A’s view Bailey’s rookie award as a positive sign
AP Baseball Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) – General manager Billy Beane is committed to a youth movement for his small-market Oakland Athletics, even if the payoff takes time.
One positive sign of progress: closer Andrew Bailey’s AL Rookie of the Year award Monday. That helped reinforce to Beane that his plan is the right one for a club determined to become a perennial contender again. Beane’s model calls for building from within and giving young players chances at the big league level while weathering their growing pains.
“We’re going to stay disciplined,” Beane said Tuesday at a news conference for Bailey. “We’re going to go with young players. We want long-term answers, like Andrew.”
The 25-year-old Bailey was an All-Star in his first season as a reliever, with 26 saves and a 1.84 ERA.
“For me, it’s a building block, something I can always fall back on – look what you did this year,” Bailey said.
Everybody around this financially challenged organization was pleasantly surprised – even the power pitcher himself – that Bailey beat out Texas shortstop and runner-up Elvis Andrus and Detroit pitcher Rick Porcello in the voting.
“That’s why having a lot of young players is great,” Beane said. “Some are going to disappoint and some are going to surprise. … It’s really been a great story.”
Bailey’s special season and a talented young pitching staff were among the few bright spots for the franchise in 2009. Oakland finished with 75 wins for the second straight season and in last place in the AL West, losing its final seven games.
Bailey realizes he is only a small part of the solution for the A’s, who haven’t made the playoffs since a run to the AL championship series in 2006. Bailey showed in the second half, and way back in spring training, that he can be downright dominant.
His award is just starting to sink in. He said he got to think about it on the cross-country flight to the Bay Area from his home in New Jersey “when I got to shut my phone off for six hours.”
“The goal is to stay here,” Bailey said. “This whole year was a learning experience for me, thrown into a different situation. It was my first year of relief work, so everything was new to me.”
A’s scout Jeff Bittiger pushed hard for Bailey on draft day in 2006 and Beane listened. Oakland selected him in the sixth round and hoped he wouldn’t be hampered by past arm trouble.
“Jeff really went to the mat for him,” Beane said.
The GM acknowledged Bailey’s name regularly came up this season when the A’s discussed who to send down to the minors, but nobody could do it.
Moving Bailey from the rotation to the bullpen at Double-A Midland last year sure seems brilliant now. Bailey said he never questioned the decision and actually embraced the idea. Struggling as a starter, he was putting too much pressure on himself and had gone away from what always had worked: going after hitters, being aggressive with every pitch.
“I was 1-8 with an 8.50 ERA,” he said with a smile, glancing at Beane. “The mindset change was big for me getting back to who I am and where I am today and winning this award, which is crazy. I always had the belief I could make it.”
That’s how Beane wants his young players to think. Bailey can be an example in Oakland’s system. So can Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and the other rookie pitchers who performed so well last season.
Beane points to the old A’s under then-owner Charlie Finley, a notorious micro-manager, for using the same approach and finding success. Finley moved the team from Kansas City to Oakland in 1968 and the A’s won three straight World Series from 1972-74 and five consecutive division titles from 1971-75.
“It’s the same recipe,” Beane said of building from the bottom up. “It’s whether we’ve got the guts and whether the people who follow the team realize it’s the way to do it.”