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Oakland A's trades: A year too early or a year too late

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Looking at the A's strategy of selling high.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The A's are notorious for trading their best players. Billy Beane and the A's front office has long held and acted on the notion that trading a player a year too early is better than being a year too late. The reasoning for this strategy is obvious: the A's get considerable value from trades, more than other teams. Waiting too long can deplete the value of a trade chip. Are the A's right to be early rather than late?

Breaking it down

To dive into this, I looked at any established big leaguer the A's have traded in the past 5 seasons. I defined an established player as a) worth 2 bWAR or greater in the season previous to being traded or b) putting up consecutive 2 bWAR seasons within two years prior the the year of being traded. For example, Andrew Bailey was only worth .6 bWAR the season before being traded, but the two years prior to that he was worth over 3 bWAR.

I made an exception for Brad Ziegler as judging relievers by WAR isn't always the best practice.

As always, feel free to question any omissions or inclusions. The chart below should be pretty easy to understand. The number in parenthesis represents years of team control following the trade. I rounded up for midseason trades. Next bWAR indicates the player(s) bWAR in the season following the trade. Total bWAR is the cumulative bWAR provided by the player(s) for the duration of the original contract with the A's. For example, Brett Anderson put up 1.5 bWAR in 2015 but that number isn't included in the chart because it came after his original contract expired. Asterisks indicate a player who is still under the same contract he was at the time of the trade. The little carrot looking thing indicates a player who was traded prior to his contract expiring. The total bWAR numbers include the player's value even if it's on a different team: for example, Norris/Milone's numbers include their respective 2015 seasons with the Padres and Twins.

I omitted trades that I felt didn't fit. These include the likes of the Cespedes/Lester swap, which was a pure win now move and not an indictment on the A's valuation of Cespedes. Another similar trade is the Jaso to TBR trade.

Date of trade A's traded Next bWAR Total bWAR A's received Next bWAR Total bWAR
12/18/2014 Derek Norris (4)*
Seth Streich (p)
2.5 2.5 Jesse Hahn (6)*
RJ Alvarez (6)*
0.2 .2
12/9/2014 Jeff Samardzija (1) 0.2 0.2 Marcus Semien (6)*
Josh Phegley (6)*
Chris Bassitt (6)*
Rangel Ravelo (p)
5.5 5.5
12/8/2014 Brandon Moss (2)* -0.5 -0.5 Joey Wendle (p) N/A TBD
11/28/2014 Josh Donaldson (4)* 8.8 8.8 Kendall Graveman (6)*
Sean Nolin (6)*
Brett Lawrie (3)*^
Franklin Barreto (p)
2.9 2.9
12/11/2013 Jerry Blevins (2) -0.3 0 Billy Burns (6)* -0.1 2.7
12/10/2013 Brett Anderson (1) 0.9 0.9 Drew Pomeranz (5)*^ 1.5 1.9
11/16/2012 Tyson Ross (4)*
AJ Kirby-Jones (p)
1.3 6.7 Andy Parrino (∞)
Andrew Werner (p)
-0.9 -.6
1/16/2012 Guillermo Moscoso (6)
Josh Outman (4)
0 0 Seth Smith (2) 1.8 6.1
12/28/2011 Andrew Bailey (3) -0.6 -0.2 Josh Reddick (6)*
Raul Alcantara (p)
Miles Head (p)
5 15.4
12/22/2011 Gio Gonzalez (4)
Robert Giliam (p)
4.9 13 Derek Norris (6)*
Tommy Milone (6)*
Brad Peacock (p)^
A.J. Cole (p)^
1.1 12.5
12/9/2011 Trevor Cahill (3)
Craig Breslow (2)
3.4 2.6 Jarrod Parker (6)*
Ryan Cook (6)
3.9 5.7
7/31/2011 Brad Ziegler (3) 1.2 3.5 Brandon Allen (6)
Jordan Norberto (6)
1.1 1.0

Before I dive in, a few of the usual caveats. Judging a trade is nuanced  and fluid. It's subjective if a trade was a win or loss. For the more recent trades, be wary of reading into the WAR numbers. With only a season or two of information, the trade can still go either way.

The Wins

Shark for Semien, Phegley, Bassitt, and Ravelo

We all know about Sharkbait 2.0, one of few victories for the A's over the past year. The timing isn't quite as impressive as some trades we'll get into soon, as it was a foregone conclusion the A's would move Shark. Still, the A's were fortunate and/or smart to move Shark before the year as opposed to at the deadline. With his worst season as a starter, Shark's value plunged as the season wore on.

Jerry Blevins for Billy Burns

While Billy Burns is far from a sure thing, this trade is a perfect example of a year too early gone right. In spite of being fucking awesome, Jerry Blevins just didn't perform following the trade. The A's nailed the timing here and as a result may have found a long term answer in center.

Brett Anderson for Drew Pomeranz

If the Blevins/Burns swap was the Honda Civic of trades (effective, efficient, fast if you get the right model) the Anderson/Pom deal is the Ford Focus (technically gets the job done, bores me to tears). The A's came out on top in this move by virtue of an injury to Anderson I'd call fluky if it happened to anyone not named Brett Anderson, plus a solid 2014 campaign by Pom. Pom wasn't sexy in the weird, ascribed to athlete sense of the word, but his arm and youth helped bring back the A's 2016 starter at first base. Even if Alonso implodes in the AL, the Anderson/Pom swap was a win on multiple levels. Timing wise, the A's would have been better off trading Anderson earlier in his career, but their decision to do it before the year as opposed to at the deadline was the right one.

