The A's were not particularly active at the trading deadline this season. General manager Billy Beane's only move was the acquisition of catcher George Kottaras from the Milwaukee Brewers. Beane then dealt the under-performing incumbent catcher, Kurt Suzuki, to the Washington Nationals on Friday, after the non-waiver deadline had passed.
However, Beane's offseason was so outstanding that deadline activity was not a necessity to keep the A's in contention. Even if the A's fall short of the postseason this year, Beane should still be named Major League Baseball's Executive of the Year for what he accomplished this winter.
After five straight seasons of missing the postseason and finishing at .500 or worse, and with no solution in sight to their quest for a new ballpark, pundits were ready to pronounce the A's, and the Moneyball experiment, dead.
Four months into the season, the A's are only 4.5 games behind the mighty Texas Rangers in the American League West, and they have the lead in the AL Wild Card race. The A's have the second-lowest payroll in the game, yet at 57-48, they have the eighth-best record.
Beane showed that he still has the magic touch starting on December 9th, when he flipped Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow to Arizona for Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill and Ryan Cook. Parker leads all A's pitchers in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), while Cook made the All-Star team and has put up a 1.79 ERA as the A's most lethal weapon out of the bullpen.
Two weeks later, Beane dealt Gio Gonzalez to Washington for Tom Milone, Derek Norris, A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock. While Gonzalez has flourished in the nation's capitol, Milone has also pitched very well for the A's, giving them 11 quality starts, a 3.68 ERA and a 3.59 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Norris struggled in his first taste of the big leagues, but the catcher of the future has hit .271/.329/.477 for Triple-A Sacramento. Peacock has been hit hard at Sacramento, but Cole might ultimately be the prize of the deal. The 20-year-old has put up a 4.22 ERA in Single-A ball this season with an outstanding 4.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Beane's final deal before the calender turned to 2012 was to sell high on closer Andrew Bailey—dealing him and Ryan Sweeney to Boston for Josh Reddick, Miles Head and Raul Alcantar. Bailey has yet to throw a pitch for the Red Sox, and Sweeney is now out for the year.
Reddick was an All-Star snub despite hitting .262/.337/.519 with 23 home runs and 11 defensive runs saved so far this season. Head hit .341/.401/.621 with 21 home runs at High-A Stockton—earning a midseason promotion to Double-A—while Alcantar has struggled in Low-A ball (5.00 ERA).
After flipping Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey for the cheaper contracts of Milone, Parker, Cook and the prospects, Beane took the savings to the free-agent market where he re-signed Coco Crisp and picked up Jonny Gomes and Bartolo Colon.
Crisp has struggled with the bat, but he's provided the team with speed and defense from the top of the lineup. Gomes has hit .254/.379/.453 with 10 home runs while forming the right-handed portion of the DH platoon with Seth Smith. Smith, who was acquired in a trade with Colorado, has hit .237/.342/.424 with 11 home runs while splitting time at DH and in the outfield.
Colon, who signed for just $2 million, has put up a 3.55 ERA while leading A's starters with a 3.86 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The move that put the A's offseason over the top was the decision to sign Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year contract. The A's took a huge gamble on Cespedes by investing $36 million in a player that they had not been able to scout much because of how closed off the Cuban baseball league remains. However, it was their only chance to acquire a franchise player because a proven star would likely cost them over $100 million on the free-agent market.
Despite spending some time on the disabled list with a hand injury, Cespedes has turned out be the franchise player the A's needed—hitting .307/.368/.529 with 14 home runs in his outstanding rookie season. If not for Mike Trout, Cespedes would be the run-away Rookie of the Year in the American League.
Bud Selig's blue ribbon commission that was created four years ago to find a solution to the A's quest for a new ballpark continues to go nowhere, but in just one offseason, Billy Beane completely overhauled the direction of the franchise.
Though the A's were unable to shore up their weaknesses at the trading deadline, they remain in contention. More help is on the way in top pitching prospect Dan Straily and rehabbing starters Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson.
If the A's make the postseason, it will be the story of the year in Major League Baseball. Even if they don't, Billy Beane should be rewarded for his outstanding offseason with the Executive of the Year Award, and Moneyball II starring Brad Pitt should be coming to a theater near you as soon as possible.
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