Last year, the Milwaukee Brewers at the trade deadline were 55-50, a mere half game out of first place in the National League Central Division, and four games back from the Second NL Wild Card (with no other teams to leapfrog). In other words, they were in prime playoff position. To me, this was kind of a big deal, for a franchise that has been to the postseason all of three times in their history (since 1974!).
The issue with the Brewers was that their rotation consisted of guys like Matt Garza, Junior Guerra, Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson, Brent Suter, Brandon Woodruff and Zach Davies. They naturally wanted to upgrade their rotation. The A’s of course were well out of the playoff picture (in a year where 90% of the AL was in the Wild Card mix), and shopping Sonny Gray. Their pitching coach, Derek Johnson, coached Gray at Vanderbilt and by all accounts loved him.
If they gave Matt Garza’s starts the rest of the season to Sonny Gray, they likely could have punched their ticket to the playoffs. Instead, they ended up 1 game out of the Wild Card. In the offseason, they upgraded their rotation and two outfield spots with All-Star caliber players. They saved their assets, ostensibly because their “window” was just starting to open, and they were wary of mortgaging parts of their future for a playoff spot in 2017.
Fast forward to the 2018 All-Star Break, and the Brewers are a much better 55-43, however they are 2.5 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central, and in the top Wild Card spot by a scant game (with numerous contenders nipping at their heels).
The decision to say “I’m satisfied” with a 55-50 team is a head scratcher when you’re that close to postseason ball. For a fan base that has seen precious little of October baseball, it seems ridiculous to say with utter confidence, we can punt this year. Year-to-year things can change so dramatically. In 2017 Eric Sogard had the year of his life, and this year he just got DFA’d and released.
Luckily for A’s fans, Billy Beane and David Forst don’t see it like the Brew Crew. “The idea that we can sort of push off an opportunity because we think we’ll be better next year is just a bad approach from our standpoint, Beane said to Tim Kawakami of The Athletic. “We’ve got to do everything we can.”
In upgrading their bullpen, the A’s limited the amount of prospect talent they parted with in the offseason, by signing Yusmeiro Petit as a free agent, essentially paying cash for Ryan Buchter, and trading a buried-on-the-depth-chart Ryon Healy for Emilio Pagan. They upgraded the outfield by trading Gray at the deadline and trading for Stephen Piscotty with a pair of blocked (and flawed) prospects. They have a deep farm system but have an obvious weakness in their starting rotation.
A lot of A’s fans may be gun-shy given how the last “win now” trades worked out, but that is the inherent risk of trading, period. We as fans don’t hear about trades that were offered to the team, but rejected.
For example, what if the Brewers could have traded Domingo Santana as the centerpiece for a Sonny Gray trade (a plausible scenario)? They probably would have made the postseason in 2017 without meaningfully hurting their 2018 squad. The Cubs and Dodgers may not have been beatable, but the postseason is a crapshoot and you gotta get in to roll the dice.
I hate the Brewers primarily for their association with Bud Selig (the Selig statue is all kinds of disgusting), but I’d still like to see their fans get to enjoy the postseason. Teams like the A’s and the Brewers don’t have the luxury of assuming they can fix their problems or extend their competitive windows with money, so they need to strike while the iron is hot.
I hope the Brewers do make it this year, but they could have made it last year without hurting this year’s team, and I think it’s a shame they didn’t go for it.
This A’s team is doing something special, and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. It might be painful to part with talent in the minors, but the postseason is oh-so-sweet. There are only two competitors for the American League wild card this year, and one of them is the A’s. Now is not the time to be risk averse.