Athletics' Complaints Don't Explain Losing Skid
Athletics GM Billy Beane talks about windows more than Microsoft.
Smaller-revenue franchises have tighter timeframes in which to contend than their larger-revenue counterparts. No one will dispute that.
Oakland has one of the worst stadium deals and one of the smallest revenue streams in baseball. The franchise has been trying to find a better home for years, a situation complicated by the fact that its desired destination (San Jose) lies in territory controlled by the Giants. The A's playoff chances aren't helped by the fact that the Rangers have been to the last two World Series and seemingly get better every year, while the Angels splurged on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this offseason.
But there's a difference between difficult and impossible. The Rays face more daunting obstacles, yet they've advanced to the postseason in three of the last four years.
So when the A's traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey in December and cited that their window to contend wouldn't open for another couple of years, that talk rang hollow. Oakland has painted its own window shut.
Prospects Aren't Sure Things
To be fair, the A's received a number of enticing prospects. Cahill yielded righthander Jarrod Parker from the Diamondbacks, Gonzalez brought back three Top 10 Prospects (righthanders Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, catcher Derek Norris) from a Nationals system rated as baseball's best in our soon-to-be-released 2012 Prospect Handbook, and Bailey landed a big league-ready outfielder (Josh Reddick) for a team desperately needing one.
Oakland also gave up Craig Breslow, Ryan Sweeney and minor league righthander Rob Gilliam and received five more prospects: lefthander Tom Milone; righthanders Raul Alcantara and Ryan Cook; first baseman Miles Head; and outfielder Colin Cowgill. Those moves breathed some life into a system that ranked as one of the game's thinnest.
At the same time, Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey are the only A's selected to the All-Star Game in the last three seasons. None is exorbitantly expensive, with Cahill under contract for an affordable $29 million through 2015 and Gonzalez and Bailey eligible for arbitration for the first time.
While they all have hickeys, it's hard to see their trades vaulting Oakland back to the playoffs. The Gonzalez deal has the potential to pay off the most. If everything works out for the best, Oakland will have turned one of the majors' best young lefthanders into a pair of No. 2 starters (Peacock, Cole), an everyday catcher (Norris) and a back-of-the-rotation candidate (Milone).
But as the A's other recent veteran-for-youngsters trades have shown, it's foolish to expect everything to work out for the best when it comes to prospects.
Trades Haven't Worked
Oakland had made four straight playoff appearances in 2000-03 and finished just a game out in the AL West in 2004 when Beane decided to trade Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder before losing them as free agents.
Hudson went to the Braves for Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer and Charles Thomas, none of whom made any kind of lasting impression with the A's. Mulder became a Cardinal in exchange for Daric Barton, Kiko Calero and Dan Haren.
While Haren replaced Mulder in the rotation, Barton has moved from catcher to first base and his bat lacks impact.
When Oakland suffered its first losing season in nine years in 2007, Beane decided to trade his club's best hitter (Nick Swisher) and best pitcher (Haren) even though both were signed to reasonable long-term deals. The A's sent Swisher to the White Sox for Gonzalez, who lived up to expectations, and Fautino de los Santos and Sweeney, who did not. Haren and Connor Robertson traveled to Arizona for Brett Anderson, Chris Carter, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland, Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith.
Anderson has flashed frontline-starter potential but had Tommy John surgery last July. Carter has been overmatched by big league pitching. Cunningham, Eveland and Smith are all marginal players no longer with the organization—as is the case with Carlos Gonzalez, whom the A's could have built their offense around.
After Gonzalez had a lackluster rookie season in 2008, Oakland shipped him, Smith and Huston Street to the Rockies for Matt Holliday. Holliday lasted four months before the A's gave him to St. Louis for Clay Mortensen, Shane Peterson and Brett Wallace. Wallace was traded to the Blue Jays for the equally disappointing Michael Taylor five months later.
If you're scoring at home, that's six valuable veterans (Hudson, Mulder, Haren, Swisher, Street, Holliday) turned into four valuable big leaguers—three of whom were traded (Haren, the Gonzalezes) and a fourth who's sidelined until at least mid-2012 (Anderson).
Oakland also got nothing of long-term value when Beane dealt righthanders Joe Blanton and Rich Harden for seven youngsters in mid-2008.
That's not exactly a track record that would lead you to believe that the A's just fleeced the Diamondbacks, Nationals and Red Sox.
Oakland has compounded its problems by its inability to draft and develop hitters. It also has ranked near the bottom of MLB in draft spending while wasting money on the likes of Ben Sheets ($10 million for 20 starts) and Michael Ynoa (three minor league starts since signing for $4.25 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2008).
The A's don't need excuses and discussion about windows. They need better personnel decisions.