The main thought I’ve had as I take forever to work on “Revisiting the Rebuild” is, “What was I thinking?”
A 4-part series about the A’s that covers almost a decade of moves? I barely have time to do the laundry and take out the garbage now that I have two adorable kids in diapers. When did I think I would have time to work up a series examining the A’s rebuilding effort?
I’m going to claim temporary insanity on this one.
But here’s Part 3 at long last with a casual look at trades, free agency and other notable transactions. Sorry for all the delays in cranking this thing out. I doesn’t help matters that recent reports about the A’s have made it look like they’ll blow up the roster and go into another rebuild if they get the green light to move to San Jose in the near future.
Would it have killed general manager Billy Beane to drop me an e-mail me after I posted Part 1 of the series to give me a heads up that the A’s just might be on the verge of a neverending rebuild and I should save myself a few million keystrokes until the club settles into a new ballpark?
But since I said I was going to hammer out four posts on the most recent rebuilding effort that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’ll try and keep this part of the series reserved for noteworthy transactions since going through every single move would take the rest of my life. Do we really need to re-examine the 1-game acquisition of Ryan Langerhans or the Rudy Lugo Era?
Nah, I didn’t think so.
LEADING UP TO THE REBUILD
If I’m going to take the time to look at how Beane’s most recent rebuild is panning out I also have to take a moment to look at some of the unproductive moves that played a role in putting him into teardown mode.
* 2004: Tim Hudson to the Braves for Charles Thomas, Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer — This seemed like a light return for Huddy then and it looks even worse now. Meyer was supposed to be the centerpiece of that deal as a young pitcher who could eventually be a major part of Oakland’s rotation but injuries doomed him to obscurity. Oakland would have been better off holding onto Hudson and taking the draft picks when he left as a free agent.
* 2004: Nelson Cruz and Justin Lehr to the Brewers for Keith Ginter: It hurts just writing that. The A’s aren’t the only team to blow it with Cruz but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow the fact that they let a young slugger slip right through their fingers for nothing.
* 2005: Andre Ethier to the Dodgers for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez: If I keep telling myself that Bradley was a major part of Oakland’s run to the ALCS in 2006 I can almost stand the fact that Beane pretty much gave away 6 years of very affordable and solid hitting from Ethier for 1 decent year of Bradley.
If Beane held on to Cruz and Ethier and got the kind of trade value for Hudson that he got for Mark Mulder and Dan Haren he may have been able to avoid the pain of a rebuild shortly after reaching the ALCS. A productive Hudson trade and an offense built around Cruz and Ethier could have given the A’s a young, successful foundation to work with for several years.
By wheeling and dealing Beane managed to leverage the best years of the Big Three, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez into a successful run that peaked with an appearance in the ALCS. But after that Beane decided that he’d taken the roster as far as it could go it was basically time to tear the franchise down and start all over again.
* Traded Dan Haren and Conor Robertson to the Diamondbacks for Carlos Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, Chris Carter, Dana Eveland, Greg Smith and Aaron Cunningham — I loved this trade in 2007 and I still love it. That’s a great haul and it would have been one for the ages if Beane held on to Gonzalez, Anderson’s elbow stayed in one piece and Carter got a real chance at playing time in Oakland. If Michael Taylor can become a solid big leaguer, Anderson can get healthy and Carter can develop into a middle-of-the-order threat the Haren trade will start to look great again
* Flirted with Rafael Furcal: I think this was the offseason when they made a run at Rafi, but I could be wrong. Regardless of what year the flirtation happened the bottom line is Furcal was the first free agent during this rebuild who treated the A’s money and ballpark like a steaming pile of dung and ran the other way screaming. Furcal managed to enjoy some sun-splashed, injury-riddled seasons in L.A. before being traded to the Cardinals and winning the World Series so I guess the decision to pass on Oakland worked out OK for the guy.
