If you go back through the many contention and rebuilding cycles of the Beane/Forst A’s era, a clear pattern emerges. Even though each cycle is different, with the team in a different place organizationally and different players representing the “current core,” there has been somewhat of a constant.
No, I don’t mean that the A’s are on the verge of building a new stadium but not really. I mean that generally, Beane and Forst seek out “MLB ready” talent they hope can soon replace, more than adequately, the stud who is being shipped out of town. Sometimes it works like a charm, and other times it fails with an echoing thud.
I was, honestly, a bit stunned when in the span of less than a week Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder were dealt from a team that had won the division 4 years in a row. But there was much method to the madness, and in fact the A’s returned to the post-season just 2 seasons later and made their deepest run in 2006, advancing to an ALCS that had eluded them in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003.
In dealing Mulder the A’s got back Danny Haren, who was a “MLB ready starting pitcher”. Haren lived up to the hype, out-performing Mulder by a lot going forward and anchoring the 2005-2007 rotation. If the A’s could spin Sean Manaea or Chris Bassitt into a Danny Haren they would be in good shape indeed.
On the flip side, the starting pitcher Hudson’s trade yielded turned out to be a dud. It was Dan Meyer, whom fans often overlook was every bit as highly rated as Haren having thrived at A, AA, and AAA. 2.74, 2.87, 2.87, 2.87, 2.49, 2.79, 2.22: Those are Meyer’s ERAs at various stops in the minor leagues prior to the trade. Talk about a sure thing. Meyer got injured and the rest is history as he threw just 44 IP for Oakland, allowing 39 ER.
This was the fail-iest attempt to spin a couple good starting pitchers for younger equivalents. In July, despite being in shouting distance of 1st place, the A’s punted and dealt both Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, hoping to secure the next Haren.
The big disappointment was that Harden begat Sean Gallagher and Gallagher was supposed to be electric with his 95MPH and strong frame. Well, Gallagher’s fastball didn’t move much and the strong frame still broke. It was a “nice try, no cigar” deal that reinforces the uncertainly of younger talent. “The other guy,” Chad Gaudin, actually contributed more.
As for the Blanton deal, the only pitcher Oakland got back was Josh Outman who didn’t get enough of them. 19 year old Adrian Cardenas was one of those guys who scouts marveled “could fall out of bed and spray a line drive,” but it turned out he wasn’t nearly as good standing in a batter’s box.
You may or may not even remember Matt Murton or Shane Spencer, and Eric Patterson is best known for a nice running catch in the 9th inning of Dallas Braden’s perfect game. You probably do remember Josh Donaldson, though. A converted catcher, he was an example of a winning “lottery ticket” that salvaged the Harden deal and then some. So the A’s didn’t reload their rotation but they did wind up adding a cost-controlled star.
If at first you don’t succeed...Gallagher and Outman may have busted, but that didn’t deter Beane/Forst from repeating the plan. This time: success! Trevor Cahill was shipped to Arizona in a deal that brought back Jarrod Parker, and Parker was a factor in Oakland’s improbable rise to AL West champs in 2012. Also instrumental, as part of a 3-headed bullpen, was Ryan Cook, acquired in the same deal.
Meanwhile, it was goodbye Gio Gonzalez, hello....A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock, two hot prospects with “big time arms”. Both did pitch in the big leagues, and both did have moments of excelling in the bullpen for other teams, but neither pitched for the A’s and neither made it as a starting pitcher.
On the other hand, the deal turned out ok for the A’s as they did get a very serviceable back-of-the-rotation contribution from Tommy Milone and a solid starting catcher in Derek Norris.
If trading veteran pitchers for talented young pitchers is a “coin flip” then it’s no particular shock when a success is followed by a fail. In the 2013 off-season Oakland tried to spin Brett Anderson into Drew Pomeranz, but instead of getting a #5 overall pick with a plus fastball and knee-buckling curve, the A’s got a slow-working, chair punching, failed SP who would go on to thrive some in the bullpen for other teams.
Success is back! In one of the best trades the A’s have made lately, Jeff Samardzija was sent to the White Sox in a deal that brought back not only Marcus Semien, but also current ace and trade bait Chris Bassitt.
Similar to the Mulder deal, not only did the A’s get a younger and cheaper SP but the big name veteran they traded fell apart with his new team. Samardzija posted a ghastly 4.96 ERA for Chicago and led the league with 228 hits allowed, including a league high 29 HRs.
Though Josh Reddick was certainly an equal center-piece, at the 2016 deadline the A’s leveraged the value of SP Rich Hill to bring back considerable young pitching talent. In this trade alone came “MLB ready” studs and duds in Frankie Montas and Jharel Cotton. Montas couldn’t the ball in the park as a 2-pitch reliever but has blossomed into an ace SP with the addition of his splitter. Cotton couldn’t keep the ball in the park, period, and boasts a 4.71 career ERA hampered by 34 HRs in just 189 IP. Even though the lottery ticket, Grant Holmes, is well on his way to being a bust, this trade worked out well for the A’s solely due to Montas.
These are trades in which an established excellent SP was dealt in a trade that brought back at least one young major league ready SP with high upside (though Josh Outman might be a stretch, but at the same time so is calling Blanton “excellent” instead of just “solid”).
I didn’t include the Haren trade to Arizona because the high upside talent came from position players (Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Carter) while the SP return came in the form of more “back end guys” (Greg Smith, Dana Eveland). Similarly, the acquisitions of Gio Gonzalez and Sean Manaea came from trading position players (Nick Swisher, Ben Zobrist).
But the pattern of trading coveted veteran SPs and getting high upside MLB ready young SPs in return has endured many times over the 21 years since Hudson and Mulder threw their last pitches for Oakland.
Haren (yay!), Meyer (boo!), Gallagher (boo!), Outman (boo!), Parker (yay!), Cole (boo!), Pomeranz (boo!), Bassitt (yay!), Peacock (hey, at least you got us Jed Lowrie), Montas (yay!), Cotton (boo!)...
You can maybe expect a couple of those types of talent if the A’s deal from Montas, Manaea, and Bassitt this off-season. And how soon the A’s return to contention depends a lot on whether or not Oakland hits on these coin flips.
Haren and Parker? Or Gallagher and Pomeranz? Fingers crossed.