Triple Play: Sizing up the trade bait


Welcome to Swingin’ A’s Triple Play where we field one subject and turn it into three possible outcomes. My gut feeling on how things may pan out is at the end of the post where you can cast your vote in the monthly poll and sound off in the comments section.

I should probably just be enjoying the first month of the A’s season which has included winning three out of four against the big-spending Angels to briefly reach .500 and second place in the AL West. Don’t get me wrong, I love all that. But even though it’s still only April I can’t resist kicking around which Athletic might be moved at the trade deadline since the A’s are in full rebuilding mode.

If owner Lew Wolff’s Can’t-Wait-To-Move-To-San-Jose A’s are building toward fielding a winning team around 2015 I’m ready to see the front office keep churning through the remaining tradable assets on the roster to strengthen the organization. Andrew Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, and Trevor Cahill may be long gone but general manager Billy Beane still has some warm bodies he can use to acquire more prospects.

You can either kick and scream at the notion of Beane sending player after player adrift into the trade winds or you can embrace it and see if you can find some entertainment value in anticipating the wheeler and dealer’s next move. I say let’s roll with the neverending reaping of the roster for younger players who’ll most likely be traded not too far down the road. Why not have some fun with the inevitable?

Now that we’ve had an opportunity to loosen up, let’s get on with this month’s Triple Play.

IN PLAY: What part of the roster will serve up the next trade chip for Billy Beane?

FIRST OUTCOME: The starting rotation (Brandon McCarthy and/or Bartolo Colon)

McCarthy was one of the steals of the 2010 offseason and through just a few starts in 2012 Colon is looking like a great under-the-radar acquisition by Beane. But since this is Oakland where turnover is a constant, we might as well get ready to say good-bye to one or both of them sooner than later. I’d love to see the A’s sign McCarthy to a multi-year contract and if Colon has a solid season it’d be nice to bring him back in 2013 on a reasonable deal but I don’t expect to see either man back in green and gold next year so why not speculate on their fate at the trade deadline?

Both men have had health problems which will reduce their value a little on the trade market and the fact that they’d strictly be a short-term rental will also cut into the potential return Beane could get for either man. But when the deadline rolls around almost everyone in contention is looking for pitching and the A’s could offer shoppers some interesting options.

Considering how badly Colon faded in the second half of 2011 I’d put my money on McCarthy as the most likely member of the starting rotation to be sent packing if Beane gets an offer he likes. Of course, he could always hold onto McCarthy and take the compensation draft pick if the funniest pitcher on Twitter leaves as a free agent this winter.

SECOND OUTCOME: The bullpen (Grant Balfour and/or Brian Fuentes)

Like I mentioned earlier, everyone is looking to fortify their pitching staff at the deadline and adding a reliever is always a cheap, easy way for a general manager to make it look like he’s doing something noteworthy in the heat of a pennant race. Every time Balfour nails down a save he helps cement his new status as a “proven closer” which increases his value both in the trade and free agent market when his contract expires after this season. Who wouldn’t want a fiery Australian reliever who’s consistently proven he can pitch under pressure both with the Rays as a setup man and with the A’s as a closer?

And Fuentes, for all his flaws, is left handed with a track record of closing out ballgames. Someone out there might be able to rationalize coughing up a low level prospect for a guy who, in theory, can shut down some tough left-handed sluggers in September and October.

I’m not sold on the idea of Fuentes building a lot of trade value over the next couple of months but I think Balfour could make for a halfway decent commodity for Beane to cash in when other general managers come calling later this summer.

THIRD OUTCOME: A position player (Coco Crisp, Kurt Suzuki or just about anyone else in green and gold with a bat in their hands)

Personally, I think Coco’s age, contract, and lengthy injury history make him a tough player to move. If Beane couldn’t get a decent trade offer for him in 2011 when Crisp was a year younger and only signed through the end of the season why would he suddenly have a lot of calls on a guy who’s older and signed through next season? If Beane can trade Crisp for anything of value I’ll tip my hat to the man.

I used to think Suzuki would be an attractive player for an opposing team but at this point his lifeless bat and the fact that there are actually a lot of decent to great catchers playing around the big leagues kind of sinks his trade value. Unless Suzuki starts swinging a hot bat I don’t see him generating a lot of interest at the deadline especially since he’s due to make about $15 million through next season. At this point I think he’ll share a similar fate to his predecessor Jason Kendall. The A’s may keep Suzuki around to stall Derek Norris’ arbitration clock in 2013/groom the A’s backstop of the future. At that point the A’s may eat some salary to trade Suzuki and hand the full-time job to Norris.

Aside from Crisp and Suzuki I think the only other tradable guys who may garner some interest from contending clubs are Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith as power bats off the bench. Those kinds of players don’t come at a very high price which makes Gomes and Smith relatively easy assets to move if Beane is interested in pulling the trigger on a deal.

If you really want to stretch you could say that Manny Ramirez is a potential trade chip but it’s too soon to tell if the old flake still has anything left to offer.

MY CALL: I’m going to roll the dice and say Balfour will be the next player shipped out of town. By the time the trade deadline rolls around Balfour should have enough saves to be a relatively hot commodity and the A’s may be so in love with Ryan Cook’s work in the eighth inning that they’ll be tempted to hand closing duties over to the young reliever.

The A’s could actually make for a nice one-stop-shopping destination for an ambitious team looking for a few complementary pieces to shore up its roster for a playoff run. If you want a starting pitcher for the back end of your rotation, a fresh arm for the bullpen, and a bat off the bench you could come calling for McCarthy, Balfour, and Smith without having to sacrifice a blue-chip prospect. Of course, that kind of unspectacular return may also be a good reason for Beane to hold onto some of his impending free agents depending on what kind of draft pick they may yield for the A’s if they sign elsewhere in the offseason.

In the end, I think Beane will make at least one or two deals to add a little more youth to the organization and open up playing time for some top prospects in Sacramento. You can’t stop this rebuild so you might as well enjoy rolling with the punches as familiar faces continue to pack their bags for new destinations.

What’s your call? Click on the poll below to cast your vote and feel free to jump into the comments section with your take on what part of the roster will serve up the next trade chip for Billy Beane.

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