The A’s have jumped into the middle of the AL postseason race, which may prompt a change in the trading strategy of general manager Billy Beane.
After the A’s traded their best pitcher, Dan Haren, and arguably their best position player, Nick Swisher, the expectation was that this season would be a dead issue. The respected publication Baseball America said Oakland might not compete again until 2011.
But Beane and his most trusted associates — director of player personnel Billy Owens, assistant GM David Forst and director of scouting Eric Kubota — did such an excellent job of evaluating talent that one of the position players obtained in the trades (Ryan Sweeney) is the center fielder, and two pitchers (Dana Eveland and Greg Smith) are in the starting rotation. Eveland was expected to be, Smith was not. “But we’d had excellent reports on him,” manager Bob Geren said. “And he looked good in the spring.”
The A’s also signed 33-year-old Emil Brown as a free agent and he’s been a big factor in their early success.
“He was always a good RBI man,” Beane said. Added Geren, “We could never figure how to pitch to him when he was with Kansas City, so we figured he could help.”
Beane has already made one move, signing Frank Thomas when he was released by Toronto. That gave a burst of energy to the club. But Thomas, traditionally a slow starter, has not yet hit much. The best guess is that Beane will make a decision by July 1 on whether to keep Thomas or Mike Sweeney for right-handed punch.
That will also be the time when the trading market heats up, as the haves try to beef up and the have-nots try to build for the future. Almost certainly, Beane will be active in that market, either trading to get more power or getting more top prospects. His decisions will also depend on what Eric Chavez shows when he comes off the disabled list on May 27.
Here are some of the names mentioned in possible trades, and my thoughts:
» Joe Blanton: I think Beane would like to trade Blanton, if the right deal surfaced. Blanton has maxed out. He’s a smart pitcher but doesn’t have overpowering stuff, so he has to be near perfect with his control.
» Huston Street: Could be had with the right kind of deal. He’s fallen off since being Rookie of the Year in 2005 and people close to the team think Joey Devine, obtained in the trade with Atlanta for Mark Kotsay, might be a better closer.
» Rich Harden: There’s no market for Harden unless he can stay healthy, and the A’s would be foolish to trade him if he does. He has outstanding stuff — and the A’s have a club option on him for 2009.
Whatever happens, I can’t see Beane trading a good young player such as Daric Barton, who has been carefully brought along in their farm system. Though they currently have a glut of outfielders, I can’t see Beane trading Sweeney or Travis Buck, who I think will be part of the 2009 outfield with top prospect Carlos Gonzalez, who’s currently on the DL at Triple-A Sacramento.
Can Beane have itboth ways, building for the future while having a contender this season? He’ll certainly try.