In July Billy Beane looked at his current A's team, saw a chance to win a tough AL West, potentially to advance deep into the playoffs and perhaps even to the World Series. He felt that as good as Oakland's pitching was it was in need of another ace if the A's were going to stave off the hard-charging Angels and then go toe to toe with the likes of teams such as the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers.
I agree with Billy on the need to add an ace to the core of Kazmir and Gray in order to really position the team to take the division and be favorites to advance in each playoff round. We just perhaps disagree on the talent he ultimately chose to give up, and to get, in this quest. Follow me down another road, in an alternate universe, and see how it looks to you...
In July, when Beane wound up dealing Addison Russell, Dan Straily, and Billy McKinney to acquire Jeff Samardzija, the Arizona Diamondbacks were shopping Brandon McCarthy. The cost to acquire McCarthy turned out to be the young, soft-tossing finesse lefty SP Vidal Nuño. Sound familiar? Oakland had a slightly better version of Nuño in Tommy Milone, a 13-game winner in 2012, 12-game winner in 2013, in the midst of a solid 2014 season, and controllable through 2017 -- or 2018 if a rebuilding team stashed him at Triple-A for a bit like the A's/Twins have done.
I have to think the A's could have obtained McCarthy for Milone -- if not for him alone, then for Tommy and another prospect. Heck, if you want, go ahead and make that prospect McKinney: You think Vidal Nuño gets it done, yet Tommy Milone and Billy McKinney don't? As I argued prior to his being traded, McCarthy was a truly ideal A's target because he is legitimately at least a #3 SP and the A's have, in Jesse Chavez, the depth to cover for the possibility McCarthy landed on the DL.
By obtaining McCarthy, the A's would have been in position to jump into the fray for Jon Lester and call it a day. Lester and Gomes for Cespedes, knowing that for all of Cespedes' flash and name recognition his offensive production could be replaced by Gomes and Vogt, would have been one bold move, not two (Samardzija and then Lester), that were jarring, disruptive, but most importantly forced the A's to mortgage so much in order to deepen the front of their rotation.
Now in this scenario what would the A's have had, for July, August, September, and October?
Your July rotation, trying to keep pace with the torrid Angels, would have been:
Straily or Pomeranz
Your August and September rotation, trying to distance yourself from the Angels and win the AL West, would have been:
Straily or Pomeranz
... with Chavez in the bullpen to limit his innings. If McCarthy (or anyone) goes down, Chavez moves back into the rotation having rested his arm in the meantime.
Your October postseason rotation in 5-7 game series:
And of course the clincher: In this scenario the A's still have Addison Russell. While I could see dealing Russell for a true ace under contract through 2015, I was not okay with trading him for another #2 SP, which is how I view Samardzija. Nor would I have advocated moving Russell for a 3-month rental of an ace such as Lester.
Give me the above rotations and I think Oakland is still "the team to beat, by far" in the AL West and the team to beat in the post-season. And I think it was completely and totally doable. Heck, we know the Lester deal was, and we have a pretty clear indicator that the A's had the chip(s) to land McCarthy just dealing players they wound up trading in the flurry of trades they made.
Oh, what about acquiring Sam Fuld? Well, in my scenario you would still have Straily to offer -- but if it came down to it I would have been satisfied with calling up Shane Peterson until Coco Crisp was back, if that was the cost of keeping Russell and still procuring all the starting pitching quality, and depth, you needed.
This is, in my opinion, the route Beane should have gone given the availability of McCarthy, then Samardzija, then Lester, the cost to acquire each, and the slots they would fit into for Oakland. One ace, one more "big 4" addition, and no need to deal Russell.
Oh and if you want to get really fancy, come winter you can still knock on the Cubs' door inquiring about Samardzija. For only one season of his services, maybe the price is a tad lower, e.g., Daniel Robertson instead of Russell. Wouldn't that be the cherry on top of the sundae? Or perhaps you use the savings on Cespedes' 2015 contract and use them for another Kazmir-type signing. But as Beane says, you worry about 2015 when the 2014 season is over -- which for Oakland, could have been after the World Series, with Lester and McCarthy on their way out and Russell on his way up, if the A's had played it just a bit differently in July.