* Traded Nick Swisher to the White Sox for Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney and Fautino De Los Santos — I miss Swish as much as the next A’s fan, but this was a great trade too especially when you compare it to Kenny Williams sending Swisher to the Yankees for the modest return of Wilson Betemit just a year later. Gio’s been an All-Star and has the potential to be a major trade chip this winter, Sweeney’s been a solid source of defensive highlights and may end up being the team’s starting center fielder in 2012 and De Los Santos could develop into a cheap swing-and-miss setup man/closer very soon.
* Traded Joe Blanton to the Phillies for Josh Outman, Adrian Cardenas and Matt Spencer — Here’s a deal that wasn’t a blockbuster at the time but it certainly looked a lot better in 2008 than it does today. At least in 2008 Outman was fully healthy and Cardenas looked like he could develop into a solid hitting infielder. Outman still has a chance to be a successful starter now that he’s fully recovered from Tommy John surgery but Cardenas appears to be a defensively challenged player with an empty batting average trapped at Triple A.
* Traded Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs for Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson and Josh Donaldson: An example of Beane taking quantity over quality and ending up with almost nothing to show for it several years later. Call me crazy but I wouldn’t mind seeing the A’s bring Murton back from Japan to hold down one of the outfield corners in 2012. It’s not like anyone else is running away with a starting job at this point and if Murton hits it’ll feel like the A’s got something out of the Harden trade.
* Traded Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith to the Rockies for Matt Holliday: Worst. Beane. Trade. Ever. Seriously, this was a head scratcher in 2008 and it almost makes me want to cry now. Where would this franchise be if Beane held on to Gonzalez and traded Street to the highest bidder at the 2009 trade deadline? I’ll admit that Gonzalez’s home/road splits as a member of the Rockies makes me a little skeptical that he would have flourished in Oakland but it would have been fun to find out.
* Claimed Rajai Davis off waivers from the Giants: A nice little “get” for Beane. Davis was fun to watch for a couple of seasons and in a roundabout way played a role in the acquisition of current third baseman Scott Sizemore. It’s always nice when you can find some free talent on the waiver wire and continue to get some value out of the move.
* Signed Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra before the season: Right in the middle of a youth movement Beane seemed to go nuts and brought in these three veterans to go into the lineup along with Holliday. It’s not like any of these guys broke the bank but it seemed like an odd move especially considering the fact that the pitching staff was nowhere near ready to contend in Trevor Cahill’s and Brett Anderson’s rookie years. I think Giambi’s last act in an A’s uniform was catching the ceremonial first pitch on Rickey Henderson Day which isn’t exactly what anyone had in mind when he returned to Oakland.
* Signed Coco Crisp after the season: A nice, relatively affordable pickup for Beane. In a perfect world the A’s would have a young centerfielder ready to take his place in 2012 but this rebuild has been anything but perfect. Smart money says Sweeney is going to the man in center which will be fine defensively but a dropoff at the plate.
* Flirted with Adrian Beltre after the season: This is the first time Beane affectionately batted his eyes at the hard-hitting, slick-fielding third baseman who decided to take his services to Boston where he thrived for 1 year.
* Acquired Michael Wuertz from the Cubs for Richie Robnett and Justin Sellers: Until former manager Bob Geren ran Wuertz into the ground and his arm blew up this was a very nice acquisition. Best of luck to Wuertz wherever he lands in 2012.
* Acquired Scott Hairston from the Padres for Ryan Webb, Craig Italiano and Sean Gallagher: It looked like Oakland might have a halfway decent outfielder until it became clear that Hairston couldn’t hit to save his life and he was eventually sent back to the Friars. This trade also marks the end of Gallagher’s time with the A’s. When the Harden trade first went down I thought Gallagher could be a nice little part of the rotation for several years but like so many young pitchers his arm broke down and he was never the same again. Pitching can be an absolutely brutal way for someone to try and make a living. The fact that Jamie Moyer is attempting a comeback at the age of 49 is simply amazing.
