Billy Beane's rationale after trading Hudson and Mulder was that the team was reloading to avoid a long period of mediocrity, and that the trades would allow the A's to be serious contenders by 2006.
I understand the logic of this, but I do wonder whether the assumption that the A's will be serious contenders in 2006 and beyond is one we can make. Let's look at next year's team:
Catcher -- Jason Kendall. By next year, he should have adjusted to the American League and should be a solid contributor on offense. He seems to have done a good job handling the pitchers, but is not very good at throwing out runners.
First base -- A mystery. If it's Dan Johnson, he will be a rookie next year, so he can't be counted on for too much. Hatteberg? He'll be 36, I think, and his productivity is subpar for a first baseman even though I like his style a lot.
Second base -- Ellis or Scutaro, I assume. That's fine.
Shortstop -- Bobby Crosby. Hopefully, he will have a good second half this season, setting himself up for a breakout season in 2006. But there's no guarantee of that.
Third base -- Chavez. There's no sign, yet, that he is going to develop into the superstar that Billy Beane has been expecting. For the A's to be a serious contender next year, that needs to happen.
Left field -- Total mystery. Some player, not on the roster, will be manning the position unless Kielty ends up with the job.
Center field -- Kotsay. Hopefully, the A's will sign him to a contract extension.
Right field -- Swisher. It's not clear how good he is going to be yet, but he seems likely to a good, solid player - not a star. It's too early to say, though.
Designated hitter -- Another mystery. I don't think Durazo will be around. Does Johnson get the job, or do the A's acquire somebody in a trade?
Rotation -- Harden, Haren, Blanton, Meyer and somebody (possibly Zito if he isn't traded or allowed to leave). Harden should be a stud. The rest are question marks, despite Blanton's good performance thus far. If Zito is gone, this would be a pretty inexperienced group.
Bullpen -- Calero, Cruz, Rincon, Duchscherer, Street. After that, it's hard to say. Everyone assumes Dotel won't be around by the 2006 season, but that leaves us without a proven closer again. I don't think it would be wise to throw Street into the job yet.
There is certainly room for trades to improve the team's sickly run production, and I assume that will be a focus in any trades Beane makes. The team has mediocre or worse performers at positions that usually produce a lot of offense (first base, left field). But any improvement by trade will require giving something up, and I'm not sure that marquee players like Zito and Dotel will fetch that much in return. Zito hasn't been a dominant pitcher for a couple of seasons now, and Dotel would be a rental. The same is true of Durazo. Our most valuable commodities are players we wouldn't want to trade.
The A's don't appear to have future stars waiting in the wings in the upper minors. Dan Johnson might become a good major leaguer, but my impression is that management isn't sold on the guy.
We could get lucky with Crosby and/or Swisher, but otherwise, Beane will need to be very shrewd and a bit lucky when making trades so that the offense doesn't continue to be a lead weight holding back the team. And, of course, the pitching will need to prove that it isn't a flash in the pan. Does Blanton's low K rate bode ill for his future? Is Dan Haren going to be one of those talented guys who can't put it all together, or is he just going through the usual struggles of a young starter? We don't know.
It's hard to feel good about the team when it's in such a funk, and that does influence my analysis, but I do worry that all of this sacrifice won't yield the rewards we're hoping to get next year.