First off, many thanks to baseballgirl for filling in for me yesterday on short notice, and to Blez for handling today's game thread as baseballgirl and I sneak out together to see Zito's last start before the July 31st trading deadline.
The question of Zito's fate this weekend is a complex and interesting one for the A's, the Mets, and any other possible suitors. In a way, I think the questions are more interesting than the answers. Here are the questions as I see them:
Is Beane willing to concede 2006 to "reload" for 2007 and beyond, if he can make a good trade that doesn't improve the 2006 squad?
I don't think so, simply because you can't do that to the 24 guys who are left holding the bag. You can't "reload" in 2005, bring your team to a neck-and-neck race at the end of July, 2006 and then "reload" again, without thoroughly demoralizing the rest of the team. In essence, the A's are not beneficiaries of a weak division, they are victims. Were the A's 7 games out--as they should be with their current record--Beane could make a great Zito trade for the future and it would make sense to the players and to the fans.
How did Pedro Martinez' start yesterday affect Omar Minaya's willingness to meet Beane's rumored demand of Lastings Milledge and at least one quality young pitcher?
Pedro got lit up for 4 runs in the first inning, but also settled down, Blanton-style, to pitch shutout ball for several innings and get the win. He also wasn't hitting 90MPH on the gun. Tough to say whether that start made the Mets feel better, worse, or the same about their chances to advance in the playoffs with a front-end core of Martinez, Glavine, and Trachsel. But Zito would be an impact-addition for the playoffs, no doubt.
Do the A's feel they can compete for the AL West title without Zito?
Here, I think Zito's stay with the A's might be saved by 30 days. The 30 days are Rich Harden's anticipated return around September 1st instead of August 1st. If Harden were due back now, and the A's could land immediate hitting help in exchange for Zito, I think you could argue that the 2006 team would be improved, from the current 25, by trading Zito. Improved more than keeping Zito, adding Harden back, and going with the current lineup? Tough to say, but as long as the up-the-middle crew (Kendall, Ellis, Crosby, Kotsay) is hitting an aggregate ".240 with few doubles and fewer HRs," I think you could argue that the A's are the anti-Rangers and need a quality hitter more than they need another good pitcher.