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How the Oakland A's used the trade deadline to rebuild

Three years of trades have established a strong new foundation.

Has it been worth it?
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s have spent the last three seasons as sellers, on account of being in the cellar. In each losing summer they traded away every one of their impending free agents, and in 2017 they even dealt some veterans who were still under contract.

All that stockpiling is starting to pay off, as the youth movement has begun in full force and the new roster is finishing the year strong. Now that we’re reaching the end of the liquidation portion of the rebuilding process, let’s look back and see what we got for our troubles.

First, the big table. This includes every meaningful midseason trade, plus a couple key offseason moves that felt relevant.

I’m starting in the summer of 2015, which means I’m not counting the deals for Josh Donaldson, et al, from the previous offseason. That’s because those were reloading moves meant to (unwisely) try to extend a shrinking competitive window, even though they did net one key young prospect in Franklin Barreto. Case in point: Other than Barreto, can we say with confidence that any of the players received in those deals will still be here after 2018? No, the true rebuild started that summer when the reload failed.

(Players in strikethrough are no longer with the A’s, and/or were subsequently flipped for whoever is listed below them. Players with asterisks** were already in MLB or were promoted immediately or close to it. Those in bold were Top 100-ish prospects when acquired, though at least one other reached that status later.)

Out Team In
UT Ben Zobrist KC LHP Sean Manaea
RHP Aaron Brooks**
UT Chris Coghlan**
→→UT Arismendy Alcantara
LHP Scott Kazmir HOU C Jacob Nottingham
OF Khris Davis**
RHP Daniel Mengden
RHP Tyler Clippard NYM RHP Casey Meisner
IF Brett Lawrie CHW RHP J.B. Wendelken
LHP Zack Erwin
OF Josh Reddick
LHP Rich Hill
LAD RHP Grant Holmes
RHP Frankie Montas

RHP Jharel Cotton
LHP Marc Rzepczynski WAS 2B Max Schrock
3B Danny Valencia SEA RHP Paul Blackburn
RHP Sonny Gray NYY OF Dustin Fowler
SS Jorge Mateo
RHP James Kaprielian
LHP Sean Doolittle
RHP Ryan Madson
WAS RHP Blake Treinen**
LHP Jesus Luzardo
3B Sheldon Neuse
1B Yonder Alonso SEA OF Boog Powell**
UT Adam Rosales ARI RHP Jeferson Mejia
OF Rajai Davis BOS OF Rafael Rincones

(Trades I did not include: Pomeranz-for-Alonso, which was a reloading move amid the rebuild; Chavez-for-Hendriks, for the same reason; Coco and O’Flaherty, who didn’t return anything notable; and Burns and Overton, who don’t fit the theme of veteran-for-prospect.)

There are 20 players to show for this section of the rebuild, covering a wide range of quality and relevancy. They came at the expense of 14 veterans, 6-9 of whom could be considered stars when dealt depending on your opinions of the relievers. Only five of the outgoing were more than half-season rentals, including only 1-3 of the stars. All they lost on top of their foregone free agents was a couple years each of Sonny and Doo, one year each of Madson and Valencia, and giving up on the chance of a Lawrie breakout (it never came and now he’s a free agent).

Here’s another way of looking at the return haul. I’ve arranged all 20 remaining acquisitions into a depth chart, split up by level and position. The players in bold are among the top 16 on my current prospect list, and I expect the same will be true on the upcoming Community Prospect List this winter. Notes: Montas graduated in 2017. Fowler is technically on the 60-day DL but will rejoin the 40-man roster in November, and I’ve listed him at Triple-A since he’s never been on Oakland’s 25-man squad.

A couple things jump out at me here. The first is how much of the current starting rotation came from these deadline deals; more on that in the next section.

The other thing I notice is just how well the farm system was bolstered even beyond the current youth movement. I arbitrarily cut off at the top 16 to include Neuse, but also to show that they’ve added both quality (3 of their top 5, all from Yankees trade) and quantity (7 of their top 16). And that’s not just because the landscape was otherwise barren — the top 10 also features the nationally ranked Barreto, a pair of premium draft picks (Puk, Beck), and an expensive international free agent (Lazarito). The whole system is ranked 6th by MLB Pipeline, thanks to these trades.

Let’s do a breakdown by level. (For pitchers, (S) for starter and (R) for reliever.)

