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Revisiting the Oakland A's 2015 trade deadline moves

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Hey, Aaron, I'm afraid we're pulling you ... from the roster.
Hey, Aaron, I'm afraid we're pulling you ... from the roster.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland A's 2015 season was a disaster on the field, but the silver gold lining was that they salvaged future value at the trade deadline by swapping three impending free agents for five young players. The veterans had nothing left to offer the club before hitting the open market, except for potentially some draft pick compensation if they were issued qualifying offers, so their losses didn't have much of an effect at all. As a reminder, here's what those deals looked like:

A's trade A's receive
Ben Zobrist LHP Sean Manaea
RHP Aaron Brooks
Scott Kazmir C Jacob Nottingham
RHP Daniel Mengden
Tyler Clippard RHP Casey Meisner

This winter, three of those five players ranked as consensus top-10 prospects in Oakland's farm system, with another (Mengden) landing in the top-20 at worst. The fifth guy, Brooks, contributed at the MLB level last summer after his acquisition.

But these are the Oakland A's, and that means that no one is safe for long. Only seven months after that busy trade deadline, two of the five new guys have already been flipped in subsequent deals:

A's trade A's receive
Jacob Nottingham
(and Bubba Derby)
OF Khris Davis
Aaron Brooks OF Chris Coghlan

The A's want to compete every year, and according to my calendar, every year includes this year. So, while building from within is a critical aspect of any small-market team's contention strategy, there is also value to cashing in on a few prospects if it can meaningfully help the current MLB squad -- especially if those prospects are far from reaching the Majors (like Nottingham) or carry low ceilings (like Brooks).

Here's the thing, though. When it comes to making deadline deals, your best bet is to go after prospects, even if that's not really what you want out of the deal. The nature of the deadline is that contending teams want to add win-now talent to increase their chances in the current moment, so they are unlikely to send back win-now talent in the other direction (which is what bothered so many people about Oakland's Cespedes-for-Lester exchange). However, if you bank that maximum prospect value today, even if you're not trying to rebuild, then you might have the chance to turn it into the win-now talent you want when the time is right. Here's a new look at the results of the 2015 trade deadline:

A's trade A's receive
Ben Zobrist LHP Sean Manaea
OF Chris Coghlan
Scott Kazmir
(and Bubba Derby)
OF Khris Davis
RHP Daniel Mengden
Tyler Clippard RHP Casey Meisner

How does that look now? In return for two months of Zobrist, the A's got back a top-50 prospect in Manaea (who might reach MLB this year), as well as ... one year of a player described as a "Zobrist-type guy." Heck, although the 35-year-old Zobrist has a superior track record, it's not impossible that the 31-year-old Coghlan could match his production in 2016. You could argue that, in return for waving the white flag, the A's got an extra year of Zobrist while also adding one of the top MLB-ready pitching prospects in the game.

In return for two months of Kazmir (in which he made 13 barely league-average starts), the A's got back four years of an everyday left fielder who could hit 30 homers this year, plus a lotto ticket in the form of Mengden. Or, if you want to include Derby for full accuracy, then they upgraded from a sixth-round draft pick (Derby) to a fourth-round pick (Mengden) who is a full year ahead in development and has already held his own at High-A.

The Clippard trade remains unchanged, which is fine with me because I really like Meisner. Tall lanky ginger-blonde dudes gotta stick together, y'know. I haven't had this close of a doppleganger on the team since Bobby Kielty (and that comp was a stretch anyway), so please hang on to this guy, Mr. Forst.

The dust never truly settles in Oakland, but as things stand now, the A's turned a few fleeting months of unneeded veterans in a lost season into two potential members of the 2016 starting lineup, one pitcher who could be in the rotation by midseason, and two more quality pitching prospects who should reach Double-A this year. The trade deadline looked great at the time; now, after an offseason of tinkering, it looks absolutely phenomenal.