As the non-waiver trade deadline nears, just mere hours more than 1 week away teams are beginning to see the writing on the wall, other are seeing visions of magical playoff and World Series runs. In many cases that one final piece can be the difference between contending for most of the year, and making some serious noise in October. Big trades like today’s bombshell of the Seattle Mariners dealing Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees can go down in history for their immediate impact.
The Oakland Athletics have taken the month of July by storm, going 14-2 so far. That’s best in all of MLB ahead of the streaking Detroit Tigers who have charged into first place in the AL Central. Billy Beane is fully aware that the A’s are in a real good spot right now. The team is playing as a unit, winning in dramatic walk off fashion and battling back from previously insurmountable deficits. It’s clear as evidenced by the wild whipped cream pie, Gatorade cooler, all out mauling celebrations that take place that these guys are constantly rooting for one another. This team has tremendous chemistry, which provides a critical ingredient to winning a championship, but does it outweigh sheer talent? That’s a decision Billy Beane has to make.
It is indisputable that the two positions of need on the Athletics roster reside on the left side of the infield. Brandon Inge caught fire like almost no one in MLB history ever has when he arrived in Oakland, “Ingesanity” was born and it appeared that a simple change of scenery was all the 34 year old 3B needed to reignite his career. Then reality set in, the hot bat of the typically streaky hitter became ice cold, and when “Ingesanity” came up on the scoreboard at the O.co Coliseum, it was met with silence. Inge has shown signs of life over the last week, providing crucial flashes of power in big time situations, but is it enough for Billy Beane to be comfortable with him manning the hot corner for the duration of the season? Inge is very popular in the A’s clubhouse it appears, and his affinity for the 2010 rap song “Moving Like Bernie” by ISA has become a dance craze on the level of the Macarena and Jersey Shore style fist pumping in the clubhouse. But what does that really mean? Does that translate to clutch at bats in the 9th inning against the Yankees?
Cliff Pennington seemed to be poised to solidify himself not only in the A’s present, but the future as the SS after a pretty solid 2011 season. This season though has been a different story. Pennington has looked inept at the plate, chasing pitches, failing to make solid contact, and pretty much showing himself to be just about an automatic out. Billy Beane has shown that he’s aware of Pennington’s lack of production by calling up Brandon Hicks and splitting time between the two at shortstop. Now Pennington is on the DL with elbow tendinitis, and who knows how long that will keep him on the shelf. This disabling of Pennington screams of a team looking for a way and a reason to get a player out of the lineup without flat out giving up on them. I’m not saying they are, but I’m just saying. Pennington is one of the longest tenured veterans on this team along with Kurt Suzuki, but does that mean he’s infallible in his status within the organization? History with Billy Beane says no.
I don’t believe Billy Beane puts a ton of stock in team chemistry. He didn’t gain the reputation he has by worrying about people’s feelings. So what should he do? I think if the right deal comes around that he can improve this team’s chances of not just making the playoffs but winning some games in the playoffs he should pull the trigger. Many names have been swirling around the baseball world who could be potentially available. I don’t believe there is one absolute perfect acquisition out there, but there are many players who could put this team over the top.
Names like Chase Headley, Placido Polanco, Hanley Ramirez, Jimmy Rollins, Yunel Escobar, even Marco Scutaro could be potential solutions. Ramirez and Escobar have had their character questioned in the past by their organizations, Ramirez has been disciplined by his organization and Escobar was traded by his original team. But would someone like Hanley Ramirez have a fire lit under him by being traded? He would be coming from the team he feels disrespected him by asking him to move from his shortstop position to 3rd to make room for Jose Reyes, to a team that targeted him as the piece to put them over the edge. It’s hard to say how long the honeymoon would last, and all this doesn’t even account for his expensive contract.
Chase Headley might cost the most in terms of players traded away, but he would serve many purposes for the A’s and would be under team control for 3 more years after this one. There’s no 3B coming down the pipeline for the A’s, and the 28 year old Headley would give them time to find a young stud for the position. As long as the price tag isn’t astronomical, Billy Beane should make this deal if it presents itself. Jimmy Rollins would provide perhaps the best fit for maintaining the team’s chemistry, and considering he would be a hometown player, he’d probably be a fan favorite (not that Beane considers that). But does he have enough left in the tank to justify acquiring him? And is there any conceivable way to convince the Phillies to eat enough of his contract to cushion the financial blow? It’s not impossible, but highly doubtful. On a purely instinctual level, I’d be pretty excited to see J-Roll in Oakland.
This team was not expected to do anything but lose this year, and Billy Beane didn’t make any secret about the fact that he wasn’t necessarily gunning for it all this year. But that was before the A’s were in the last week of July and currently in sole possession of a playoff spot (1/2 game ahead of Baltimore after their loss to Cleveland tonight). Billy Beane will compromise his integrity as a GM if he doesn’t make some kind of effort to improve this team and declines a golden opportunity for, dare I say it, a run deep into October. Nobody thought the Cardinals, or the Giants before them would make their magical runs to the World Series Championship, but they did it. I’m not saying pull another Matt Holliday deal and trade away Jarrod Parker or another budding star for a short term boost, but explore ways to improve now and maintain the future.
There are no worries about team chemistry when you’re having a champagne party in the clubhouse.