The A’s will certainly not enter spring as contenders for the American League West crown, but rather as a young team looking to surprise a few people. Oakland’s front office, beginning with Lew Wolff and the ownership partners, has signaled to the team’s shrinking fan base that the team has no intentions capturing the division’s top spot. Still, the team, as I’ve already suggested, is aiming to remain at least somewhat competitive and watchable.
The team dismantled their starting rotation this offseason, beginning with the trade that sent Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for a slew of prospects. Billy Beane and the rest of his brain-trust followed up the Cahill deal by sending their 2011 All-Star, Gio Gonzalez, to the Washington Nationals for even more prospects.
The two trades serve as a painful reminder that the Athletics are far from being a playoff ready franchise. It also reminds the fans of Oakland that the team has no future in Oakland. These deals, along with the decision to trade young closer Andrew Bailey to the Boston Red Sox, while discouraging to the average fan at first glance, may prove to be extremely rewarding in a few years from now.
These deals are also figured to help ensure the A’s watchability this year, too. The A’s made out pretty well in a few of the deals mentioned above and the prospects acquired in the Cahill, Gonzalez, and Bailey trades have helped replenish what was considered a very thin and dried-up Oakland farm-system.
Oakland also dealt Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman to the Colorado Rockies in an attempt to upgrade their feeble offensive attack. The A’s acquired outfielder Seth Smith in the deal, who will get his shot at everyday playing time in Oakland’s crowded, yet wide open outfield this year.
The A’s also acquired veteran pitcher and former Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon this offseason. Colon, who is coming off a 8-10 season with the New York Yankees, will likely serve as a solid veteran presence in Oakland’s young rotation this year.
Oakland also made a recent splash with the signing of Cuban star outfielder, Yoenis Cespedes. The A’s signed the power-hitting outfielder to a four-year, $36 million deal. The deal took many people by surprise, but the A’s fans that are still looking forward to the 2012 season have even more incentive to make it out to the Coliseum this year.
Nonetheless, the decision to sign Cespedes is filled with a mixture of excitement and unexpectedness. It’s also a sign, subtle or not, that the Oakland, while not a playoff caliber team, still intends to carry its own weight in the revamped AL West, a division that now includes Albert Pujols.
Cespedes is the type of guy Oakland has failed to attract via free agency, so the signing does give the team some much needed punch on the offensive side of things. While he hasn’t played a single inning in the North American system, Cespedes still figures to be a good first-year starter for the Athletics.
Overall, the offseason has been rather interesting and uninteresting at the same time. One the one hand, the A’s remain committed to their youth-movement, while also exploring the depths of the market for older, cheaper veteran players past their prime. Some of the deals this offseason may not have made very much sense, but this offseason was not a complete disaster.
With that, let’s hand out the grades…
- Trevor Cahill/Craig Breslow Trade: The trade didn’t sit well with too many people, but the A’s ultimately made out O.K. in this deal with the Diamondbacks. The combination of Cahill-Breslow was enough to score a package deal that included top pitching prospect Jarrod Parker, right-hander Ryan Cook, and outfielder Colin Cowgill. Parker projects as a nice No.2 or No.3 guy, while Cook and Cowgill are just added bonuses to the deal. Grade: B
- Gio Gonzalez Trade: It wasn’t easy, but the A’s ended up parting ways with their 2011 All-Star, Gio Gonzalez this offseason. The 26-year old lefty won 31 games over his final two seasons with the Athletics and helped net the green-and-gold four top-notch prospects from the Nationals farm-system. This beefing up of the farm-system made plenty of sense for the A’s, a team far from contention and with the intentions of rebuilding for the future. Gonzalez should make the jump from the AL to the NL nicely for the Nationals, too. The A’s acquired Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, A.J. Cole, and Derek Norris in the deal. Cole, though, remains the most interesting piece of the trade. He’s got front-line potential and could find himself in Oakland’s starting rotation in a few years. Overall, Beane did a good job with this deal. Grade: A-
- Andrew Bailey/Ryan Sweeney Trade: Now this trade didn’t hold up as well as the two previous ones before it. The A’s, in my mind, at least, didn’t get a whole lot in return for Bailey and Sweeney. In the trade, Oakland received outfielder Josh Reddick (Sweeney Ver.2.0?), Miles Head, and Raul Alcantara. It wasn’t overwhelming like the Gonzalez deal, though, that is a little unfair, isn’t it? Bailey has had questions about his health, so I guess the A’s got what they could for the young closer. Still, wouldn’t it have more sense if the A’s held on to Bailey and waited until the trade-deadline, when, presumably, Bailey’s stock would be at an all-time high to trade him? If he produced like he has been in seasons past early on this year, it’s safe to assume many teams would be lining up for his services at the deadline. Grade: C+
