Offseason Talk: Oakland Athletics
While the Oakland A’s mean little to Mets fans — after all, they’re not on the 2008 schedule — it’s hard to be a baseball fan and not notice what’s going on in Oakland. Billy Beane is picking apart the team piece by piece and undergoing a complete overhaul — even youngsters such as Huston Street and Joe Blanton could be on the way out.
So I thought it might be interesting to hear the perspective of an Athletics fan — to find out what it’s like to be on the opposite side of where we “win now” Mets fans are currently stationed.
I called on “baseballgirl” at Athletics Nation for her insight on the suddenly changing (oops, I mean, “dynamic”) landscape of Billy Beaneville. Here is the full Q&A, for your reading pleasure …
1. With the exit of Danny Haren, Nick Swisher, and most recently Mark Kotsay, it’s pretty clear that the Athletics are rebuilding. How does that make you feel as a hardcore fan of the A’s? Is it a downer, or are you optimistic about the 2008 season?
Ever since the Mark Mulder trade, more teams than just the A’s have been watching Danny Haren come into his incredible talent; this journey highlighted by his incredible numbers the first part of last season, earning him the All-Star game start. As an A’s fan; it is a bittersweet moment watching your talent succeed; it’s an amazing thing to be a part of, yet at the same time, you know that when A’s players are showcased, they are now considered trade bait to a team that is willing to pay for them. The A’s only currency is their developing talent; and if a player stands out enough, the A’s most likely will be unable to keep him.
It is definitely a unique situation; being an A’s fan. To be a hardcore fan of the A’s means that I accept (if not necessarily like) the revolving door of players that don A’s uniforms. And in many ways, it’s understandable; when you consider the payroll constraints and other limitations of an organization like the Athletics, paying market-rate for talent is simply not an option.
If Haren’s trade was expected, if not entirely welcome, the trade of Nick Swisher was absolutely shocking. Swisher has long been considered one of Beane’s “pets”; highlighted in the book Moneyball, which was about, but (despite what Joe Morgan claims) not written by, Billy Beane, and if there were two players that were never leaving the team, I would have told you Chavez and Swisher. I think trading Swisher was a great move; it netted the A’s a considerable amount of talent, but I was surprised that Beane went ahead pulled the trigger.
I am not optimistic about 2008, but I am optimistic for the future after that. By making three pretty big trades, the A’s took their dwindling farm system from the bottom third of the league to the top. And while the difference may be negligible in ’08, it won’t be forever. I have to believe that.
2. Regarding the Haren, Swisher, and Kotsay deals … are you excited about any of the prospects in particular that came in return?
Well, my initial reaction was that the Swisher trade was a steal for the A’s. Any time you can trade a position player who has shown flashes of superstar talent but with little consistency for two of the top five pitching prospects from an organization, you have to be a little excited, and I look forward to seeing Gio Gonzalez and Fautino De Los Santos in the show.
In the Haren deal, I have to be excited about Carlos Gonzalez; the large majority of feedback available is overwhelmingly positive, and he may not be far away from the big club.
Any impact (if all) that Joey Devine will bring to the club remains to be seen; yet any contribution is a bonus; I never saw Kotsay in the A’s’ future plans.
The downside to all of these deals; however, is the lack of instant return. The Diamondbacks and the White Sox made themselves better instantly by adding Haren and Swisher, while the A’s merely stockpiled their depleted farm system. But ask me in 2009, because I truly believe that one of our pickups will be a star. (And if we’re lucky, maybe more.)
3. Is Billy Beane done for the winter, or do you think more dealing is on the way? Who’s next to go? Joe Blanton? Mark Ellis? Bobby Crosby?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Billy Beane, it is that I can’t predict anything. What I can do is guess, and my guess is that Beane is done for the winter, but reserves the right to make any trade as the season dictates. I don’t think Beane (similar to all A’s fans right now) has any real idea what to expect yet from the 2008 team, right down to who is on the field. I think our Spring Training will be somewhat unparalleled; as there are starting positions up for grabs all over the field. It will certainly be interesting to see who wins a spot, and how Spring Training will translate to the actual season. And the A’s don’t even have the luxury of a full March this year; they are slated to fly to Japan to kick off the season against the Red Sox, which is looking more and more like a David/Goliath situation over there.
