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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?

Period.

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."

Not hardly.

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.

I don't know for sure and neither do you.

I come back to my philosophical criterion. It's all about championships. Winning the World Series is why teams play. They don't play to contend and get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. That's what the A's did the past two years. Their seasons ended in disappointment considering each time they had won the American League West and seemed ready for big things.

Teams do not play to be close or to fight hard or to almost win. They play to win. Baseball and all sports are refreshingly simple in that regard. Real life should be so simple.

Based on that one criterion — winning — Sabean is amazing. His team generally contends. Recently, he has won two World Series. His Giants appeared in another World Series. Beane's A's haven't done anything like that. The Giants didn't make the playoffs last year, so Sabean strengthened the pitching, and now the Giants have a superb five-man rotation. Who would have thought Ryan Vogelsong would be so good?

And their bullpen is money.

We are splitting hairs here, debating degrees of excellence. I happily admit that. And there's something else to consider.

Beane is getting better. We've always thought of him as a GM genius. Now, he's even more of a genius. This year's A's — the team that swept the Angels last weekend — could be the best team in the AL, could be the best team in baseball.

If the A's play the Giants in the World Series — don't laugh, it could happen this season — well, if they play, the A's could win. That's how good the current A's are. The A's will hit. They always will hit. Their main issue is starting pitching. Their starters are young and lack experience. How will they do in August and September and the playoffs? Will they hold up?

If the A's have made a quantum leap, if they win it all, let's readdress the comparison with Sabean. Let's readdress it gladly. First, Beane needs to win a World Series.

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