MLB Oakland A’s

  • LHP Sean Manaea (S)
  • RHP Jharel Cotton (S)
  • RHP Daniel Mengden (S)
  • RHP Paul Blackburn (S)
  • RHP Blake Treinen (R)
  • OF Khris Davis
  • OF Boog Powell

That’s a full starting rotation, if you toss in Kendall Graveman as a holdover from the Donaldson reload trade (and Jesse Hahn from the Norris deal). In real life right now Blackburn is out injured, with homegrown rookie Daniel Gossett taking his place, but otherwise today’s rotation has been built through trades. (How they got here: Donaldson-Zobrist-Hill-Kazmir-Valencia)

Next up is the current closer in Treinen, though long-term he’d be best cast as a setup man. My favorite part of the Doo/Madson trade is that the A’s immediately replaced one of their lost arms with a younger, cheaper model, with enough salary savings to replace the other next year, all in addition to getting a couple quality prospects who are already excelling in the minors. That’s how you rebuild. Trading relievers to the Nats turned out great as usual.

Finally, the outfield. The A’s bailed on one of the top prospects they received in order to reload with Khrush, but even he was a buy-low move as a 28-year-old entering his fourth season — he’s blossomed just like you’d hope for from an unproven youngster. Who knows how long the 40-homer behemoth will be around on this constantly changing team (and/or playing LF rather than DH), but his departure doesn’t appear imminent so for the time being he’s our guy.

Toss in Powell and now two-thirds of the 2018 outfield is covered, after we spent so long worrying about that area of the roster. And if Powell doesn’t pan out long-term, then the next option is already waiting in Triple-A.

Also from post-2014 reload trades: RHP Kendall Graveman (S), C Josh Phegley, SS Marcus Semien

Triple-A Nashville Sounds

  • RHP Frankie Montas (S/R)
  • RHP J.B. Wendelken (R)
  • OF Dustin Fowler

That next outfield option is Fowler, one of the prizes of the Sonny trade. He starts back in line because of a major injury incurred last summer, but once he returns he could potentially overtake Boog in CF — or maybe even stand alongside him in RF, which would solve the entire outfield conundrum in These 3 Simple Moves. (How they got here: Kazmir-Alonso-Sonny)

The two pitchers are less exciting, to varying degrees. Montas had an awful MLB trial this year, and was only alright in Triple-A as well (bad ERA, solid FIP). He still has the triple-digit velocity, but some of the luster has worn off his stock and he seems more like a bonus spin than a reliable building block. As for Wendelken, you may have forgotten he existed after missing all year to Tommy John surgery (Oct. 2016), but perhaps the changeup specialist could be back in the middle relief picture next year.

Also from post-2014 reload trades: RHP Jesse Hahn (S), RHP Chris Bassitt (R), 2B Joey Wendle, IF Franklin Barreto (Wendle and Barreto currently in MLB on September call-ups)

Double-A Midland RockHounds

  • RHP Grant Holmes (S)
  • RHP Casey Meisner (S)
  • 2B Max Schrock
  • SS Jorge Mateo
  • 3B Sheldon Neuse

Rounding out the upper minors is another wave of top-notch youngsters, fresh off yet another championship in the Double-A Texas League. Every one of these guys is either a Top 100 prospect or a sleeper who made real progress this year, and none have turned 23 yet.

The conversation begins with the middle infield. It’s possible the A’s 2018 DP combo could come from the 2014 reload trades, in the form of Barreto and Semien. But that isn’t set in stone, especially for ‘19 and beyond, and now there’s another dynamic duo right behind them getting fitted for championship rings — in Schrock’s case, his second for Midland.

The point isn’t to predict which of these guys will ultimately come out on top, but rather to show that there are stacks on stacks of good options to sort through. Ditto at 3B, where we can toss in Neuse as another infield bat that just won’t stop hitting. Remember for a moment that Matt Chapman has been injury-prone throughout his career, then immediately go back to your happy place while retaining the peace of mind that we have a powerful backup plan brewing.

How they got here: If the middle infield ever ends up as Schrock/Mateo, then we can choose whether to say they came from Rzep/Sonny (the current rebuild) or take it all the way up the trade tree and call it Mulder/Sonny (Rzep-Pomeranz-Anderson-Haren-Mulder).

