You know those fireworks that go rat-a-tat-tat-rat-a-tat-tat and then go quiet for a few seconds before ... BOOM!!! The A's July 4th trade was kind of the opposite. Oakland went BOOM!!! in a deal that is bound to cause a rat-a-tat-tat series of related moves down the road.
For one thing, Oakland traded Addison Russell, the heir-apparent to Jed Lowrie knowing that Lowrie is the only key A's player due to hit free agency after the 2014 season. Compounding matters, the next viable shortstop in the A's minor league system is 20 year old Daniel Robertson, currently at single-A Stockton and 2-3 years away from big league consideration.
An easy solution, you say: Extend Lowrie beyond 2014! Exhaustive research has discovered that Lowrie has to agree to this and here's the problem: Lowrie has never had a big free agency payday and given his age he is unlikely to get two of them. Even if Lowrie likes playing in Oakland, playing for Bob Melvin, and playing for a winner, he is not really a likely candidate to consider giving the A's any sort of a "hometown discount" in lieu of reaping the benefits of free agency. To retain Lowrie Oakland would probably have to offer Jed what he could find on the open market.
There's a reason the A's generally avoid negotiations with coveted free agents. When rich teams bid against fiscally irresponsible teams, the player tends to be overpaid. So if it seems reasonable that Lowrie could command $9-10M per year as a free agent, it makes sense to presume that in reality there will be one team -- and that's all it takes -- prepared to offer $12-13M per year in a market where quality shortstops are rare and teams looking for a shortstop are many. If it seems prudent to offer only 2 years, figure that some team will offer 3-4. That's just the way the free agent market seems to work.
So if you're interested in seeing Oakland take the simplest way out of their impending shortstop dilemma, extending Lowrie while enjoying the services of Jason Hammel in 2014 and Jeff Samardzija in 2014-15, consider the possibility that what it would take to convince the 30 year old Lowrie to put off free agency into his mid-30s is an offer of 3 years/$39M or 4 years/$48M. Would you pull the trigger?
Now that's the rat but there are still potential a-tat-tats: other reverberations and ripples from the July 4th trade. If the A's do indeed get deep into the playoffs this year and/or next season, might their fortunes impact whether or not they solve 2016-18 with a move to keep Yoenis Cespedes or one to bring in another high profile international free agent or American star?
Remember that there are monetary gains for advancing deep into the post-season. Not only are there TV revenue shares, but there are revenue gains from the additional home dates that provide ticket sales, concession and souvenir sales. There is also a boost in season ticket sales. Surely the A's are not banking on winning the World Series in 2014 and 2015, but perhaps they have real hopes of getting to the World Series one year and at least getting to the ALCS another. Just that could yield around 14 sold-out home dates with "A's mania" to match. That's a lot of tickets, a lot of sodas, a lot of TV revenue, a lot of new season ticket holders.
I'm not asking whether you think the A's should, or will, try to sign Cespedes to an extension, or make a play for a Jason Heyward as a Cespedes-replacement free agent splash like you never see them make. Those moves might just be too pricey for the small market A's to consider no matter what. What I am asking, though, is whether part of the rebuilding/reloading plan for 2016 and beyond might be to gain enough extra revenue in 2014-15 to allow them to speed up the process. Perhaps even by offering "a little too much" to Lowrie as a way to immediately offset the loss of Russell.
One thing is for sure: Even when setting off a resounding BOOM, Billy Beane is never going to truly ignore the rat-a-tat-tat to follow. There's a plan. And like the rest of baseball, we're just left trying to guess what it might be.