DENVER–Billy Beane had to make his most challenging decisions as a general manager this offseason. He still had the rotation nucleus that has allowed the Athletics to be a factor in the American League West despite one of the lower payrolls in baseball.
However, he also had to deal with reality.
The A's came up short of the postseason in 2004. The rest of the AL West figures to be markedly better in 2005. Beane, meanwhile, was pretty well in a corner. He couldn't afford any major offseason improvements, and there was no impact player set to arrive from the minors.
So Beane decided to make a preemptive move, and take a step back in 2005 with the feeling he could leap ahead in the not-too-distant future. He broke up the rotation.
He dealt Tim Hudson to Atlanta and Mark Mulder to St. Louis, receiving a package of prospects in both deals. And the expectation is that if Barry Zito can get off to a solid start in 2005 he will be sent packing prior to the July 31 trading deadline, too. Zito was reported to have been the pitcher the A's most wanted to trade this offseason, but his struggles last year diminished his value. Beane also was wise enough to realize he didn't want to make a move when the market was down, so he kept Zito.
The A's will now head into the season with a projected rotation of Zito, homegrown products Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, former Cardinals prospect Danny Haren, and former Braves prospect Dan Meyer. The five will combine to make $6.75 million'"the same salary Hudson will make on his own. Mulder, meanwhile, is set to take home $6.5 million in 2005 and another $8 million in 2006.
"Being a good GM means having the guts to act preemptively, rather than take the comfortable route, sink slowly in the standings and do nothing," Beane said.
Comings And Goings
• Urban Meyer, who guided Utah to an unbeaten season and the first Bowl Championship Series appearance for a non-BCS conference team and now heads to the University of Florida, gave baseball a brief look before deciding to focus on football because of an arm injury.
A 13th-round draft choice of the Braves when he came out of high school in Ashtabula, Ohio, in 1982, Meyer was a shortstop who hit .170 in 20 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 1982, and then hit .250 in 15 games for Rookie-level Pulaski in 1983. Two of Meyer's minor league teammates made it to the big leagues'"shortstop Andres Thomas and righthanded reliever Duane Ward, both of whom were on the GCL team.
Ward was Atlanta's first-round draft choice in 1982, when the Braves also drafted a lefthanded high school pitcher named Randy Johnson, who decided instead to attend Southern California.
• Lefthander Tony Saunders, whose pitching career seemed over four years ago when he broke his arm twice within a 15-month span while
pitching, says he wants to try a comeback. Saunders, 30, was coaching a Tampa AAU team during the summer and started throwing batting practice, which led him to get medical approval to try a comeback.
• Four days after Mike Paul was told by Diamondbacks general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. that he isn'™t being rehired because the team is going to advance scout by video, Paul got a call from new Arizona manager Bob Melvin telling Paul how impressed everybody has been with his work, and how much Melvin was looking forward to working with Paul in 2005. Paul wound up with the Nationals.
• Jeff Scott, one of the top talent evaluators at the pro and amateur level in baseball, remains on the outside looking in. Last year, Scott was the pitching coach for the Pennsylvania Road Warriors, a traveling team in the independent Atlantic League.
• The day before his contract expired, Paul Weaver got a shock from the Astros, where he had worked for 24 years. He was told he wasn't
• Buzzie Bavasi, who recently turned 90, told San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Tom Cushman that when the National League
expanded in 1969, then-commissioner Ford Frick wanted to put a team in Denver, but Bavasi persuaded him to go to San Diego instead. Bavasi was the original general manager of the Padres.
• How much of a youth movement are the Rockies facing? Well, second baseman Aaron Miles has one year, 27 days of big league service time
and he could rank third in terms of seniority among players in the Rockies lineup behind Todd Helton and Preston Wilson.
Tracy Ringolsby is the national baseball writer for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. You can contact him by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.