Billy Beane’s Top Three Worst Trades: Josh Donaldson Trade

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 15: Third basemen Josh Donaldson
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 15: Third basemen Josh Donaldson /

We’ve looked at Billy Beane‘s Top Three Best Trades, so now we’ll shift gears and look at Beane’s biggest blunders. We conclude our list with Beane’s biggest blunder of all-time: the Josh Donaldson trade.

Billy Beane is creative in a lot of ways. For the past 18 or so years, Beane’s responsibility has been to make the low-budget A’s relevant in baseball.

Despite the many challenges Oakland faces, Beane’s influence in the front office has remained largely positive. He has had plenty of success stories over the course of his career in the front office, including the trade that sent Rich Harden to the Cubs in 2008.

At the time of that deal, Beane’s trade with the Cubs looked one-sided. The A’s sent Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs for Sean Gallagher, Eric Patterson, Matt Murton and Josh Donaldson. 

All eyes were on Gallagher, who was widely regarded as the key piece in the deal for Oakland. The hype surrounding Gallagher, however, did not last long. His career in Oakland was short and forgettable.

Patterson and Murton were purely side-dishes that no one wanted. Donaldson, a catcher by trade, was the only salvageable piece in the Harden trade.

Donaldson did not emerge as the perennial All-Star he is today, but the A’s definitely struck gold by landing him in the deal. He proved to be a valuable piece during the team’s run in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Considering that Harden did not last long with the Cubs, snatching Donaldson was an absolute steal for Oakland. He became an instant fan favorite with the A’s fanbase and plenty of people around baseball thought of him as an MVP candidate.

Oakland Athletics
Oakland Athletics /

Oakland Athletics

Wild Card Meltdown Led to Change

Despite the popularity Donaldson attracted in Oakland, Beane completed a transaction with the Toronto Blue Jays after the A’s exited the playoffs in 2014.

Beane flipped Donaldson for a package from Toronto that included Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, Franklin Barreto and Brett Lawrie. Beane evaluated the team following their meltdown in the Wild Card round and decided a rebuilding effort needed to take place.

The trade, however, was more than shocking for both fans and analysts around baseball. Donaldson was Oakland’s best all-around player in ’13 and ’14 and was still controllable financially.

The A’s thought highly of Lawrie, who had been a top prospect with Toronto early in his career. They also had strong feelings towards Graveman and Nolin. Beane did not want to pull the trigger on the deal unless all four players were included.

Despite the large haul, the A’s lost big on this deal. Lawrie stayed relatively healthy during his one year stint with the A’s, but his intensity did not mesh well with his teammates.

Graveman has flashed great potential during his time in Oakland, but has yet to become a reliable frontline starter. Nolin, meanwhile, no longer plays for the A’s.

The only way the A’s could turn this deal around is if Barreto can prove to be a valuable piece of the future. He is widely regarded as the A’s top-prospect, but he has yet to produce on the big league level.

If Barreto proves to be a piece of Oakland’s future, then maybe this deal escapes the title of “Worst Billy Beane Trade.” If Barreto fails and flops, the Josh Donaldson trade may go down as one of the worst in baseball history.

Country Breakfast Sized Insult

Before Beane dealt Donaldson, the A’s signed Billy Butler to a three-year $30 million deal. That acquisition made no sense, either. What is most painful about the deal is the amount of cash the A’s willingly gave to Butler.

That money could have been invested elsewhere, mind you. In all, Beane fumbled the 2014-15 offseason pretty badly. To think the A’s could have spent that money on other players, still stings to this day.

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