- Sign Coco Crisp: The decision to bring back OF Coco Crisp angered some and pleased others. For me, I was on the fence on the whole decision to have Crisp return in 2012. The decision to bring him back at a cool $14 million, though, was bordering insanity. That’s a lot of money for the often frugal A’s, but I guess they had to spend some money in order to avoid rumblings from MLB and the union. Crisp is an entertaining and talented player, but is he worth $14 million Oakland signed him for? Probably not. Grade: C-
- Guillermo Moscoso/Josh Outman Trade: Kudos to Billy Beane for spotting the perfect time to flip Guillermo Moscoso. The A’s acquired outfielder Seth Smith in this deal that sent Moscoso and Outman to the Rockies. The A’s don’t have many resources, especially cash, but one thing they do have is plenty of pitching. That commodity was definitely at play here in this trade with Beane giving up two pitchers who will have to adjust to different elements of Coors Field this year. Smith, 29, adds another option to Bob Melvin’s growing list of outfielders. He hit .284/.347/.483 with 15 HR and 59 RBIs last year with Colorado, and could prove to be a solid option for Melvin given that he’s offered more playing time in ’12. He struggled against lefties last year, hitting just .217/.272/.304 against them last year, but Smith still represents an upgrade in Oakland’s weak offense. Grade: B
- Signing Bartolo Colon: This was another case of Billy Beane contradicting his youth movement. At 38, Colon is hardly the same pitcher that won the Cy Young Award a few years ago, but the thinking is that he’ll at least provide solid veteran leadership for a young starting rotation. He went 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in New York last year, providing the Bronx-Bombers with a valuable presence at the back-end of their starting rotation. He also posted a 7.4 K/9 rate, 2.2 BB/9 rate and a 2.9 WAR last year as well. Colon also posted an encouraging 3.83 FIP and a 3.57 xFIP, too. Not a front-page deal, but the Colon signing does make some sense. Grade: B-
- Signing Jonny Gomes: Yet another example of Beane searching the free agent market for cheap talent. The Crisp, Colon, and Gomes acquisitions sharply contrast the Cahill, Gonzalez, Bailey deals that added young talent to the organization. At 31, Gomes provides Melvin yet another option for his outfield in 2012. He hit left-handed pitching extremely well, while failing to hit righties. He could prove to be an exceptional option to platoon with either Reddick or Smith in one of the corner outfield spots when the team faces left-handed pitching. He hit .311/.407/.456 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 90 at-bats against lefties last year. At $1 million, Gomes may not fit the rebuilding phase currently underway in Oakland, but at least he’s not costing the team millions of dollars. Grade: C+
- Signing Yoenis Cespedes: Now, this is front-cover news. The signing of the Cespedes, 26, was a huge shocker to almost everyone in the baseball universe as the A’s were the last team on everyone’s mind as the landing spot for the Cuban star. Oakland at the last minute, though, prevailed as the winning bidders in the Cespedes sweepstakes. It’s definitely a huge risk for the penny-pinching A’s since at $36 million Cespedes isn’t exactly cheap. Still, the A’s, in my mind, needed to take the risk; they haven’t been able to land a bat like Cespedes’ via free agency in recent years. This was the only way, then, for the team to land a solid hitter for their offense. Conventional wisdom suggests that once Cespedes’ four-year deal is up that he’ll get lured away from Oakland by the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, but the A’s, if they get approval for a new stadium, might be able to entice Cespedes to remain with the team for the long haul. There’s definitely risk, but the reward that comes with Cespedes could be worth the risk. Grade: A-
Final Thoughts: The A’s enter the 2012 season with some low expectations, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re a major league organization. Their biggest goal, then, should be to compete this year despite their current plans to rebuild. The front office may have waived the white flag a few weeks ago, but as the Cespedes deal suggests, this organization is trying to build a winner that will be relevant in the baseball universe for years to come. It won’t be easy and there will surely be some up’s and down’s, but the A’s are heading in the right direction. Problems with execution destroyed Oakland’s previous attempts at rebuilding, but we all hope that Beane & Co. have learned from their prior mistakes. Consistency will be key for this latest attempt at rebuilding this franchise.
Offseason Grade: B