As the Hot Stove League season winds down and gives way to the annual rebirth that is spring training, writers start to assess who the winners and losers were in the off-season. I’m not going to do that, but if I were to, I think I’d be putting a team in the winner’s column with a bullet that most others would rank as losers. That team is the Oakland Athletics.
But wait, you say, the A’s traded their best pitcher and their best position player for a bunch of guys we’ve never heard of. How can that be a win for the A’s? It can be and it was, but to understand it, you have to step back and do a sober analysis of where the A’s were at the end of 2007.
Coming off their first ever playoff victory in 2006, the ’07 A’s rolled the dice with a lot of iffy and unhealthy players and it came up snake eyes, a 76-86 record, a third place finish and the first losing season for the franchise since 1998. In and of itself, that’s no reason to panic. Teams have down years where the injury bug and a few problems dog them down.
But this team had no future. Several players who were supposed to form the core of the A’s franchise for years had faltered. Eric Chavez’s back problems have led to spiraling production three years in a row and it doesn’t look like he is physically capable of being the player he once promised to be, or even once was. Rich Harden had the best stuff of any pitcher the A’s have developed in recent years, but after three years of constant injury, it is clear he cannot be relied on. Bobby Crosby has proven not only to be unhealthy, but also not to be anywhere near the player, offensively or defensively, that the A”s thought he would be when they let Miguel Tejada walk.
Couple those things with several poor drafts which left the A’s once-envied minor league system with only a few prospects who had any sort of major-league future, and you start to see what Billy Beane saw. Sure, with guys like Nick Swisher, Dan Haren, Joe Blanton, Huston Street, Travis Buck and Daric Barton they had the core of a decent team, and a few shrewd moves and lucky breaks could put them on the outside track for wild card contention for a few years.
But the simple fact was they had no chance to put together a team that was a legitimate contender within the next few years. Most GMs would flail about, finding a few players to plug in who could help boost the team above .500. And, if the A’s played in the National League, where the best teams are not nearly as good as the best of the AL, Beane might have done that. But if he had, that would have been because he would have had sufficient resources to field a team that could have challenged the best in the league. Continue reading “A Surprising Winner This Off-Season: The Oakland A’s”