The Five Best Deadline Swindles of the Moneyball Era
Well, the other shoe has finally dropped in Oakland. In a long-anticipated move, the Athletics sent Matt Holliday away to a contending NL team. That team turned out to be the St. Louis Cardinals. In return, the A's received a package of young players headlined by St. Louis's top prospect, Brett ("I Am the Walrus") Wallace.
The A's have been sellers at the deadline the last two seasons, and though the jury is still out on the future of the young players the A's acquired today, the "sell" trade position thus far has overall produced mixed results for Oaktown's ballclub.
Last season, the A's shipped Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin to the Cubs for SP Sean Gallagher (now gone as part of the Scott Hairston trade), OFs Matt Murton (gone as well) and Eric Patterson (back with the big league club now that Holliday is gone), and C Josh Donaldson (putting up a middling .270-.395-.423 line at Double-A Midland).
On the other hand, only nine days later during the same trade deadline, the A's traded Joe Blanton to the Phillies for a number of prospects topped by Josh Outman. This season, the younger Outman (4-1, 3.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) was "out"-pitching Blanton (6-4, 4.24 ERA, 1.33 WHIP) until he had to go on the DL after having Tommy John surgery.
But the pièces de résistance of deadline deals during the Moneyball Era, and the deals easier to judge in hindsight, are those that came when Billy Beane was aggressively buying pieces of the team that made the playoffs five out of seven years. Let's revisit some of those highlights in this slideshow.
5. Carlos Pena, Jeremy Bonderman, and Franklyn German to DET for Ted Lilly, John Ford Griffin and Jason Arnold (via NYY), 7/05/02
There aren't many trades where known names like Bonderman and Pena depart in return for washouts like Griffin and Arnold and the trade is considered a winner, but the reality is that Bonderman and Pena had worn out their welcome in Oakland and the feeling was mutual. Players don't usually play up to their potential in that situation.
The main piece of the trade for the A's, Ted Lilly, ended up being a solid mainstay of the rotation during the 2002 and 2003 campaigns. He won 12 games in 2003 and pitched a gem in Game 3 of the ALDS vs. the Boston Red Sox in Fenway (7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) in what should have clinched a series sweep and a ticket to the ALCS. Unfortunately, the A's offense, Miguel Tejada's brain and Eric Byrnes's temper let him down.
Beane negated whatever future value Lilly could have provided to the club (78 major league victories since leaving) when he traded him to the Blue Jays for the evil Ginger we humans call Bobby Kielty. It could be worse, I suppose. The A's could have held onto Jeff Weaver instead of flipping him to the Yankees.
4. Mark Teahen and Mike Wood to KC for Octavio Dotel (via HOU), 6/24/04
At the beginning of the 2004 season, Beane put his theory that the closer in baseball is superfluous into practice by shunning Keith Foulke and signing the cheaper Arthur Rhodes. Beane would soon see how colossal his mistake was as Rhodes blew five saves during the first few months of the season.
But let it never be said that Beane doesn't learn from his mistakes and isn't flexible enough to act on that information. As an afterthought to the blockbuster that sent Carlos Beltran to Houston, the A's acquired Octavio Dotel for prized prospects Mike Wood and Mark Teahen, who have both proven to not be much better than league average players since. Meanwhile, Dotel racked up 22 saves after coming over, helping the A's build up a four-game lead in the division at the beginning of September. Unfortunately, the A's lost that lead and their chance at the playoffs during the last series of the season against the Angels, but they wouldn't have even been in that position if they had stuck with the Rhodes/Matt Herges/Chad Bradford committee.
(Dotel would only get seven saves the next season after going under the knife in June 2005 with elbow problems. After that season, he signed with the Yankees.)
3. Jon Adkins to CWS for Ray Durham, 7/25/02
More than anything—even that book that Billy Beane wrote—this is probably the reason Ken Williams might not be the biggest fan of Oakland's general manager. The A's landed their best top-of-the order player since Rickey Henderson for Jon Adkins, a marginal prospect who proved it once he made it to the big leagues for a very marginal five-year career.
