The only shocker is that the Josh Donaldson trade was a shocker. And how crazy is that? Who shouldn’t have seen this coming? After all these years of acquiring, developing, then trading away his best players, with finances always among the factors, Billy Beane swung for the fences midway into last season and traded the A’s right out of a division title.
He took the chance – a bold and mighty and uncharacteristic chance – that renting starter Jon Lester for a postseason push was worth the price of losing talented slugger Yoenis Cespedes, and additionally, that obtaining projected short-timers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel would cause amnesia regarding the organization’s long-prized shortstop prospect Addison Russell.
But this is December already, and it’s still hard to forget the finale. Instead of an American League West title, a pennant and a Bay Area World Series against the rich and famous across the water, Beane endured an ending that was as unpredictable as “Homeland.”
His once-soaring, overachieving players lost their collective swagger after the midseason moves. His platoon systems were exposed. In the wild-card game against the Kansas City Royals, the team that owned the best record in Major League Baseball at the All-Star break – and that was his team – melted faster than an iceberg in the California sun.
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Then, in the oddest of Octobers, the speedy, base-stealing, field-and-catch-every-ball, starting pitching-deprived Royals won the A.L. pennant. The up/down/up/down/up Giants advanced to their third World Series in five years with Matt Cain unavailable, with Tim Lincecum on Mars or some other planet, with Tim Hudson nursing a sore hip, with Jake Peavy praying his miraculously repaired shoulder held up, and with Madison Bumgarner yet to have scheduled his historic shopping spree – the one where he bought the cape, the tights, the flight plan, then busted out of the phone booth and became the real-life action figure who saved the Giants.
In the fast-paced ensuing weeks, humans even imitated animals. Elite third basemen became an endangered species on the West Coast. The difference is that Pablo Sandoval wanted to leave, and that the Giants of the recent past find creative means to patch their glaring holes and contend for titles. Three rings in five years. They have an identity. They tweak, they tinker, but they know who they are.
The A’s late-season flop left Beane – whose owners cry poor while padding their bank accounts and scheduling games in a poor excuse for a ballpark – debating two approaches. He could pursue quality position players and bolster a roster anchored by Donaldson and a pitching staff that features Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Samardzija, and he hopes, soon to be joined by the ailing Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin.
Or he could decide the A’s demise was caused by too many personnel flaws, that the once-bountiful minor-league system was stripped of talent, and that it was time to kickstart yet another of the now-familiar youth/stopgap drives and rebuilding efforts that spawned a movie and portrayed Beane as a genius at analyzing stats and keeping the A’s relevant – the ballpark and tight fiscal habits notwithstanding – more often than not.
Beane’s latest chess move, coupled with the recent acquisition of designated hitter-first basemen Billy Butler and Ike Davis, provides an obvious answer. Billy is back to being Billy. He drafts well, he trades for prospects and transforms them into stars, then dumps them and begins anew before they become too expensive. In this latest incarnation, Beane sent Donaldson, his All-Star third baseman and best player, to the Blue Jays for oft-injured third baseman Brett Lawrie, highly regarded teenage shortstop Franklin Barreto, and pitchers Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin.
“We wouldn’t have done it unless all four players were involved,” Beane said in a teleconference call Saturday. “All four fill a need.”
That list of needs is a lot longer than that, so based on his past, Beane presumably is merely throwing warmup pitches. Free agents Lester, shortstop Jed Lowrie and reliever Luke Gregerson are expected to sign elsewhere, and several teams are pursuing Samardzija.
As for the fans? Anyone thinking about them? This has been a tough week. Sandoval first, Donaldson next. Two premier, immensely popular third basemen gone within a matter of days. Endangered species, indeed.
Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.