Billy Beane's murky future in Oakland

Billy Beane will soon be signed through 2019, but his future in Oakland isn't entirely solidified. AP Photo/Eric Risberg

The Oakland Athletics are close to tying up general manager Billy Beane and team president Michael Crowley through 2019, as Susan Slusser writes. But these contracts are probably somewhat like those $100 million deals that NFL quarterbacks get: Nobody is sure, at the moment they are signed, whether the terms of the deal will actually be executed.

Oakland owner Lew Wolff has stated flatly that if Beane decides to pursue a job elsewhere, he's free to go. Beane could've gone after the Chicago Cubs job, and the Baltimore Orioles GM job was probably something he could've landed if he had gone all-out to get it.

There will be more opportunities to come. The incoming Los Angeles Dodgers ownership will decide whether to keep Ned Colletti, who has ably navigated the team and kept it competitive despite steep cuts in the payroll. If a change is made, Beane could be a president of baseball operations for the Dodgers and bring in somebody to be his general manager, like the Tampa Bay Rays' Andrew Friedman, in the same way that Theo Epstein hired Jed Hoyer. The future of the New York Mets is uncertain, although it's hard to imagine Beane diving into the challenge of remaking a New York franchise, given the fact that he steered around the Cubs' opening.

But so long as the future of the Oakland Athletics is murky -- and we are swiftly coming up on the three-year anniversary since Major League Baseball announced the formation of a committee to study the team's ballpark and territorial issues -- nothing can be ruled out.

Club officials have waited and waited and waited for some direction from baseball about their future. More specifically, what the Athletics want and need is for commissioner Bud Selig to stick out sharp elbows and push the question of whether the San Francisco Giants will surrender the territorial rights to San Jose, either through negotiation or executive fiat, to a critical mass.

Then the Athletics will know, one way or the other, what their future can be. Wolff can decide whether he wants to retain ownership, perhaps with a new ballpark in 2015 in San Jose, or whether he wants to sell to somebody willing to take the baton of a franchise with an incredibly rich history and uncertain fate.

And Beane can decide whether he wants to stay with the Athletics, either building toward something good in a new ballpark somewhere, or consigned to an ugly future saturated with third- and fourth-place finishes. The Texas Rangers are a superpower, the Los Angeles Angels have a chance to be that, and meanwhile, Oakland's payroll will be at about one-third the level of those division rivals.

At the end of the movie "Moneyball," Brad Pitt, playing Beane, decides to stay in Oakland rather than go to Boston, essentially because there are rewards beyond money.

But the losing does get tiresome. The hopelessness gets old. Some general managers who have worked on long-term deals for losing franchises will tell you privately that after a while, they pine for a chance to contend rather than watching their best players walk away.

Beane is signed for seven more years. But that doesn't guarantee he'll be with the Athletics for that long.


• The Miami Marlins are meeting with Yoenis Cespedes today and could make him an offer; he arrived in Miami on Tuesday. From Juan Rodriguez's story:

    Based on his performance in limited at-bats last month in the Dominican winter league, it seems a given Cespedes would require a stint in the minors.
    He hadn't appeared in a game since last March and went 5-for-35 with a homer and 10 strikeouts. Tuesday, he said the Dominican circuit was challenging, but he gained good experience.