From 2000-2004, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito dominated the American League. During those five seasons, the Big 3 combined for six All-Star Appearances (2 Each) and a Cy Young Award (Zito 2002). Most teams, if they were lucky had one or two pitchers that could be considered aces, but the A's had three.
The combination of Mulder, Hudson and Zito led the A's to three division titles in 4 years. Unfortunately, due to their never ending financial struggles, the A's were unable to keep the trio together. Mulder and Hudson were flipped for prospects (one of which turned out to be future All-Star Danny Haren), and Zito took a hefty sum of money to move across the Bay.
Over the next few years, Billy Beane tried to assemble another "Big 3." He traded away fan favorites and All-Stars until he had collected three prospects by the names of Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez: the next Big 3.
In 2009, 2010 and 2011, the Big 3 showed glimpses of their potential, but they were all unable to dominate at the same time, as the previous Big 3 did so well. Cahill was an All-Star in 2010 while Gonzalez struggled. Gonzalez turned it around in 2011 and was one of the leagues best pitchers, but Cahill was unable to stay consistent and finished the year with an ERA over 4.00. Anderson has struggled with injuries throughout his career, his most recent requiring Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him for most of 2011 and a big chunk of 2012. This Big 3 appears to be breaking up.
Cahill was recently traded to Arizona, and Gonzalez's name has been floating around trade rumors all off-season. I'd imagine once Anderson becomes healthy, Beane won't hesitate to trade him away too. Overall, Beane's attempt at a second Big-3 was a bust. But over the past 3 seasons, he has quietly been assembling his third Big 3. His most recent acquisition being Jarrod Parker.
If all goes according to plan, Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray and Tyson Ross will dominate American League hitters for the next 5 or 6 seasons.
Parker was recently acquired from Arizona in exchange for Trevor Cahill. He has been considered Arizona’s top prospect since he was drafted 9th overall in 2007. The 23-year-old righty was drafted out of high school and is already considered major league ready. He missed the entire 2010 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but bounced back in 2011 and had a very good season, earning himself a September call-up.
He made one start in the bigs in 2011 and threw 5.2 scoreless innings. He is also a fairly good hitter, but we won’t be seeing a lot of that in the American League. In July, Keith Law had him ranked as the #19 prospect in baseball, higher than any Oakland prospect. Although Parker is considered Major League ready, it is still possible we won’t see him immediately in 2012. He will likely compete for the 5th rotation spot alongside Guillermo Moscoso and Tyson Ross.
The second member of the next Big 3 (not that they are in any particular order) is Sonny Gray. Sonny was drafted 18th overall by the A’s in 2011 out of Vanderbilt University. The 22-year-old right hander was one of the best pitchers in college baseball last season. After the draft, he was sent straight to Double-A Midland where he immediately found his groove and dominated. In 5 starts he posted an ERA of 0.45 with 18 Strikeouts in 20 innings.
Sonny will most likely start 2012 in Double-A but could end up in Sacramento soon if he continues the success he had in 2011. Due to the depth the A’s currently have at pitching, it is unlikely we will see Sonny in Oakland until 2013.
The third member of the newest Big 3 is Tyson Ross. The 6’6” righty was born and raised in the Bay Area, and played college ball at Cal Berkley. He has spent the last two seasons bouncing between Sacramento and Oakland. During his stints in Oakland, he has had some success in the bullpen, but has proven he is probably better suited to be a starter.
In 2011 he started 6 games and posted an ERA of 2.75. In 2012, he will probably be the 4th or 5th starter, depending on how well he performs in Spring Training competing alongside Jarrod Parker and Guillermo Moscoso. This will also depend on whether or not Gio Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy or any other starter is traded away.
It will probably be at least another season until we see the third installment of the Big 3 in full effect. Once Sonny Gray is big league ready, and Parker and Ross have secured their spots as full-time big leaguer's, American League hitters will undoubtedly have a tough time against these A’s righties. If the A’s decide to keep Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson for the long-run, the A’s could have a possible Big-five that would rival any pitching staff in baseball.