It wasn’t so long ago that the Oakland A’s approached the winter months in clear rebuilding mode. But as their standing in the American League West has improved, their mindset has justifiably changed.
They will return the core of a team that won 96 games in 2013, and they have the potential to compete for a third straight division title.
The A’s can, and should, focus their efforts this offseason on improving for the short-term, taking advantage of this window of opportunity and giving this current squad the best shot to finally advance past the A.L. Division Series. Therefore, don’t be surprised if general manager Billy Beane pulls off a stunner of a trade.
That runs counter to common wisdom, right? The A’s are good enough that they appear to require only some fine-tuning to get over the hump. But we should know by now to expect the unexpected from this front office. Assume they will zig, and they’ll probably zag.
Indications from within the organization are that no position players – at least those on the major league roster – are off-limits in trade talk. That includes mega-talented left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, Gold Glove right fielder Josh Reddick and others who we assume will be penciled into the Opening Day lineup.
Some would make no sense to trade. It seems highly unlikely that third baseman Josh Donaldson, for example, would be sent packing. He’s a terrific all-around player and makes very little money since he’s not even eligible for arbitration yet. He isn’t going anywhere.
And the A’s won’t mortgage their farm system just to land an impact player for 2014. They value player development too much (for good reason) to drain themselves of prospects.
But expect the A’s to leave no stone unturned.
ESPN’s Dave Cameron proposed earlier this month that the A’s should consider packaging Cespedes and sending him to Detroit in a deal that would bring reigning A.L. Cy Young winner Max Scherzer to Oakland.
Is there enough Hot Stove magic in the air for that blockbuster to happen? Probably not. Besides, the Tigers reportedly completed another blockbuster deal Wednesday, sending first baseman Prince Fielder to Texas for second baseman Ian Kinsler. That could free up enough money for Detroit to sign Scherzer to a long-term extension.
But it’s worth considering just how valuable of a trade chip Cespedes might be this winter, and whether the A’s would pull the trigger. He has two years left on his contract at $10.5 million per season. After that, he can become a free agent.
Certainly his power, speed and throwing arm could command a nice return. Is there a team out there that is enamored enough by his overall tools to make a play for him?
Just as important, would the A’s be willing to part with a player who they coveted enough to award a four-year $36 million contract after he defected from Cuba?
Cespedes’ rookie season of 2012 was fantastic. He hit .292 with 23 homers, 82 RBI and made a terrific transition to a new country and a new brand of competition. But given that debut, an objective observer would have to consider his 2013 campaign a disappointment offensively.
Cespedes improved his homer total by three and his 80 RBI were roughly the same. But his batting average fell 52 points to .240. His strikeouts climbed from 102 to 137 and he had trouble making adjustments, continuing to chase sliders that dove out of the strike zone.
It must be noted that Cespedes was one of the A’s best hitters in September, and he had some electrifying moments in the A.L.D.S. But durability also has been an issue, with injuries limiting Cespedes to 129 and 135 games, respectively, in his first two seasons.
Perhaps Cespedes be included in a package to acquire a top-of-the-rotation starter. Perhaps Oakland then could sign an impact hitter to make up for his void in the batting order.
The A’s typically don’t make moves simply to counter what their A.L. West rivals are doing, but the Rangers’ acquisition of Fielder certainly won’t discourage Beane from swinging an aggressive deal.
It’s all speculation right now. But it’s also rational speculation given this window of opportunity the A’s find themselves in, not to mention their track record for making our jaws drop this time of year.