By Jason Wojciechowski on January 20, 2013 at 7:23 PM
Beaneball has lain fallow lo these weeks, and the bloggerly thing to do would be to beg forgiveness, to do penance, to say, "There's no excuse." But there is an excuse. The A's haven't done jack-all in a while.
But now we have news! Granted, the news is from nearly a week ago, but the blogging muscles, they grow still from underuse, they atrophy. I'm not as quick on the trigger as I was as a younger man. Nine years, this blog!
Nine years is about the same amount of time that Bob Melvin is now guaranteed a paycheck by the A's. (That's not quite true -- he's signed through 2016, which is four years, but roll with me here.) Note that the key word is "paycheck." Melvin isn't guaranteed a job. If Lew Wolff sold the team tomorrow to the Most Interesting Man in the World and said Man fired Billy Beane and bought out his ownership stake and installed his own self (the Man) as the General Manager and then hired his own self again (the Man, still) as field manager, well, Bob Melvin would be out on his shapely posterior, unemployed just like eight percent of Americans in that same position. (Or whichever stat you want to use. Eight percent very likely understates any meaningful measure of unemployment, but that's not really a topic for this blog.)
The difference between Melvin in our weird fantasy and the eight percent in our sad reality is that Melvin would still be paid handsomely while he sits at home and plays video games with his daughter. It's unclear how handsomely -- for whatever reason, it hasn't become the norm to share manager and general manager salaries with the media the way it has player salaries. When you google "Baseball manager salaries" you get Maury Brown's list from 2007 that ranges from $7 million (Joe Torre) to $500,000 (John Gibbons, Manny Acta, Bob Geren).
You'll notice that the last name in the parenthetical was the A's manager at the time. This should not surprise you: if players have to pay $1 for a Coke, why would you expect the owners to approve a salary above the very lowest you can possibly pay for a field manager? Especially given how unaccountable field managers are -- they don't have an on-base percentage or a True Average or a WAR. They've got wins and losses, but those are hardly on the manager alone anymore than they are on a starting pitcher. They've got players who grouse or players who sing praises, but lots of managers can win while not being the nicest dudes in the world and lots of managers can make everyone happy without actually pushing the right buttons to help players and the team succeed.
So my point is just that it's probably fair to guess that Melvin is one of the ten or so lowest-paid managers in the game, despite being a well-respected baseball man and a leader who helped his team to the playoffs (nay, to a division crown) just this last season. And given that guess, even for a team that cries poor as much as the A's do, tying Melvin up for four years isn't that much of a risk. If he winds up getting into a punching match with Yoenis Cespedes and the team has to fire him, well, big deal. (I mean, that's kind of a big deal, but you know what I mean: the money isn't a big deal.)
And so given this guess leading us to the downside being fairly low, the upside, that Melvin can do a good job secure in the knowledge that he'll be paid pretty well in his 50s for a guy who hit .233 in his major-league career, is worth the risk.
I don't know if Bob Melvin is a good manager. If you injected Billy Beane and David Forst and Farhan Zaidi and Grady Fuson and Chris Pittaro and Scott Hatteberg and Michael Schatz and whoever else in the front office works heavily with the major league team with a truth serum and you asked them whether Bob Melvin was a good manager, I suspect they'd tell you that they also don't know, because how can you? You can get a sense of his communication skills with the team (though perhaps not too much, given the classic manager/front office divide), you can know how receptive he is to strategic and tactical advice from the analyst types or reports from advance scouts, you can look the man in the eyes and see what's there, but when you add all that up, do you really know if he's a good manager, an above-major-league-average one? I think they'd admit they don't. They just hire the best guy they can and put him in the best situation to succeed that they can and hope for the best. In this case, "the best situation to succeed" likely includes Melvin having a sense of security about his future.