher payroll. Despite Beane's talent, there is no basis for that argument. Beane never had a larger payroll. There is no control group in this experiment. It's possible — although doubtful — he would fall on his face with the Giants' payroll. It's possible he is a guy who functions best with a payroll handicap.