Guillermo Moscoso/Josh Outman for Seth Smith

I know finding pitchers who can succeed in the cold confines of Coors Field on Mt. Everest is a currently impossible task, but c'mon Rockies. What are you doing. Anyway, the A's sold high on Moscoso in acquiring Smith. Moscoso is (sadly) out of the Majors while Smith was a key contributor on two playoff teams. It was an easy call, but the A's picked the optimal time to sell high.

Andrew Bailey for Josh Reddick, Raul Alcantara, Miles Head

Baileys for Head and Reddick might sound like a great deal at a fraternity house, but it's an even better one for a big league baseball team. The A's former closer carried on the tradition of my favorite players of turning into pumpkins while Reddick was the A's most valuable position player on the 2012 squad. There's not a lot to write here other than this was an absolute steal and again shows the benefit of a year too early. A year later and Bailey is unlikely to net you more than a lottery ticket in return.

Trevor Cahill/Craig Breslow for Jarrod Parker/Ryan Cook

I know I already said this, but this is the ultimate goal in timing a trade. Cahill was a hot young commodity, and pretty well regarded in the baseball community too. Trading him looked like a win later move for the A's. In actuality, they earned more value in the following season than the supposed win-now portion of the move did. Cahill then proceeded to fall off a cliff. Even with Parker's arm problems and Cook's....arm problems, this move shows the value of a year too soon vs. a year too late. A year later and the A's are unlikely to receive anything in return for Cahill.

The Losses

Josh Donaldson for just kidding we're moving on

More on that later

Brad Ziegler for Brandon Allen/Jordan Norberto

Man, the A's have had a lot of awesome players. Brad Ziegler was just the man. Anyway, the A's traded Ziegler at the deadline in 2011 for Chuck Norris's twin, Brandon Allen, and most random steroid user of all time, Jordan Norberto. We know how volatile relievers can be, and the A's were likely trying to cash in on Ziegler's value before his sinker flattened out. That never happened, and Ziggy is still enjoying much deserved success in Arizona.

Gio Gonzalez/Robert Giliam for Derek Norris, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, and A.J. Cole

First off, did you know the A's traded a guy named Robert Giliam in this deal? Robert Gilliam sounds like a guy who writes books where the woman ALWAYS marries the younger handsome but rough around the edges trade worker. Anyway, both sides ended up with similar value in this trade but I'm inclined to call it a loss in the timing department. This piece is looking at the timing of a trade and while the return haul was very solid, the A's definitely could have kept Gio around longer and still traded him for a valuable package.

The too early to calls

Derek Norris/Seth Streitch for Jesse Hahn/RJ Alvarez

This one doesn't look good for the A's, but it's still far too soon to know. Norris and his previously questionable stamina held up well in his first season in San Diego. The Padres catcher/lumberjack was worth 2.5 bWAR in a solid but unspectacular season. On the flip side, RJ Alvarez was spectacular but in the worst possible way. Jesse Hahn's season was on the upswing before his elbow injury finished his year.

Brandon Moss for Joey Wendle

If you're looking for a nice piece of light reading, take a gander at the Moss trade thread with the knowledge that he was below replacement level in 2015. While the return for Moss was light, it seemed as the year progressed that it was the right move. Having a below replacement player on a roster you hope to contend with (hah) is definitely a bad thing. Moving Moss prior to such a bad year seems like an obviously good call, but the Indian's ability to flip Moss for a non-zero prospect puts that verdict on hold. Still, the A's apparently saw Moss's demise coming which is what this thought exercise is all about.

Ok, back to Donaldson

First, this piece isn't about Donaldson. Let's leave it that way. But there's no denying that Donaldson looks like the worst and most impactful failure of the year-too-soon plan. Even with this failure, I think the A's should keep their strategy.

Why? Many reasons. First, while the Donaldson trade is painful, it still could turn. It happened with Cahill, it's happened with an MVP.

But assuming he keeps up his MVP level, I'm still confident in the organization's decisions to move guys at their peak. They've done so at a high rate of success for years and with the inability to sign free agents combined with their less than perfect draft history, the A's have to maximize the value they have. Can you imagine if instead of Josh Reddick in right the A's had Andrew Bailey's injured arm? Or if the 2012 A's, a team that won the division by a single game had a worse Jarrod Parker and no Ryan Cook? Or worse, a year later they'd have one of the worst starters in the game as their #2.

One final note on this strategy: it helps mitigate risk. I know, return packages are never a "sure thing" but when you move a valuable piece for a package of commensurate worth, you often receive multiple pieces. The Gio trade might not have been a huge win, but the A's received four pieces in exchange for a pitcher. The odds of all four failing were much higher than a pitcher with a big curveball.

Final thoughts

The misses on the year too early strategy will always be painful, more so than a bad free agent signing or underwhelming draft pick. Overall, the A's have been very successful with this strategy and it has been an important factor of the recent playoff run. The A's uncanny ability to narrowly beat a player's dropoff should give you a glimmer of hope for their next unpredictable move.

Go A's.