How Billy Beane Rebuilt the A’s


It’s never fun when your favorite team trades a big name player for prospects. It’s difficult to be patient and accept that it’s in the best interest of the team long-term. Sports fans demand immediate gratification, so it’s hard to stay positive when you know your favorite team probably won’t contend for 3-4 years.

A’s fans know this feeling all too well. After falling well short in the 2006 ALCS, Athletics’ GM Billy Beane probably saw the writing on the wall that the team just wasn’t that close to a championship, nor was it built to win for the immediate future. The following offseason saw the A’s lose slugger Frank Thomas and long-time ace Barry Zito in free agency. In 2007, the A’s won just 76 games. The rebuild had begun.

One bright spot of the 2007 season was the emergence of Dan Haren. With Zito’s departure, the A’s needed someone to step up and fill the vacancy Zito left atop the rotation. Haren did exactly that. He posted career highs in wins (15), strikeouts (192), and ERA (3.07) while starting the All-Star game for the American League in the process.

Beane undoubtedly saw that Haren’s value would never be higher, but more importantly he saw that the rest of the team was in shambles. There was no reason to have one elite player on a team that would struggle to finish .500. On December 14, 2007, the first domino fell. Beane traded Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a package of prospects headlined by Carlos González, Brett Anderson, and Chris Carter. Anderson was a valuable member of the A’s rotation when healthy. He was flipped for Drew Pomeranz, who provided stability to the backend of the A’s rotation early this season and may possibly see time there again this year. Carter was used as the prize of a package that acquired current A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie in February 2013. Lowrie has been an integral part of the Athletics ever since. Unfortunately, Beane didn’t hold on to González, but turning Haren into Pomeranz and (part of) Lowrie was a great move.

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Nearly three weeks later, Beane broke the hearts of A’s fans everywhere when he sent fan favorite Nick Swisher to the Chicago White Sox for a package headlined by Gio González. González and then-teammate Trevor Cahill became a devastating duo atop the A’s rotation in 2010 and 2011. Cahill was an All-Star in 2010, and González was an All-Star in 2011. González posted career highs in wins (16), strikeouts (197), and ERA (3.12) that season, but Beane, as with Haren, knew he needed to get what he could for him in a trade while his value was sky-high.

Following the 2011 season, González was dealt to the Washington Nationals for Derek Norris, Tommy Milone, Brad Peacock, and A.J. Cole. Norris is having a brilliant season for the A’s this year and was selected to the All-Star team to boot. Milone was a very serviceable fifth starter for the A’s before Beane got ace-happy and traded for Jeff Samardzija (yay!) and Jason Hammel (sigh..). Milone was ultimately sent to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for outfielder Sam Fuld, who has provided invaluable depth to the A’s outfield during a time when it was needed most. Peacock was the other major piece, in addition to Carter, that landed Lowrie in Oakland. Cole, along with two other minor leaguers, was sent to the Nationals in a three-team trade that sent John Jaso from the Seattle Mariners to the A’s. So to recap, Beane essentially turned one above-average hitter on a bad team into Norris, Fuld, Jaso, and (part of) Lowrie. I’ll take it.

Two weeks prior to González being traded, Cahill was sent to the Diamondbacks in exchange for Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook, and Collin Cowgill. Cook has become an elite reliever and was an All-Star in 2012, while Parker has been at the top of the A’s pitching staff since his first season as an Athletic in 2012. Unfortunately, he underwent a second Tommy John surgery this spring and will not pitch in 2014.

December 2011 was not a good month to be an A’s All-Star. On the 28th, the A’s traded their 3rd All-Star of the month in closer Andrew Bailey. Bailey was dealt to the Red Sox in exchange for Josh Reddick and two other minor leaguers. Reddick belted 32 home runs in 2012, and while his offense has dipped, he has been heating up as of late and is once again becoming an important member of the A’s offense. He’s also an elite defender and was a Gold Glove winner in 2012. Bailey has been replaced by even better closers, and the A’s have never looked back.

These trades were nice, but arguably the most important deal has yet to be discussed. Rich Harden had a lot of talent as a starter for the A’s, but he was oft-injured. He put together a decent start to the 2008 season, and the Chicago Cubs were in need of another starting pitcher. Just before the trade deadline, Beane worked his magic and struck a deal. The A’s landed five prospects in the trade, but four of them are no longer in the A’s organization. The fifth? Some guy named Josh Donaldson. The A’s all-around best player and WAR machine was the crown jewel of a deal that Beane won by a country mile.

The A’s five-year rebuilding effort took a lot of patience and would not have been successful without its mastermind of a general manager. Beane understood that there was no reason to keep around one or two All-Stars when the team would not have been competitive while they were under team control. In each case, Beane ended up receiving much more value than he was sending away. Ultimately, he traded four All-Stars and two more very good players scattered across noncompetitive teams in exchange for nine critical contributors to three very successful A’s teams since 2012. Beane did exactly what he hoped to do — exchange puzzle pieces that didn’t belong to a bigger picture for pieces that interlock cohesively and form a masterpiece.