Friday, September 12, 2008

A's are always a team in motion

I am fascinated with the way Billy Beane runs the Oakland A's. I should have written something about this in July when Beane pulled the trigger on the Rich Harden and Joe Blanton deals, but I wonder what it would be like to be an A's fan.

These were the details of the two deals:

July 9, 2008 -- A’s trade RHP Rich Harden and RHP Chad Gaudin to Cubs for RHP Sean Gallagher, OF Matt Murton, 2B/OF Eric Patterson, and P Josh Donaldson.

July 18, 2008 -- A’s send RHP Joe Blanton to the Phillies for LHP Josh Outman, 2B Adrian Cardenas, and OF Matt Spencer.

The Harden deal was much bigger because 1) he was traded to the Cubs, and 2) when he's healthy, Harden is a tremendous pitcher. He has a career ERA of 3.25, a career WHIP of 1.21, and batters have hit just .218 off of him. Blanton was also a solid pitcher for the A's with his best season coming in 2007 when he posted 14 wins, a 3.95 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, 140 Ks and just 40 walks.

Now, both deals seemingly make sense because the A's just don't spend that much money. Harden is scheduled to become a free agent in 2009 and depending on his injury concerns, he's going to make lots of money. And Blanton was making $3.7 million this season and just wasn't pitching that well -- 5-12, 4.96 ERA, 1.42 WHIP -- for the A's this season.

In the offseason, though, the A's also made three other significant trades. They were:

Dec. 15, 2007 -- A’s trade RHP Dan Haren and RHP Connor Robertson to the Diamondbacks for LHP Brett Anderson, LHP Dana Eveland, LHP Greg Smith, IF Chris Carter, OF Aaron Cunningham, and OF Carlos Gonzalez.

Jan. 1, 2008 -- A’s send OF Nick Swisher to White Sox for LHP Gio Gonzalez, RHP Fautino De Los Santos, and OF Ryan Sweeney.

Jan. 13, 2008 -- A’s trade Mark Kotsay and cash to Braves for RHP Joey Devine.

So, to recap, by mid-July the A's had gotten rid of arguably their four best starting pitchers (Haren, Harden, Blanton, and Gaudin), their CF (Kotsay), and another OF (Swisher).

Remember, the A's also let Barry Zito leave after the 2006 season, and they made two huge trades in 2004 that many people were scratching their heads at:

Dec. 17, 2004 -- A’s trade RHP Tim Hudson to the Braves for OF Charles Thomas, P Juan Cruz, and P Dan Meyer.

Dec. 20, 2004 -- A’s trade LHP Mark Mulder to the Cardinals for P Dan Haren, P Kiko Calero, and C Daric Barton.

Obviously, this strategy is nothing new for the A's since they dump big name players all the time before they're about to get paid millions of dollars by other clubs. The Marlins typically do the same thing but have had more success. (Side note: The Marlins have won two World Series (1997 and 2003) with this plan. Would the A's have won a World Series by now under Beane if the team was playing in the predominantly weaker National League? It's possible.)

It's also interesting to see what those pitchers have done since they left the A's.

Hudson has had a few good seasons with the Braves with his best probably coming in 2007, but he's making $15.5 million this season and just had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Mulder's only good season came right after the trade in 2005. Since then, he's been injured with shoulder problems and hasn't been able to make it through a full season. He is also making $7 million this year.

The strangest case is with Zito, who was signed by the Giants to a 7-year, $126 million contract to be their ace. Unfortunately, Zito hasn't been worth that much money at all. He had a subpar 2007 season with a 11-13 record, a 4.53 ERA, and a very average rate of stikeouts to walks (131:83). But this season has been much worse for Zito; he has a 5.35 ERA and a horrible 1.62 WHIP. And he's making $14.5 million this year.

At the time of the trade, a Giants source said, "I think Barry Zito will be the face of the Giants franchise for a long time." With the amount of money he's making and his awful performance, that statement is certainly turning out to be true -- just in the wrong way.

Beane doesn't always make good deals; in fact, he's made some very bad ones. In December of 2005, Beane traded OF Andre Ethier to the Dodgers for OF Milton Bradley and IF Antonio Perez. Ethier is helping the Dodgers push for the playoffs and is having a solid season, while Bradley didn't really help the A's much and was more of a distraction.

Nonetheless, the A's certainly have an identity, and Beane is never afraid to pull the trigger on a risky move that could push his team into the playoffs. Other teams have the luxury of spending big money on free agents; the A's don't.

As an Orioles fan, I was shocked to see the O's trade both Erik Bedard and Miguel Tejada in the offseason. The Orioles don't really make that many big trades, and the team usually doesn't take that many risks. But Beane does as the A's GM, partly because he has to, and partly because he's very good at what he does. In about seven months, Beane completely reshaped the direction of the organization. For the most part, O's fans become attached to certain players. Doing so as an A's fan would probably be pointless.

I don't know what I'm trying to say exactly, but being an A's fan must be both interesting and annoying at the same time. As an O's fan, at least for the last decade or so, it's just been mostly annoying.

So worry not, A's fans. You may not win a World Series any time soon, but you won't have to "rebuild" for a decade either.


  1. good article, i am always amazed at how the a's stay competitive. but look at the payroll of the 1997 marlins team. highest payroll in the national league that year, hardly a small market team. they also spent a decent amount of money on the 2003 team as well, a little different strategy than the a's.

  2. I'm looking at some of the figures now, and in 1997 the Marlins spent $47 million (7th in MLB) and in 2003 they spent $48 million (25th in MLB). The A's spent just $21 million in 1997, but they actually spent more in 2003 ($50 million).

    I think the 1997 philosophy was different like you said because the Marlins brought in some veterans and were willing to spend some money -- but they also had a different owner then in Wayne Huizenga. He was willing to spend money to go after a championship even though he reported losses after the season. He sold the team after that year.

    But in 2003, the team was more like a typical A's team that didn't spend much money. The team had a bunch of solid young talent like Dontrelle Willis, Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, and Miguel Cabrera. They did get some veterans like Ugueth Urbina, Jeff Conine, and Juan Pierre, but the core of their team was still intact, I would say.

    I think it's fair to say that the current Marlins are more like the A's than the one that won the '97 World Series over the Cleveland Indians. But you're right.

    I wonder how well the A's could do if Beane was allowed to go after some big-time talent with some money.