SAN DIEGO – The A’s playbook does not include the punt.
That’s what Oakland general manager Billy Beane stressed Monday as the first day of the winter meetings wound down.
He insisted that even after Monday’s trade of first baseman Brandon Moss to Cleveland, which came on the heels of the Nov. 28 trade of fellow All-Star Josh Donaldson. He insisted it despite Monday night’s report from CBS Sports that another A’s All-Star, right-hander Jeff Samardzija, is headed to the Chicago White Sox. That deal could be announced Tuesday.
It’s a tough sell to A’s fans right now to say their team isn’t throwing in the towel on 2015, but that is Beane’s firm contention. The flurry of deals is aimed at getting younger and shedding payroll while at the same time keeping the A’s competitive in the American League West.
“That’s the balance we try and walk,” Beane said while addressing reporters inside a hotel suite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. “One thing we’ve never done since I’ve been here, and something I don’t anticipate we’ll ever do while I’m here, is where we just punt. We’ve never said, ‘Hey, we’re playing for 2018.’ We don’t wanna go out there and make the goal to lose as many games as we can. It’s just not part of our DNA.”
But there is a belief among the A’s brass that the A.L. West is going to be tougher top to bottom than last season, and that winning it will be a tall order. Hence, veteran stars are being shipped out at an alarming rate. Moss was sent to Cleveland in exchange for minor league second baseman Joe Wendle, a one-for-one swap that looks one-sided for the Tribe at first glance.
But the A’s have liked Wendle since he was a sixth-round pick of Cleveland’s out of Division II West Chester University in 2012. He was named the Indians’ top position player in their farm system in 2013 but he was sidelined by a broken hand for much of 2014. The A’s like the pop that Wendle shows in his left-handed swing. He’s likely to start next season at Triple-A Nashville but Beane didn’t rule him out as a big league option in 2015.
Beane knows fans are throwing their arms up in frustration. But he pointed out that he initiated the same cycle before the 2012 season (Oakland wound up winning the division) and also in 2008, when Donaldson arrived from the Cubs in a July trade that sent pitchers Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to Chicago.
“You sort of see when your opportunity is going to be there (to contend),” Beane said. “Therefore, we also have to take a step back and say when it’s also time … to be cognizant of our future and sort of get a little back as far as getting some younger players. When we think we’ve got a shot, we’re gonna do it, and we did. Now it’s also time to think about the next few years, not just about the next day.”
He says the A’s look to deal their top players, collect prospects needed to boost the farm system, and then try to re-invest some of that saved money into the current club. He pointed to that winter before the ’12 season, when Oakland traded pitchers Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey but later in the winter signed starter Bartolo Colon, re-signed center fielder Coco Crisp, traded for outfielder Seth Smith and signed Yoenis Cespedes as an international free agent.
As for Samardzija, he’s been at the center of trade speculation all offseason. The A’s added two pitchers in the Donaldson trade – Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin – and feel they’ve got enough rotation depth to compensate for the loss of the All-Star righty.
Yahoo Sports reported late Monday night that shortstop Marcus Semien, a 24-year-old Bay Area native, is part of the package coming back to Oakland from the White Sox. But neither team was expected to confirm details of the trade until Tuesday.
Semien is a .240 hitter in parts of the past two seasons with the Sox,. He’s considered versatile enough to play second and third as well, but the jury is out on whether he’s a true everyday big league shortstop. His power potential is part of his appeal. Semien hit 15 homers last season for Triple-A Charlotte and he’s homered eight times in 300 career at-bats in the majors.
He also fits the A’s criteria of a young player who comes with a cheap price tag and is salary-controllable for several years. If he’s not the ideal answer at shortstop, the A’s might be looking for him to keep the position warm until top prospect Daniel Robertson is ready. Robertson figures to begin next season at Double-A Midland.