There was little doubt this was an out-and-out steal, the kind of trade that made you wish they had a committee to oversee these moves in baseball (trademark Gregg Popovich). People KNEW it was horrible even at the time. Baseball Prospectus's Gary Huckabay, who titled his article, "Kenny Williams, A's Fan," compared the Bagwell and Smoltz hornswoggles FAVORABLY to this trade. That's how bad it was.
Durham ended up being a rent-a-player during the A's 2002 postseason push, but he performed his role admirably and was integral to their success (including the MLB-record 20-win streak), scoring 43 runs in his 54 games in Oakland (that would be 129 runs calculated out over an entire 162-game season). He also went on to hit .333 and score seven runs during the A's five-game ALDS against the Minnesota Twins that year. And, even though nothing ever became of them, the A's got two picks in the 2003 Draft for losing Durham as a free agent.
For one marginal pitching prospect.
2. Billy Taylor to NYM for Jason Isringhausen and Greg McMichael, 7/31/99
It doesn't get more lopsided than this. This isn't a trade that was so much good for the A's as horrible for the other team (sorry, Mets fans).
Right at the cusp of the deadline, the Mets, looking for a veteran reliever, thought Taylor—the designated closer of the awful A's teams of the mid-1990s who had 100 career saves and a 3.98 ERA with the A's in 1999—would fit the bill perfectly. Unfortunately, his transition to the National League was not so smooth. He would have an 8.10 ERA with the Mets the rest of the way and was out of baseball by 2001.
Meanwhile, "Izzy" developed into the the kind of reliever the Mets thought they were acquiring. He had eight saves with the A's that season and would go on to have 33 in 2000 and 34 in 2001 before leaving for the Cardinals at the end of the 2001 season. Since that trade, Izzy has gotten 292 careers saves. Greg McMichael has none.
Moreover, while on paper this trade appears to be minor, especially considering that Izzy left the A's after 2001, it did a great deal in transforming the fortunes of the team. With Isringhausen as closer, and along with the emergence of the Big Three, the team became a perpetual AL West champion. (In addition, Isringhausen's departure helped the A's stock up on picks in what is considered the "Moneyball" draft of 2002.) The unofficial start of the Moneyball Era might very well have started on July 31, 1999.
1. Todd Belitz, Mario Encarnacion and Jose Ortiz to COL for Jermaine Dye (via KC), 7/25/01
Kansas City was a great benefactor to the A's in 2001, first allowing them to obtain Johnny Damon, Mark Ellis and Corey Lidle for some magic beans before the season and then giving up Dye—one of the drool-worthy young players at the time—for...some more magic beans at the deadline. In his 59 games with the A's after coming over in 2001, Dye had 61 RBI, a rate that puts him perilously close to Hack Wilson territory.
Unfortunately, Dye experienced careerus interruptus while in Oakland, breaking his leg in the 2001 postseason and then experiencing various ailments in 2003 that limited him to 65 games. Dye would go on to have two 20+ HR seasons with Oakland, but wouldn't make good on his early hype until getting to Chicago, putting up monstrous numbers in his time there (including a ridiculous 103R, 44HR, 120RBI, .315-.385-.622 stat line in 2006) and leading them to the 2005 World Series Championship.
Dye never lived up to that potential in Oakland, but he gave the A's a glimpse of having a legitimate five-tool player in the middle of their lineup. If only they had the money to re-sign him—or maybe if Ken Macha had pinch-hit with him instead of Adam Melhuse or Terrence Long at the end of the 2003 ALDS—this trade could have been all the more lop-sided in the A's favor.
Belitz, Encarnacion and Ortiz? They've logged an impressive eight consecutive seasons in the phonebook.
Are there other trades you could point to that demonstrate Billy Beane isn't the genius everyone says he is? Sure. That's nearly the slideshow I ended up putting together. But I'm an A's fan in 2009. So, I'll thank you now for allowing me to bathe in the warm glow of nostalgia before the cold water of reality is dumped back over my head.