I pondered a thought last night as the Oakland Athletics appeared to be poised to throw in the towel on Brett Lawrie and his "go-go-go style and off-the-charts intensity," would so many of us be so mad about last year's Josh Donaldson trade right now if the A's had just dealt Donaldson for five minor leaguers on Black Friday 2014, the black hole at third base be damned, and scuffled to a 68-win season anyway?
There were three other pieces to the Donaldson deal, as you well know. Shortstop or center fielder Franklin Barreto is the top prospect in Oakland's system, is ranked the #18 prospect on MLB.com's list and on a track for promotion in 2017, when he'll show up for spring training just barely allowed to buy a drink. Kendall Graveman joined Oakland's rotation right away and showed flashes of brilliance in just his second professional season; he turns 25 next year. Sean Nolin endured sports hernia surgery and has a big test ahead of him to see whether his fastball velocity can recover.
But Brett Lawrie, even if you can make an argument that he wasn't the most valuable piece of the Josh Donaldson trade, was the most visible, and that's why his tenure in Oakland and his quick trade away for a pair of minor leaguers raises such strong emotions. It is the most visible failure by the front office group that has been entrusted to steward the A's, even if on paper whoever won that Donaldson trade is still to be determined.
Beane and Forst have certainly had their share of misses, but the failures have either been hidden on the farm or come in dribs and drabs. For example, Eric Chavez's injuries were a roller coaster of hope followed by a return trip to the disabled list until he was gone. The players traded to get Matt Holliday and the players acquired when he was traded again had time to succeed quietly in Colorado and fail quietly in Oakland's minor league system, respectively.
But being confronted with Donaldson's MVP campaign as Brett Lawrie flailed away at the plate to 144 strikeouts was a powerful reminder of what was lost every day of the year, an incredible and visceral miss. And for Lawrie's tenure to end with the market value of the most visible piece acquired being two minor league pitchers, not particularly high up any prospect lists, raises grave doubts in the front office's abilities in even the most stalwart Billy Beane adherent.
Graveman, Nolin, Barreto, Wendelken, and Erwin could become grand successes, but Beane's bungle on Lawrie will stick in the minds of A's fans for a long time.