You know the major league baseball offseason just hasn't started until Billy Beane has made a blockbuster trade.
Yet this time around, there is a different feeling. The A's are no longer selling. The trade on Monday for Matt Holliday was a breath of fresh air for A's fans everywhere. After years of watching superstars leave their team, A's fans know that this offseason is different.
After the 2001 season, the A's lost former MVP Jason Giambi, closer Jason Isringhausen, and outfielder Johnny Damon. Two seasons later, following the 2003 season, A's fans saw Miguel Tejada leave via free agency to the Baltimore Orioles and Keith Foulke leave to win a world series with the Red Sox. Again after the 2004 season, Beane traded all-star pitchers Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder away in seperate deals and also saw Jermaine Dye leave for Chicago. After 2006, Barry Zito left to join the San Francisco Giants throughout the year last season, the A's witnessed Billy Beane trade away Dan Haren, Rich Harden, Joe Blanton, Mark Kotsay, and fan favorite Nick Swisher.
But now the A's are on the other side of the deal. They are buyers for once.
The trades made by Billy Beane over the past year were set up to replenish his farm system and to allow him financial flexibility. In 2007, the A's had an opening day payroll of around 80 million. By midseason of 2008, Beane had cut that number in half. Now, that added payroll flexibility in the end will allow the A's to attempt to compete. If he chooses to spend it, Beane has around 40 million dollars to work with. Actually, the inclusion of Huston Street in the deal will likely make it around 45 million after Street is done with arbitration. With that extra cash, there have been talks that Beane will attempt to work out an extension with Holliday. On top of that, the A's have also been linked to names like Rafael Furcal of the Dodgers. Surround quality players with strong pitching and a good farm system and the A's could be contenders for years to come.
In Holliday, the A's are getting a two time all-star that is coming off of three really strong seasons in the National League and has been a franchise player since he was called up in 2004. Holliday fits the Oakland philosophy. He hits for a high average, has a high on base percentage, and has the power to send plenty of baseballs over the fence. While it's likely that Holliday's numbers are sure to decrease outside of Coors field, no one really knows how much of an effect it will be. He is a quality right handed power bat on a team that is loaded with lefties.
Billy Beane will undoubtedly get criticized for this deal from people everywhere. The critics of Billy Beane will look at the players the A's gave up and say "wow, why on earth did you give up that much." Most of these are the same critics that slam Beane for once trading players such as Mark Teahen, Carlos Pena, Aaron Harang, Joe Bonderman, Gerald Laird, Ryan Ludwig and others. However, many of those critics don't realize how much better Beane's teams have gotten throughout those trades. They got all-star caliber players in return, such as Damon, Ted Lilly, Jose Guillen, Dye, and others. Sure, Beane might have traded away some prospects that turned out to be good major leaguers, but isn't that a testiment to how well this A's organization drafts and develops its players in the farm system? After all, the team keeps refueling and competing year in and year out with homegrown talent.
The A's gave up three really good talents in order to acquire Holliday in Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith, and Huston Street. Gonzalez was the prize piece the A's picked up a year ago from the Arizona Diamondbacks when they traded Dan Haren. His swing is a thing of beauty, but his approach at the plate has never matched the A's "moneyball" philosophy built on strong on base percentage. Gonzalez projects to be a solid player once he matures and a lot of scouts have compared him to a younger version of Garret Anderson. Meanwhile, Greg Smith was also acquired in the Arizona deal as a throw in and flourished for the A's in the rotation last year. He has quality stuff, but he was expendable as the A's have a TON of quality pitching prospects in the minor leagues. However, it should be noted that Smith had surgery this offseason on his elbow as well. Lastly, Huston Street is a player that has fallen out of favor in Oakland. He has been in and out of injuries the past few seasons and finally lost his closers job last year to Brad Ziegler halfway through the year. However, I still believe Street can be an effective closer in this league, but he is no longer needed in Oakland as the team is prepared to hand the 9th inning duties to Joey Devine going forward. This trade benefited both teams involved and was a win-win scenario for both teams.
Remember, it was just a year ago that people were criticizing Beane for the package he got back for Dan Haren. According to most "experts" at the time, Beane got only one solid player (Gonzalez), an average pitcher (Brett Anderson) and a bunch of throw ins. In essence since two of the people from that deal are heading to the Rockies as part of that deal, Beane managed to land Holliday, Anderson, Dana Eveland, Aaron Cunningham, and the A's organizational player of 2007, Chris Carter for Dan Haren and Huston Street. Like it or not, but the A's are better off than they were a year ago because of these trades.
Sure, the A's finished 24 games out of first place this past season, but that was also with the team setting a new record for DL use which also had their other big bat in the lineup (Eric Chavez) sidelined for the year. It was a season that featured many rookies making their major league debuts as well. There are several things that can happen in an offseason to change your place in the standings. You can make improvements yourself and you can also watch your opponents make mistakes and lose players. The A's young players are going to continue to develop and now the team has vastly improved their offense. Meanwhile, the Angels may or may not get Mark Teixeira, Garret Anderson or Francisco Rodriguez back this offseason as they all have become free agents. We will have to wait and see what the offseason brings. However, there is a sense of pure optimism from this A's fan and I know I'm not the only one.