Beane Faces Difficult Deadline, Which Is Probably How He Likes It

Matthew NielsenContributor IJuly 23, 2009

LOS ANGELES - JUNE 18:   Matt Holliday #5 of the Oakland Athletics takes the field after striking out to end the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers on June 18, 2009 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The Dodgers won 3-2.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

It’s that time of year again for Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. It’s time to figure out how to keep the rebuilding express train (Beane’s trademark since taking the reigns of this small market franchise in 1998) on time and on track. Time to figure out how to turn aging stars, bargain bin acquisitions, and green prospects into…well, even more prospects.

Beane jovially plays the trade deadline game like some kind of Rubik’s Cube, mixing and matching players until his team is uniform.

And cheap.

With the first of many progressively more complicated trade deadlines approaching fast on July 31, the A’s front office has a somewhat simpler task than usual in 2009. The choice of whether to buy or sell was made for them early this season, as the green and gold fell to the bottom of the AL West standings faster than a certain British ocean liner. They’ve remained there, now resting comfortably 15 games behind the Angels. Instead of the panicked vacillating that many teams such as the Mariners, Brewers, and Mets will be doing, the A’s have only one option.

Get younger, again.

Still, the A’s role as sellers isn’t as black-and-white as you’d think. The A’s recently dealt for Scott Hairston, spiriting the outfielder from one offensively anemic team to another, simply because they felt he fit in and would be solid insurance in the increasingly likely event that Matt Holliday was sent packing.

The fact remains, though, that if the A’s are to compete next year or the year after they need to get even younger, specifically in the infield.

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With a reservoir of young arms to fill the rotation and a deep bullpen, the A’s are set for a long time on the mound. Add to that an underrated catcher in 25-year-old Kurt Suzuki, and the battery is solid.

The A’s have Hairston signed for a couple more years, and he joins Ryan Sweeney (24) and Travis Buck (25) in a future outfield the A’s front office feels very comfortable with.

That leaves the infield, where 1B Jason Giambi has hit below .200 all year, 2B Mark Ellis again spent time on the disabled list, new SS Orlando Cabrera got off to a cold start, and 3B Eric Chavez is predictably out for the duration. Bobby Crosby has spent time at every base (and also hasn’t hit) and off-season pick-up Nomar Garciaparra has had his share of bodily issues. Only quarter-pole signee Adam Kennedy has played well in the dirt for Oakland in 2009.

With corner infielders Tommy Everidge (.414 OBP, .601 SLG at triple-A Sacramento) and Chris Carter, as well as up-the-middle guys Adrian Cardenas and Eric Patterson (.321 BA and 34 SB at triple-A) waiting in the wings, perhaps all the A’s have to do is make room.

This could mean dealing Cabrera, who’s heating up in time to impress opposing GMs, and Garciaparra before season’s end. In fact, the Twins and Braves have been in MLB-buzz:-News-and-notes-from-the-trade-market" target="_blank">talks to acquire Cabrera, who brings durability and consistency to a key position.

Other assets that the A’s can use include Justin Duchscherer, who’s scheduled to throw two innings at an A’s rookie-league game on July 27.

The two-time All-Star has been out all year after off-season elbow surgery and rehab-related back problems, but both the Yankees and Brewers are reportedly among several team sending scouts to check out his progress. He could be useful to many teams out of the bullpen or as a fifth starter down the stretch, assuming his recovery doesn’t face any further setbacks.

A’s fans also shouldn’t be surprised if Brad Ziegler, Russ Springer, or Michael Wuertz is dealt, as everyone needs bullpen help and the A’s are loaded in that area.

Obviously, the A’s prime bargaining chip is Holliday, who spurned Colorado’s multi-year offer in order to test next season’s free agent market. It hasn’t quite turned out how he or Billy Beane originally intended, however.

Beane acquired Holliday in the hope that either the slugger would help provide the A’s young pitching staff with some offensive support to lessen the hard knocks they were likely to encounter in their first full seasons (Beane acquired Giambi, Garciaparra and Cabrera for much the same reason), or that they would be able to deal Holliday for some serious prospects.

In the worst-case scenario, Beane would offer Holliday arbitration at the end of the year, which Holliday would refuse in order to get a bigger payday somewhere else, and the A’s would be compensated with draft picks.

Holliday’s motives were simpler. The former Rookie of the Year and three-time NL All-Star wanted to either be dealt to a contender at the deadline, giving him increased exposure before his free agency, or put up a stellar enough season that he could cash in in 2010 and beyond.

Unfortunately for both parties, Holliday has suffered through a power outage, at one point going more than a month in between home runs and producing overall numbers (.287, .379, .453) that, while still impressive, are much lower than the stats he posted in Coors Field and strikingly similar to his career numbers away from Colorado (.281, .351, .450). This has deservedly led to speculation that he was never as good as his numbers implied in the first place.

What this means for the A’s is that they may not be able to get top value for Holliday.

Settling for fewer or lower-graded prospects is not something Beane could have anticipated before the season began, but it could be even worse than that. If they can’t find a suitable buyer for Holliday and they are forced to offer him arbitration after the season, Holliday may be equally bound to accept, given the possibility that he would not get a fat payday on the open market. The A’s would then have to keep Holliday and could pay him in excess of $16 million next season.

While penciling in a player like Holliday every day would be helpful to the A’s on the field in 2010, it would so cripple their budget that the entire rebuilding project might go down the tube.

For A’s fans, that last paragraph was scary, but it’s just a nightmare scenario at this point. Fortunately, Holliday is still drumming up some interest around the league. Reports have the Cardinals, Braves, Red Sox, Giants, and any number of other teams in the hunt.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Cardinals are aware that in order to get Holliday, they would need to include former no. 1 pick Brett Wallace, an infielder for the triple-A Memphis Redbirds, who looks good except for a puzzling lack of power development.

The Giants have prospects to burn and can take on a long term deal. The A’s would likely ask for John Bowker or Brock Bond in a cross-bay deal.

The A’s and Braves have talked about a number of proposals, including one that would have sent Holliday and Cabrera to Atlanta for Yunel Escobar.

The Tigers have reportedly just Indians-considering-trading-ace-Lee-to-Rays" target="_blank">dropped out of the Holliday talks, but nothing is really dead until the deadlines pass.

In fact, there are still many teams that could make a move for Holliday, from the Mariners to the Reds. Beane will be busy in the coming days, attempting to determine how much he can squeeze out of his peers and whether he can afford to risk not dealing Holliday. Luckily, he’ll have plenty of time now that he doesn't have to worry about consulting on the “Moneyball” movie.

I think we can all be grateful for that.