You probably have a strong opinion on the Oakland Athletics big trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Perhaps you think it was a horrible deal, that Josh Donaldson was sent away for a peasant's ransom. Perhaps you think that Billy Beane made a shrewd move to sell high on a star who has already peaked, and that he did well to re-stock his roster while the getting was good. Here are two vastly different ways of interpreting this deal, presented in point-counterpoint style by Nico and Jeremy. They are the consolidation of emails that were traded back and forth among the staff last night and this morning.
Nico: Worse now, worse later
No positive spin here. Personally, I think Billy Beane had a great run, without question, but frankly the moves he's made the past five months are nothing short of moronic*, not to mention completely out of touch, and they will haunt the organization for a while to come.
* ok I was upset when I wrote that last night -- in the light of day what I really mean to say is ... well ... "moronic-but-said-with-a-much-softer-tone"
Believing that the current core had missed its championship window and that it was time to re-tool the roster is all well and good, but the return for Donaldson is unacceptable. If you're going to trade him for any reason, you get Marcus Stroman, or you get Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez. Just like to part with Samardzija the Cubs insisted on Addison Russell.
Billy got taken in both directions: Once when he agreed to part with a rare talent in Russell and once because he didn't insist on the top guys when he had a rare commodity in four years of Josh Donaldson. He just swapped four years of Donaldson for three years of Lawrie in order to get more depth at the back of the rotation.
Basically he traded Russell for Samardzija so he had to trade Donaldson to get a less-sure version of Russell. What a great swap! You could have had Russell and Donaldson instead of Samardzija and Barreto.
The uncertainty of prospects is precisely why you don't settle for an 18-year-old plus two "back end of the rotation" prospects. Replace Graveman and Nolin with Sanchez and Norris and I get it. Four years of Donaldson is an incredible commodity. You should be razing a farm system in exchange, like the A's did when they got Brett Anderson and Carlos Gonzalez and Chris Carter and three other guys who saw big league time. That's the kind of return you insist on for four years of Donaldson.
Beane used to make the trades he wanted to make, holding out for the pieces that he really coveted. Now he's making the trades that smarter GMs want him to make, and winding up swapping Donaldson for Lawrie so he can swap Russell for an intriguing 18-year-old. Apparently, "worse now and worse later!" is the new Counterfeitball.
Jeremy: Smart move to learn from past mistakes and sell high
The difference between the Dan Haren trade (for six players) and the Donaldson trade is that the only player in the Haren trade who had any MLB experience was Dana Eveland.
Brett Lawrie is the reason for the lesser prospect haul, and Donaldson may or may not age well. I don't know how he will age, but two full seasons in MLB does not make a player an ironman. Most players do get worse as they enter the age that Donaldson is, and most players at least stay the same or get better when they enter the age that Lawrie is. One less season of a cheaper very-good-when-on-the-field infielder can work, because even if Donaldson is an awesome third baseman for the next three years, I don't think the A's would pay the $22M+ for the fourth year anyway, and the haul at that team control and that salary will be significantly less.
The Haren trade was the ultimate rebuilding deal because Beane was stuck with the two players who the new ownership wanted to sign to extensions in '05 to build fan goodwill -- Eric Chavez and Mark Kotsay (including a no-trade clause through '06!) -- only to have them quickly crash and go into the five-year playoff drought because Chavy's spine turned into sawdust and Kotsay ended up turning into Joey Devine in '08 instead of parting ways in '06.
The $17.5 M in 2007 the A's were stuck with between the two was about 22% of Opening Day payroll, and that just wasn't going to be sustainable. The A's still carried Chavez in '08 and his $11.5M alone that year was 24% of the Opening Day payroll, which was low because the A's could no longer buy their way from 75 wins to the 90+ wins they would have needed to at least make the postseason. All this media rights money flowing in wasn't there for the A's yet, but now it is, and it's what makes that situation markedly different from where the A's are now.
The A's can still succeed in '15 because they're trying to avoid what happened to them in '07, holding on to Chavez and Kotsay past their expiration dates. In '09 they went the wrong way with an expensive (in money, players, and personality) Matt Holliday in trying to make the future now in '09, but Lawrie makes the A's younger, and the A's can still spend some money to compete in '15.
Yes, the A's are now likely taking a two-win penalty at third base. But if the thought of signing Chase Headley to play third base instead becomes possible (with Lawrie shifting to second), I think the upgrade at second offsets the downgrade from Donaldson to Headley at third into an overall even situation, and we'd be spending less money over the next four years while also bridging the gap to Daniel Robertson.