* Traded Matt Holliday to the Cardinals for Shane Peterson, Clayton Mortenson and Brett Wallace: Does something smell in here? Oh yeah, it’s Beane’s second Holliday trade. What’s left from this deal? Michael Taylor was acquired from the Blue Jays for Wallace, Mortenson was traded to the Rockies for Ethan Hollingsworth who was traded to the Royals for Kila Ka’aihue and Peterson spent last season bouncing between Double A and Triple A. I guess if all three players develop into solid contributors for the A’s the second Holliday trade won’t look quite as gawdawful as it does now but I’m not counting on it.
* Signed Ben Sheets before the season: Am I the only person who felt like the A’s signed the big guy just to burn some money and keep the league and players union off their back for sitting on their wallets? Sheets followed in the footsteps of so many injury-plagued veterans before him and fell apart during his one season in green and gold. I tip my hat to the man for pitching as many quality innings as he did with an elbow that was torn to shreds. The most notable part of this signing in terms of looking at the A’s rebuilding process is that injuries kept Sheets from being a trade chip or pending free agent who could bring back a draft pick. If you’re a small market team shelling out a decent chunk of change for a free agent during a rebuild you need to be able to get something out of it beyond the one year you have the player under contract.
* Signed Brandon McCarthy, Hideki Matsui and Rich Harden after the season: Beane hit the jackpot with McCarthy which is more than anyone would have expected a year ago. I’d love to see the A’s keep McCarthy around for at least a couple of years but at a bare minimum he might be a solid trade chip at some point.
* Flirted with Adrian Beltre and Lance Berkman after the season: Each man looked at the Coliseum and said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Each man ended up playing in the World Series and Berkman came away with a ring. Good call fellas.
* Acquired Adam Rosales and Willy Taveras from the Reds for Aaron Miles and a player to be named later: I love Rosie’s enthusiasm and versatility but I’m worried that there’s really no significant place for him on the 2012 A’s unless players start dropping like flies and he manages to get into the lineup a few days a week playing all over the diamond. In the big picture of the rebuild Rosales doesn’t really make a mark but I just wanted an excuse to write about the man because that home trot of his (OK, it’s actually a sprint) is hilarious.
* Acquired Josh Willingham after the season from the Nationals for Henry Rodriguez and Corey Brown: A great trade by Beane after he struck out trying to lure free agent hitters to the drab confines of the Coliseum. It’s a shame to see Willingham go but it’ll be interesting to see if the compensation draft picks can develop into at least one solid major leaguer one of these days.
* Acquired David DeJesus after the season from the Royals for Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks: Another good trade by Beane in an attempt to cobble together an offense for the 2011 season. No one could have predicted DeJesus having the worst year of his career during his brief stay in Oakland. It looks like the A’s will get a low-grade draft pick when he hits the road as a free agent so at least they’ll have a little something to work with going forward.
* Claimed Edwin Encarnacion off waivers from the Blue Jays after the season: This move actually had me mildly excited. The A’s clearly needed some hitters and they got a hold of negotiating rights to Encarnacion for free. But then they promptly let him go even though he could have been a decent option at DH or third base. The man went on to post a .787 OPS in Toronto while Hideki Matsui put up a relatively punchless .696 OPS in Oakland. Encarnacion could step into Oakland’s lineup right now and be the team’s most dangerous hitter which probably says more about the sorry state of the A’s lineup than the lethal force of Encarnacion’s bat.
* Won negotiating rights to Hisashi Iwakuma after the season: Way back when the A’s still had a full-fledged FanFest I attended a session where fans got to B.S. with Beane a little and he said at the time that the A’s would probably never get involved with a Japanese player because of the costly posting process. Imagine my excitement when Oakland won the rights to negotiate a deal with Iwakuma. The A’s spending money? Amazing! Imagine my disappointment when negotiations went nowhere and Iwakuma stayed in Japan. The only slightly encouraging part of this brief chapter in A’s history is it gives the indication that the club does have some money to spend. Then again, you could say they won the bidding rights with no intention to work out a contract simply to keep Iwakuma away from the competition.
