A's must bottom out to get better

Pennington is a decent player, but Beane could've had Troy Tulowitzki if they picked earlier. Cary Edmondson/US Presswire

There’s a fine line between trying to contend and trying to rebuild. Oakland Athletics president and general manager Billy Beane understands this dilemma all too well.

Indeed, it is counterintuitive for anyone competing at the highest level of a sport to engage in efforts that do not amount to winning. A competitor’s instinct is to do whatever is necessary to succeed. And yet, that thought process has hampered Beane in rebuilding the A’s into the juggernaut they were a decade ago.

His ability to scratch and claw with one of the game’s lowest payrolls in order to stay competitive has been admirable. Although the A’s haven’t had a winning season since 2006, they haven't been a doormat, either. And therein lies the problem. Beane has done a nice job of signing a number of undervalued free agents in recent years, and those players have helped the A's remain a middle-of-the-road club. This year, Beane signed Bartolo Colon and Jonny Gomes. Last year he brought in Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui.

The signings didn't cost him a draft pick, and the team probably won more than it would have without the free agent. That’s great, right?

Not really. Beane’s ability to pick up veteran players to help them stay competitive each year is great, but it cost them dearly in terms of draft positioning. Instead of losing more games and bottoming out to pick within the top five, the team was somewhat competitive with the undervalued players and pushed the A’s down to the No. 10 slot or later every year since 2005.

And this affects every round, not just the first. So the cumulative diluting effect of selecting later is significant. However, consider their middling first-round picks since 2005: