In Blez' bullish-on-the-'08-A's story the other day, PaulThomas nailed it with this comment:
if the Angels sign A-Rod, all bets are off. If that apocalypse happens, the A's need to sell off everybody getting paid more than the league minimum except for Haren and Swisher. Street, Blanton, Embree, Duke, even Gaudin. By the time the team will be competitive again, they'll all have hit free agency.
We can quibble with the particulars of which individual A's might be worth retaining in that scenario, but I think it's hard to argue against the fundamental thesis: that if the Angels sign A-Rod this offseason (and, even worse, if they sign Bonds, as I think they will), the A's simply will be unable to compete in the division for the next 3-4 years.
Given the Angels' quality pitching, young hitters, and Vlad -- adding A-Rod to the equation would render them prohibitive favorites to take the AL West and to be set up to do very well in the playoffs. And if they add Bonds as well ... imagine facing the sequence of A-Rod-Bonds-Vlad 4-5 times a game!
Despite Arte's halfhearted previous protestations, every pundit has assigned the Angels as the likeliest destination for A-Rod -- and for good reason. They have the most clear mixture of need, opportunity, and resources. Sure, it's possible that some other likely (or unlikely) team may step up to be bamborasoozled with a preposterous offer, but I personally will be shocked if A-Rod ends up anywhere other than Anaheim.
Under that scenario, yes, it would still be possible for the A's to compete for the Wild Card -- especially since the Yankees appear to be on the verge of another 40-year trek through the wilderness, with the Little Steins carrying on their paterfamilias' familiar pique, and the AL Central looking to be competitive enough in the coming years to engage in enough unbalanced-schedule internecine warfare.
But it's far easier to build a team to compete directly for a division title than it is to count on the broader variables that need to fall into place for a WC slot. And the A's, even without A-Rod returning to the AL West, would be operating on a slim competitive margin anwyay.
So: what's the solution? Should the A's jump in to the A-Rod sweepstakes, if only to drive the price up beyond Arte's reach (or high enough to actually damage the Angels' competitive finances in '10-beyond)? Or should they just pray to Ba'al that A-Rod lands elsewhere? And when he does sign with Anaheim -- should Beane engage in a graduated sell-off?