Billy Beane’s Reported Move Feels Like Prediction of Theo Epstein’s Future

Longtime Oakland A’s executive Billy Beane is pretty much the poor man’s Theo Epstein, just more in the literal sense than in the way the phrase is typically used. Lionized by author Michael Lewis in his best-selling Moneyball and later immortalized by Brad Pitt in the movie of the same title, Beane has found frequent success as the analytically-minded head of baseball operations for an organization that operates with a small-market budget.

You could say Epstein is cut from the same cloth, but that would be like saying similar patterns wear identically whether they’re dyed in flannel or chinchilla. Or that a Chevy drives like a Maserati. That isn’t to say Beane is less valuable, far from it, only that Epstein has made ample use of the much larger pools of financial means at his disposal in both Boston and Chicago.

To wit, the former boy wonder’s overslot draft spending in Boston was once viewed as the haute couture of Moneyball, a way to exploit loopholes by flexing financial muscle. After that led to a hard cap on draft bonus pools, Epstein and the Cubs were believed to have found a new market inefficiency in 2013 when they swung a series of deals aimed largely at increasing their international free agency slot money.

You may remember one of those trades as the fateful swap that brought Pedro Strop and Jake Arrieta back from Baltimore.

Despite the differences in their respective approaches and the lopsided World Series results, Beane and Epstein are among the most respected practitioners of their craft. They also seem destined for something bigger, or at least different, following the conclusion of their baseball careers. So while it may not be a direct precursor, it’s hard not to think about what’s next for Epstein in the wake of the report that Beane will finally leave the A’s to join Red Sox owner John Henry’s global sports conglomerate.

It’s not as a baseball exec, though, as the Wall Street Journal laid out Monday.

If Henry’s Fenway Sports Group completes its merger with RedBall Acquisition Corp. , a special-purpose acquisition company that Beane co-chairs, Beane is set to step aside from working in a baseball front office, people familiar with the matter said. He won’t take a role running the Red Sox, these people said.

 

Instead, Beane would turn his attention to other sports business ventures, particularly European soccer, an area he has demonstrated a passion for in recent years.

 

That fits with Fenway Sports Group’s future if the deal, reported by The Wall Street Journal late Friday, is realized. RedBall would purchase less than 25% of Fenway Sports Group, valuing it at $8 billion. As a public company, Fenway could look to buy up more soccer clubs in Europe in an effort to establish itself as an unprecedented global sports conglomerate.

Don’t let the article undersell it, Beane is more than just passionate about soccer. He holds minority stakes in Barnsley FC of England’s EFL Championship and AZ Alkmaar of the Eredivisie in the Netherlands. Seems like a transition to taking an even more active role in those and/or other clubs in Europe would be a natural transition for him.

While it’s doubtful Epstein will develop a hankering to helm an English Premier League organization when his time in Chicago is up, a move to another venue has long seemed inevitable. Whether it’s politics or social work or philanthropy — forget about being named MLB commissioner, he’s done enough caping for owners at this point — getting away from baseball might be more attractive than, say, running the Mets.

It’ll be another year or so before we know for sure, but I’d actually be more surprised to find out that Epstein is interested in another baseball gig than hearing he’s leaving the sport behind.

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