A week from Friday marks a sad remembrance for A’s fans, the one-year anniversary of when their lively and winning team turned into a loser.
They’ll mourn July 31, 2014, as the beginning of the end of Oakland’s most recent fun run, the day general manager Billy Beane traded popular outfielder Yoenis Cespedes for Boston pitcher Jon Lester. The deal was supposed to make the team a World Series contender. Instead, it was the beginning of the end of the A’s as we knew them.
Few A’s followers will forget that even though Lester pitched decently enough in the second half last year, the departure of Cespedes created a problem on offense. The A’s were shut out seven times in the 55 games after Cespedes left. They scored three or fewer runs in 34 of the 55. They went 66-41 before the trade and 22-33 after it. They barely qualified for a wild-card spot, and in the one-game playoff against Kansas City, they gave Lester a 7-3 lead in the eighth inning before he wore out and the Royals won a 9-8 thriller.
In the aftermath of the season turned to dust, Beane tortured A’s fans when he traded the team’s best player, third baseman Josh Donaldson. He dealt three other All-Stars in Derek Norris, Brandon Moss and Jeff Samardzija, among other player personnel decisions.
It’s a transient business. We have turnover here from time to time, so you move on and you deal with the group you have.
A’s manager Bob Melvin
When A’s fans switched on their mobile devices Wednesday morning to check the standings, they saw their team sitting last in the American League West with a record of 43-52. The 7-1 loss to Toronto on Tuesday night dropped the A’s 20 games under .500 (65-85) in their 150 regular-season contests since the Cespedes trade.
On Tuesday, nearly 20,000 people came to O.co Coliseum to see the beloved Donaldson standing in his familiar third-base area, even if it was in the colors of the Blue Jays. He no longer had the rattail haircut sneaking out beneath the back of his cap. But he still had the nice swing that can drive baseballs over the fence and into the gaps. Donaldson doubled to left and right to improve his batting average to .290 and his slugging percentage to .535. He’s hit 22 home runs and driven in 63 runs this year.
Donaldson thought the post-2014 A’s would retain their core and “keep it going” this year, he said. His thinking changed the day after Thanksgiving, when Beane traded him.
From the outside, he watched the rest of the demolition job.
“You kind of saw the dynamic of the way the team was going,” Donaldson said.
A’s manager Bob Melvin sure did. He recognized Donaldson as a talent who developed into one of the best players in baseball. Morale-wise, Melvin saw Donaldson as “a big personality in our clubhouse.” Now Josh is gone and the team is losing. Whatever it was Donaldson contributed to an atmosphere of winning has dissipated.
“It’s a transient business,” Melvin said. “We have turnover here from time to time, so you move on and you deal with the group you have.”
An A’s spokesman cited baseball’s looming trade deadline for not making Beane available for an interview.
One of the guys the A’s got in the Donaldson deal took the mound Tuesday. Kendall Graveman had won three of his previous four starts. But the Jays roughed him up. Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Russell Martin hit 1,200 feet of home runs off him.
In the right-field seats, where the hardest-core A’s fans wave flags, beat drums and express belief in the abilities of Stephen Vogt, there still is a great sense of patience and understanding with the GM’s moves.
65-85 A’s record through Tuesday since the July 31, 2014, trade of Yoenis Cespedes to Boston
“I question him some days,” said Will MacNeil, 31, a hotel employee who lives in Hayward. “But I still trust him.”
Fans out there like Graveman and Brett Lawrie, the third baseman who came from Toronto in the Donaldson deal, as well as 19-year-old minor-league shortstop Franklin Barreto, who is hitting .298 with 12 homers in Stockton, although he’s committed 34 errors. They think the A’s got the better deal in the Samardzija trade with the White Sox that brought in shortstop Marcus Semien, starting pitcher Chris Bassitt and catcher Josh Phegley, who has hit six home runs in 127 at-bats and thrown out 38 percent of runners who try to steal on him. Jesse Hahn, the starter they obtained from San Diego for Norris, looked solid this year until he strained a flexor.
They like the post-2013 acquisition of center fielder Billy Burns, a Rookie of the Year candidate picked up from the Mets for relief pitcher Jerry Blevins, who has been on the disabled list since April 20.
They also won out in the John Jaso trade with Tampa Bay that brought in starting second baseman Ben Zobrist and minor leaguer Yunel Escobar, who they traded to Washington for relief pitcher Tyler Clippard, now the A’s closer by default.
They know that injuries to closer Sean Doolittle and outfielder Coco Crisp didn’t do them any good.
Still, there is some displeasure.
A row behind MacNeil, Gustav Davila, 28, a graduate student in video game design, shares the optimism the A’s soon “could be relevant again.” Yet Davila expressed frustration in not knowing how far the club could have gone had Beane hung onto Cespedes and Donaldson a little longer.
“It feels kind of empty right now,” Davila said.