For the A’s, Friday’s trade deadline passed quietly compared to the drama of last July 31, when their blockbuster deal for Jon Lester signaled they were going all in on the 2014 season.
As this year’s deadline approached, the A’s already had made their big moves, trading starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, closer Tyler Clippard and outfielder Ben Zobrist in three separate deals, all for prospects. Those trades made a different statement.
“The future was probably more in our focus than the current present,” general manager Billy Beane said.
In the immediate future, the A’s have two months of games left to play – nearly a third of their season. Friday’s deadline found the A’s tied for the American League’s worst record at 13 games under .500, last in the American League West, and with a fourth consecutive postseason appearance unlikely. Yet a sampling of the A’s clubhouse indicated current players are not yet ready to renounce their season.
“You’re kind of down on it, with the guys we lost, especially considering we were in a spot to kind of remodel but still win (in 2015),” right fielder Josh Reddick said Friday. “It just didn’t work out that way. We had the team to do it, and fate wasn’t on our side. We didn’t execute when we needed to.
“If (Beane) feels he wants to build for the future, that’s one way you’ve got to look at it. But every night, we’ve got to come in here with the idea still to win a ballgame. We’re not giving up, 100 percent. We’re never going to give up here in the clubhouse.”
For players who have been in Oakland in recent years, this is an unfamiliar position. The A’s last missed the postseason in 2011. Only second baseman Eric Sogard and outfielder Coco Crisp (currently on the disabled list) remain on the team from that season, and Bob Melvin took over as manager partway through that year.
“I can’t even remember what it was like not being in (a playoff race),” Sogard said. “Obviously, you want to be in it. But I think the young guys here are going to continue to come out and play every day. It’s a good opportunity for them. And I think we can still win some games and be a bit of a spoiler.”
With Kazmir traded and Jesse Hahn injured, the A’s are exploring options in the starting rotation. Chris Bassitt, who spent most of this season in Triple A, is getting an extended look in Oakland, and the A’s on Saturday night started prospect Aaron Brooks, acquired from Kansas City in the Zobrist trade.
It isn’t only rookies with something to prove. Crisp and closer Sean Doolittle have missed most of the season with injuries but likely will return – Crisp maybe as early as next week – and can use the remaining games to show they’re healthy and build toward more productive seasons in 2016.
“For me, I’m trying to get healthy and set myself up for being in the mix to possibly be the closer again next year,” Doolittle said. “We’ve got five or six outfielders on the roster right now; if those guys finish strong, they set themselves up for a good spot next season. You still have to go about your business, and that’s going to be the biggest challenge, is even though we’re out of it, going about your business in a professional way.”
For rookie outfielder Billy Burns, the departures of Kazmir and Zobrist hit especially hard. Burns said he and Zobrist grew close through team Bible study sessions that Zobrist led. Burns also credited Kazmir with giving him an influential pep talk shortly after being called up in early May.
Burns said after he made “some boneheaded mistake” in a game, Kazmir sat him down in the dugout and told him, “‘Hey man, nobody’s going to get mad at you if you make a mistake being aggressive – but people are going to get on you if you make a mistake being passive.’
“Just knowing his veteran status and the leadership quality he had,” Burns said, “hearing that from him was huge for me.”
Burns since has emerged as a Rookie of the Year candidate – albeit for a team that, by trading some of its key players, admitted it’s likely out of contention.
“This year being in the big leagues, it’s a whole new business that I’m not accustomed to,” Burns said. “I’m just trying to learn and listen to the older guys and stay positive.”
Veteran outfielder Sam Fuld said he believes the A’s clubhouse is “well-suited, in terms of how we get along in here and the atmosphere in here, to keep plugging.”
Ironically, it was at a clubhouse table near Fuld’s locker that Beane addressed reporters in the wake of the Kazmir trade, the symbolic beginning of Oakland’s fire sale, and said the A’s “had to be realistic where we are as a club” in shaping their deadline strategy.
“The way I look at that stuff, when we lose key guys and they’re saying, ‘We’re going to invest in the future,’ I feel like we forced them to do it,” catcher Josh Phegley said. “We win more games, we play a lot better, we don’t make them make those kinds of decisions.
“So it’s essentially, we failed. But there’s still a lot to play for. There’s still fans in the stands. I think the objective now is to play for the future, try to get better, show them that you want to be a part of this organization for years to come.”