The A’s did sign Joe Blanton and Huston Street to a one year contract this off-season, and I think both of them will remain with the team at least until the All-Star break, if not for the full season. I think Mark Ellis is safe; which is probably a good thing for diehard A’s fans, who badly need a familiar face in the infield. Bobby Crosby doesn’t count; he’s been on the bench for more games over the last three years than he’s played, and even when he’s healthy, he still isn’t good. If Beane could convince someone–anyone–that Crosby will improve on his “I was the only contestant for the award” Rookie of the Year season, and trade him for a serviceable infielder, I think it would be in the best interest of the team. But I would feel compelled to issue the disclaimer, “Will swing at sliders three feet off the plate”.
4. On the East Coast, there was constant noise from the pundits that Beane was in love with Lastings Milledge and Aaron Heilman. Did you ever hear that rumor, and did it hold any water?
Heard it? I think we started it! Just kidding. I have heard this trade rumor floated in exchange for either Haren or Blanton, and I would have to think that the A’s would hedge their bets on Heilman in the rotation in either case. I don’t think Blanton was enough of a bargaining chip to complete this deal, but Haren might have done it; although it was rumored at the meetings that Beane wanted more for Haren. I also heard Rich Harden mentioned as another possible trade option, but I would have to think that was just a rumor. Very few teams would be willing to roll that dice.
I’m sure Beane was very interested in both of these guys, especially since the A’s have struggled keeping their outfielders either healthy or employed, but he just didn’t get what he needed to complete a deal.
5. Carlos Gomez and Mike Pelfrey for Joe Blanton … do YOU pull the trigger? Why or why not?
Tough call; it pretty much boils down to keeping a decent established major league pitcher who will never win the Cy but will more often that not keep his team in every game, or taking the chance on two young guys; who, if they pan out, will not only replace the major league pitcher you traded, but will also add a much-needed center fielder with potential.
At the risk of trading the last established starting pitcher left on the A’s, I’d go ahead and pull the trigger. If you’re rebuilding, you’re rebuilding, and I would go ahead and make a case for the upside of Gomez and Pelfrey to be greater than the known quantity of Blanton.
6. Early in the offseason, there were rumors that Barry Bonds might stay in the Bay Area and play for the A’s. Now, it appears that’s unlikely. But if it were a possibility, how do you think Athletics fans would welcome Barry — with open arms or rotten eggs?
As you can probably imagine, this has been discussed at length from several angles over at Athletics Nation, and as many A’s fans as there are, there are differing opinions on Barry Bonds. I believe it’s disingenuous to be an A’s fan from the 80s until today, and not at least acknowledge that the A’s not only housed the tip of the iceberg steroid scandal in Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, but also employed Jason Giambi, who thankfully was the property of the New York Yankees when his story came to light. The A’s reputation with steroids really didn’t improve until recently, when the A’s now play without a single player at “star” status, much less “superstar”.
All that to make the point that Oakland is certainly no stranger to the steroids mess, and claiming a high moral ground at this late date is a rather useless argument for keeping Bonds off the team. I think A’s fans don’t like Barry Bonds because a) he played the most high-profile years of his career with the hated team across the Bay, whose fancy ballpark steals casual baseball fans away from the A’s, and whose powerhouse radio station is picked up from Southern Oregon to San Diego while A’s fans struggle to hear their team broadcast in Oakland proper, and b) Barry Bonds is portrayed as a huge jerk by the media and the A’s clubhouse seems to be the opposite of that.
Personally, I think Bonds falls exactly into the category of players that Billy Beane salivates over; when forced to exploit the market inequalities to level the playing field, Beane will inevitably covet high-risk, high-reward players with incentive clauses.
Well, that and the fact that Barry Bonds, even at 70-80% of his previous talent, is a better hitter than any player the A’s had on their roster last year.
I would wager two certainties; one that Barry Bonds would be booed in his initial Oakland debut if Beane went ahead and gave him a chance in green and gold, and two, that the very first time Bonds crushed a game-winning homerun off Francisco Rodriguez of the hated Anaheim Angels, he’d be an instant fan favorite. Whatever your moral compass, it’s hard to root against a player who is helping your favorite team win.
7. Kotsay and Swisher seemed to be big fan favorites in Oakland. Who has the personality to take their place in the hearts and minds of the A’s faithful?
Two words: Travis Buck. I have no real reason behind this theory, except for the comparisons to Eric Byrnes (at least hair-wise), but Buck is young enough to still be a little crazy out there, talented enough to be a very good player, and new enough to the league (he broke into the big leagues after a monster Spring Training last year) to still want to interact with the fans on the field in a way that will earn him a place as a “fan favorite”. Mark Ellis is still a rock-solid part of Oakland A’s fandom, but is lacking the crazy personality that elicits blackmail stories from teammates.
8. Did Rick Peterson always wear a jacket when he was in the Oakland dugout?