That is, can a GM only "blow up his team" a little bit? Or is it a binary question: either the GM builds the team to contend or demolishes it in a controlled implosion.
Billy Beane, of course, has always maintained that he's in a constant process of assessing and reassessing, evaluating and reevaluating, renovating the building from the ground up while he continues to reside in the penthouse apartment.
Leaving aside, for the moment, the question of just which factors drove Beane 43 floors down (not counting the mezzanine) last season, it's obvious at this stage that A's would have to encounter a hot streak at the craps table just to remain on the cusp of contention in '08.
So: If Beane were to succumb to the siren sales pitch of Kid Theo or the Steinbrothers and deal only Dan Haren (or to finally depants Omar Minaya by unloading only Joe Blanton), would that effectively "blow up" the A's chances for contention in '08?
Or can Beane hold just one ace and draw 3-4 new cards (Cards?) from the bottom of the deck for a winning hand?
And if Beane can't ensure competitiveness while dealing away one ace, does he have to fold, give up all his face cards, and wait for the next hand?
Or, if Beane cashes in one chip, can he be smart enough to walk away from the casino while he's still ahead?
(Yes, I know: I'm mixing gambling metaphors worse than Dean Martin mixed drinks. Bear with me. Just one more.)
The way I see it, with the table going all-in on the Johan Santana hand, and with Haren being the booby prize, Beane almost has to trade Haren at his maximal value.
What happens next, though, is anyone's guess.
I don't know that a de facto announcement of a "rebuilding" move would necessarily drive down the price of subsequent pitchers dealt by Beane (though it certainly could, if Beane is perceived as stepping off his high horse to walk the marketplace on foot, begging bowl in hand).
I also don't know just how much worse off the pitching staff would be were it to lose one or more of Haren, Blanton, and Street. Presumably, Beane would be getting back MLB-ready pitching in any of those deals, though none would immediately rise to the performance levels of the departing hurlers.
And while I'm remarkably sanguine about the '08 offense (provided Kotsay never plays and Crosby bats 8th/9th; and I would still like to see Bonds signed), the pitching even with Haren, Blanton, and Street is thin.
My guess? Beane pulls a Sabean, and tries to hang on too long to the illusion of competitiveness. He passes up the chance to cash Haren in and he deals Blanton for less than we've all been hoping (both deals/non-deals predicated on their salary/contract status) -- and the A's finish in third place in the AL West for the next 4 years.
He only tries to blow the team up a little bit -- and the foundation ends up crumbling.