I’m reluctant to include 2011 in this part of “Revisiting the Rebuild” but since I’m on a roll looking through old transactions I’m going to do it anyway.
* Signed Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour: When no free agent hitter would touch Oakland’s money Beane threw some of it at these guys. Balfour was very good at getting hitters out and Fuentes was very good at getting manager Bob Geren fired. Considering what they contributed to the franchise in 2011, each man was well worth what the A’s paid them. Balfour and Fuentes were decent pickups by Beane and they should have some trade value in 2012 if they perform well by the time the trade deadline rolls around.
* Acquired Guillermo Moscoso from the Rangers for Ryan Kelly: Another nice “get” by Beane. Acquiring something for nothing in a trade is always nice to see. Of course, I’d like to see Beane cash in on Moscoso’s surprising season by trading the guy before his fly ball tendencies blow up in his face but it looks like he’s penciled in for the No. 4 spot in the rotation for now.
* Acquired Scott Sizemore from the Tigers for David Purcey: Another example of getting something for nothing and continuing to squeeze value out of the Rajai Davis waiver claim. I’m hoping Sizemore can develop into a decent third baseman in 2012.
* Traded Brad Ziegler to the Diamondbacks for Brandon Allen and Jordan Norberto: For a couple of weeks Allen looked like an absolute steal until the league caught up to him and he started striking out at a frightening clip. Despite the disappointing finish to the season Allen is still a decent acquisition and the kind of player Beane should be trying to pick off of other teams’ rosters. Allen was clearly stuck behind Paul Goldschmidt in Arizona but in Oakland he has a chance to bring some power to a lineup that desperately needs it.
* Acquired Kila Ka’aihue from the Royals for Ethan Hollingsworth: I’d give up Hollingsworth in a heartbeat for a glorified Four A hitter with the Kila Monster’s power. Like Allen, Ka’aihue got stuck behind some other players in his former organization and offers the A’s a cheap option to get some homers out of first base or DH in 2012.
After taking an exhaustive (and exhausting look) at all the transactions made during the rebuilding process a major problem with many of these trades over the past several years is the fact that a lot of the prospects haven’t panned out as regular contributors to the big league club. That’s the obvious danger of swapping established players for a bunch of kids. There aren’t many can’t-miss prospects out there and there certainly aren’t any in the Oakland system right now that arrived via a trade.
Another serious issue is that free agency has largely been a bust for Oakland as most players, especially hitters, only seem to like the idea of the A’s for negotiating power with other clubs. The rare times Beane gets an opportunity to throw some money around he can’t get his top targets to sign on the dotted line because there always seems to be another team out there with more money and a better situation.
It doesn’t seem like that’s going to change anytime soon.
I know, I know, the rumors are flying around that Major League commissioner Bud Selig is getting closer to letting the A’s move to San Jose. But I won’t enthusiastically buy into the idea of a new ballpark saving the day until they finally break ground and start construction.
There’s a long way to go from a couple of juicy rumors to Opening Day in San Jose and we’re nowhere close to a first pitch being thrown by someone in white shoes in the South Bay. If the A’s actually get approval to head to San Jose, Beane is expected to go into full rebuild mode again and if the past is any indication of what we can expect then we might want to start worrying because trading away known commodities for prospects is a dangerous game to play.
If many of the kids acquired in all these trades eventually pan out Beane will look brilliant and the rebuild that started around 2007 will be a winner. But if they don’t he’ll look like the man who played a major role in dooming the A’s to years of hopeless irrelevance.
The only silver lining for A’s fans is that a long run of agonizing mediocrity could finally lead to the promised land of sustained prosperity in San Jose if ownership frontman Lew Wolff’s wildest dreams come true.
Coming up next: Part 4 of “Revisiting the Rebuild,” Closing it out. Sorting through the rubble of this whole mess and making a call on whether it’s all doom and gloom from here on out or if there’s hope for a quick turnaround.