No I will not rehash why each of the A's ballsy July trades were wise or unwise, because not only is it true that "what's done is done" but the merits of each deal have been micro-analyzed right down to Addison Russell's mitochondria. Let's not talk about whether or not they were the right trades to make; let's talk instead about whether or not they were consistent with how Billy Beane has approached wheeling and dealing in his A's tenure.
There is no "one way" Beane approaches the cat that is an A's season with the potato/cat peeler that is his ability to negotiate transactions. At the trade deadline Beane has brought in a true impact player, Jermaine Dye, and then extended him beyond his existing contract. He has also brought in an actual "rental player," Ray Durham, for a 2-month run into the playoffs. And he has pursued players, such as Hanley Ramirez, only to conclude that the asking price was too high and that the best trade was going to be the one he didn't make.
However, the A's do operate within certain basic philosophies of wheeling and dealing and this time around I think Beane continued to follow some of them while breaking from others. My take on where he stayed and where he strayed:
- Fearless. Beane has always been fearless. He is not looking to make the deal that will shelter him from criticism or second-guessing. His willingness to deal Addison Russell and Yoenis Cespedes, in moves he felt would improve the A's position even if they had potential to backfire in a big way, reflects a level of chutzpah most GMs simply do not have -- but which Beane has always had.
Perhaps it helps to be a part-owner, answerable to yourself as much as to others. Mostly, though, it just helps to be Billy Beane: a fearless gambler who knows what he thinks is right and is not afraid of being wrong.
- It's the pitching, stupid. Beane has always believed that if your starting pitching is good enough, you are always in a position to compete. When the A's have had "too much pitching but not enough hitting" he has gone out and added a starting pitcher. Three aces led the A's in the early 2000s and now four aces lead the A's to the 2014 finish line, whenever that may be.
Oakland had the league's best pitching stats heading into July's trading season, yet Beane pursued not one but two front-of-the-rotation SPs, and even parted with one of his middle of the order hitters, and that's consistent with how Beane tries to win divisions and tries to get deeper into the playoffs. Not surprising that in trying to improve his team Beane would conclude, "How about another really good starting pitcher?"
- We have to make this trade. On July 4th the trading deadline was still nearly four weeks away, but a bird was in the hand: The Cubs were willing to deal Jeff Samardzija to Oakland if the A's would part with Addison Russell and Billy McKinney as part of a package. The price of saying no was the risk that the A's might get shut out of of the starting pitcher market as the Rays and Red Sox hemmed and hawed about whether they would deal David Price and Jon Lester at all, as many teams engaged in conversations around fewer quality starting pitchers.
Beane has said that the moment you feel you have to make a trade, that's when you make a bad one. He has always maintained that you make a trade because it's the one you want to make, not because it's the one you feel you need to make.
Now perhaps the way the Samardzija deal went down, it was exactly the trade Beane wanted to make. But from where I'm sitting it appears that the A's compromised and included Russell in a deal for an "almost ace-ish" starting pitcher, partly because they felt they couldn't take the chance of getting shutout of the starting pitching market.
- Seduced by small sample. The A's usually trust the larger body of work over a small sample outlier. However, in acquiring Jason Hammel Oakland overlooked years of inconsistency and mediocrity and rolled the dice on a stellar half season Hammel had put together with the 2014 Cubs. What Hammel could do for the last place Cubs he has not been able to replicate -- to put it mildly -- in a pennant race with the A's.
Is Hammel the type of pitcher the A's usually acquire? No, actually, he's the type of pitcher they usually deal: someone whose shiny looking half season is the "one" of "these things that doesn't belong here" in a career of mediocrity. See Moscoso, Guillermo. See Saarloos, Kirk.
- It's the pitching, stupid. I was really surprised to see Tommy Milone demoted, then traded, from a team clearly concerned about its starting pitching depth. Granted it's apples and oranges when you're discussing Milone, or Jesse Chavez, or Dan Straily, and the likes of Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija and Jon Lester.
But Milone is the opposite of Hammel. He is better than he appears because while he will not wow the radar gun or the stat sheet, he is consistent. Anyone who characterizes Milone as a #5 SP needs to check out #5 SPs around the league. They aren't 12 game winners every year, yet Milone won 13 games his rookie season (then threw a gem in the playoffs), 12 games last season, and 6 games in half a season with the A's.
Durable (good for 180 IP), able to get deep into games giving your team a chance to win (to the tune of 12 wins/year like clockwork), cheap and under contract control for at least three more years, Milone was an ideal addition to the back of a rotation, whether as a #4 SP or as a "true luxury at #5" behind the new big four. Not just depth but quality -- the journey of Milone from "6-0 in his last 7 games" to "stashed at AAA" to "sent out of town" is contrary to the value the A's usually see -- where others fail to -- in an asset like Tommy Milone.
Here We Are
It may all work out just great. It may all crumble. That's baseball, and the last 39 games of the season are going to be intense. And hopefully there will more intense games to follow those. What I do think one can say now is that these July moves were, in some ways, vintage Billy Beane -- and in other ways they were departures from tenets once held dearly. The times they are ever a-changing.