Meanwhile, there’s more pitching to supplement the young rotation that’s already developing in Oakland. Holmes in particular is highly touted and could be getting ready to compete for a job in 2019. Meisner is more of a wild card, but he has promise as well.

Lower minors

  • RHP James Kaprielian (S) (injured, TJS)
  • LHP Zack Erwin (S) (Single-A)
  • LHP Jesus Luzardo (S) (Low-A)
  • RHP Jeferson Mejia (R) (Low-A)
  • OF Rafael Rincones (Rookie League)

Then there are the extra lotto tickets. Kaprielian has to come back from Tommy John surgery, and though Luzardo looks great after the same operation he’s still a teenager with an injury history who is several levels away from MLB. But both carry high ceilings if they can stay on the mound, and a rebuilding team without a big budget is wise to take as many bold gambles as possible on top-end talent.

The rest of the list is more on the level of spare parts, but every little bit helps. Erwin is a soft-tosser who could be fast-tracked if he’s truly healthy now; Mejia is a big reliever with the power to miss bats if he can ever find the plate; and Rincones is a nominal teenage flyer off to a solid start in the Dominican.


Of course, the trades aren’t solely responsible for the fruits of this rebuild. The A’s have also drafted reasonably well over the last several years, especially in terms of position players.

Their 2012 trio of 1st-round high school hitters has struck gold, though only 1B Matt Olson remains in Oakland, plus 2nd-round college selection C Bruce Maxwell (infielders Addison Russell and Daniel Robertson reached MLB elsewhere). Their 2013 class yielded UT Chad Pinder, DH Ryon Healy, and OF Jaycob Brugman, and they nailed their top two 2014 picks in 3B Matt Chapman and RHP Daniel Gossett. Right now that group looks like a couple of budding infield stars (the Matts) and some good role players to fill in whatever gaps come up.

The rest of the farm might be even better than all that. A couple of premium picks the last two years brought in elite pitcher A.J. Puk and teenage outfielder Austin Beck, and the minors are packed with more depth. There are high-end prospects like Shore, Murphy, Jefferies, Allen, Merrell, and Deichmann; and compelling sleepers like Ramirez, Blackwood, Howard, and Dunshee. The international market hasn’t brought much, but Munoz, Lazarito, and Ruiz are notable names, as is current September call-up DH Renato Nunez.

All told, we’re already thanking the 2012-14 drafts for up to five members of our fun new lineup — Olson, Chapman, Pinder, Maxwell, and Healy, plus a starting pitcher in Gossett. Maybe they won’t all be part of the permanent picture, but they’re here and (mostly) producing now. If that changes, there are clearly more homegrown names following close behind.

Tough decisions pay off

The A’s rebuild can be broken down like this: they drafted most of their new infield, and acquired most of their new outfield and pitching rotation through trades. Their remaining farm system, which is top-10 in baseball, was bolstered substantially via both avenues.

That’s a vague breakdown of a still-malleable situation, but it gets the point across. Oakland could not have built its next contender through the draft alone, and we already know they can’t do it by spending money or by counting on too many under-the-radar misfit toys to pan out simultaneously. Best yet, most of these trades cost only impending free agents who were leaving anyway, with two years of fragile Sonny being the one truly significant loss.

There are plenty of ways the process could have been optimized even further, mainly by committing to it a few months earlier when trading the Donaldson crew. But as things stand now, with the mission plan finally focused, all those July heartaches were not for nothing. A little bit of premature pain at each deadline has been rewarded with a huge chunk of what could and should be the next contending roster, and it’s turned a good farm system into a great one. Let’s give some credit to the front office, not only for making the necessary tough decisions in these losing years but also for making the most of them this time around.

Since I know it’ll come up in the comments, here’s my current Top 25 prospect list, which is still open for convincing in several spots: Barreto, Puk, Fowler, Mateo, Kaprielian (5), Beck, Armenteros, Luzardo, Holmes, Murphy (10), Allen, Schrock, Shore, Munoz, Ramirez (15), Neuse, Merrell, Deichmann, Nunez, Howard (20), Fillmyer, Dunshee, Boyd, Jefferies, Bailey.

Most notably, I’d listen to arguments for Puk at No. 1; Mateo at No. 3; or Luzardo at No. 6. Not sure you can convince me to push Ramirez any lower though. My biggest snub is probably Ruiz, who fell off my list after a year full of travel issues, injury, suspension for cheating, and terrible stats.