Is Sandy Alderson Actually Cheap?
For some people out there, Sandy Alderson’s association with “Moneyball” is a negative thing. While the sabermetrics used for “Moneyball” were merely a way for the Oakland Athletics, a small market team, to identify an otherwise untapped pool of talent in order to compete with bigger markets, those who don’t quite understand the thought process assume it’s just an excuse to not spend money. Yet when “Moneyball” was created, it was done so out of pure necessity–and not to fill some sort of egotistical agenda.
Starting in 1993, the Athletics began the process of selling the franchise to new owners–and in 1995, the sale came to fruition. The new owners, Stephen Schott and Ken Hofmann, purchased the team but did not want to invest in winning like Walter A. Haas Jr., its previous owner, did. As the general manager, Sandy Alderson was specifically instructed to cut payroll, and his successor, Billy Beane, signed players who faired well with their sabermetric statistics (mostly on-base percentage for hitters and low walk rates for pitchers).
As revolutionary as Alderson and Beane’s solution to producing solid talent out of minimal dollars was, Sandy Alderson wasn’t always a forced minimalist. In fact, from 1989 to 1992, the Athletics ranked within the top five among league spenders. In 1991, the A’s actually spent more than anyone–a whopping $48,029,667. During that span, the Athletics made three playoff births, two World Series appearances, and netted one ring. On a side note, the A’s also made it to the World Series in 1988 (but were ranked sixteenth in spending).
But from 1993 to 1995, while Walter A. Haas Jr.’s health and interest in the team were fading, Alderson was instructed to cut salary. After spending the second most money in 1992, the 1993 team dropped to thirteenth, and then seventeenth in 1995. This significant drop in spending was not a Sandy Alderson decision, but an ownership one. As evidenced by the A’s successful run from 1989 to 1992–when Alderson was given the green light to spend–he spent.
Despite his not-so-frugal spending history over the course of four seasons, Alderson still cannot seem to escape this image of a merciless, and even counter-productive penny-pincher some have cast over him. Contrary to this image, Alderson traded for stars like Rick Honeycutt (1987), Bob Welsch (1988), Rick Henderson (1989), Willie McGee (1990), and Ron Darling (1991), signed Dave Henderson (1988), and Mike Moore (1989), and smartly built from within by drafting the likes of Terry Steinbach (1983), Mark McGwire (1984), Walt Weiss (1985), Kevin Tapani (1986), Rod Beck (1986), Scott Brosius (1987), and Jason Giambi (1992). There is reason to believe that the Wilpons’ decision to hire Alderson was due to the man’s success without having to spend money, as opposed the success he enjoyed while being able to spend. People should remember that, just like in 1993 with the Athletics, Sandy Alderson can only spend the money ownership gives him.
All past salary and transaction information taken from Baseball Chronology and Baseball Reference, respectively.