Early in the movie “Moneyball,” Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane sits in front of a room of befuddled old-school scouts and delivers the message that has defined the real-life Oakland Athletics for nearly two decades.
“If we try to play like the Yankees in here,” Oakland’s heralded executive says, “we will lose to the Yankees out there.”
That attitude helped spark baseball’s data revolution and made the A’s the blueprint for how to thrive with a minuscule budget. Unable to compete with their big-market opponents for high-price talent, the A’s built a powerhouse in the early 2000s largely through their farm system.
But with the A’s now pushing for yet another playoff berth despite a payroll near the bottom of the major leagues, an examination of their team reveals something strange: As they begin a crucial three-game series against New York on Tuesday, the A’s are suddenly more like the Yankees than the Yankees themselves.
Oakland has just six homegrown players—those who have spent their entire North American professional career in the A’s organization—on its active 25-man roster and MLB injured and restricted lists. Only the Chicago Cubs have fewer. The deep-pocketed Los Angeles Dodgers have 18. The Boston Red Sox, the game’s highest-spending team, and the Yankees, the exact opposite of the A’s when it comes to wealth and luxury, both have 13.
“We’re zigging when everyone else is zagging,” A’s outfielder Stephen Piscotty said.