Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski supposedly texted Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane a joke after trading for David Price last week on the July 31 deadline. He reminded Beane there was one minute left on the clock to strike a deal for Chicago White Sox lefty ace Chris Sale.
Tongue-in-cheek, sarcasm, and dry wit jest to be sure. The way Beane has been so proactive for this season’s playoffs, maybe it wouldn’t be so fantastical to have seen him acquire Sale. Oakland is currently 69-44 and leads the Los Angeles Angels by two games in the A.L. West race. Manager Bob Melvin probably didn’t expect such reinforcements, but he’ll enjoy them while he can.
Most baseball analysts and A’s backers interpreted Beane’s deals for Jeff Samarzdzija, Jason Hammel, and Jon Lester as a logical action. A win now attitude is more accepted at this juncture than familiar recycling and discarding of prospects. Additionally, Yoenis Cespedes made $10.5 million and Oakland wasn’t going to afford him anyway. Better to get back something of value than lose him outright.
It’s great Beane has finally been given two months of regular season to engage in a battle royale with regular high spending franchises. However, Oakland wouldn’t have lost Cespedes “for nothing.” Compensation picks would have been distributed once he signed elsewhere as a free agent.
Cespedes may have not hit for average (.256), but he had 17 home runs and 67 RBI. His past suggests he’s injury prone with holes in his swing. But he’s still 28 and full of talent. The Cuban outfielder was a big part of an offense that has plated 554 runs to lead baseball. His throws to retire Howie Kendrick at home and Albert Pujols at third in a June series in Anaheim left people slack-jawed in disbelief.
Neither highly touted shortstop Addison Russell or Cespedes would have been sent away if A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker were healthy. Russell is considered an elite prospect with a promising MLB future. The A’s found in-house replacements who pitched admirably, but Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are the most reliable arms. In order to beat Detroit in a playoff series or fend off the Los Angeles Angels in the A.L. West race, Beane needed upgrades. So he gave his best assets up in the name of 2014, a landmark decision for Oakland’s current front office.
Samardzija and Hammel wallowed on a losing Cubs team undergoing youth movements. They put up great stat lines and made themselves attractive trade bargains for contenders. The right handers have made 11 combined starts for Oakland and Hammel finally won his first game in five starts on Tuesday for the A’s.
Beane one-upped himself getting Lester, who’s had a special 2014. The 30-year old cancer survivor is a pending free agent, but the A’s got him for his 21 starts and 2.52 ERA he posted in Boston. In 13 postseason games, he’s been clutch with a 2.04 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. The Athletics suddenly gathered three starters making acombined $24 million this season.
Curiously enough, considering how the A’s generally operate and rumors surrounding Lester, the Boston Red Sox may have gotten Cespedes for nothing if they do indeed re-sign Lester after 2014. Essentially, Oakland gets two months of Lester, won’t retain him, and Boston benefitted in their lost season bringing Cespedes aboard for 2015. Daytime soap opera antics in Boston may ultimately work out for the best.
This harkens back to when Cliff Lee became a mercenary ace. The Phillies acquired him in 2009, went to the World Series, then re-signed him for 2011. Except Lee didn’t come from Texas with Nelson Cruz in the signing.
It’s Beane’s first real indulgence with Seinfeld’s “Opposite” episode, where everything George Costanza does is contrary to what he normally would do. Up is down, day is night, left is right, and cheap, upper tier prospects are dealt for multi-million dollar rental pitchers.
Athletics owners Lew Wolf and John Fisher loosened purse strings, even if it were only for a couple months left in a regular season. They see a bigger picture, one that affords a chance to win a championship before guys like Josh Donaldson, Sonny Gray, Derek Norris, and Brandon Moss get courted by richer teams.
Oakland’s frugal, penny-pinching ways shall remain ever-present moving forward, as will their lease to a ramshackle stadium. Perhaps it will prove an invaluable decision to bet the house if they reach their goal despite the crap shoot that is the playoffs.
Bud Selig will assuredly bury his face in hands from a beat up luxury suite as he watches the league feature Oakland Coliseum in the World Series on national television like it’s 1989 and 1990 all over again. Billy Beane has put the A’s in an unthinkable World Series or bust dilemma. For 2014 at least.