It’s become something of a daily ritual. I reluctantly get out of bed after my alarm has rudely awakened me, stumble into the shower, get dressed, fix myself some breakfast and then sit down in front of my PC to learn which player(s) the A’s have traded while I’ve been asleep.
On Thursday, Joe Blanton joined Danny Haren, Nick Swisher, Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin on the list of ‘recently traded A’s’. To say it was expected would be an understatement. Rumours of Blanton’s impending departure have been swirling for eighteen months or so and with Oakland’s Front Office making it clear that they are looking to the future, it was very unlikely that ‘Country Joe’ would still be in an A’s uniform by August. Many articles have been devoted to assessing Blanton’s performances to date (generally not that favourable), but as an A’s fan it’s my prerogative to be a little less subjective. Joe has been one of my favourites over the last couple of seasons, primarily because of his classic baseball pitcher’s appearance. Straight out of the ‘Jumbo’ David Wells school, Blanton doesn’t fit the stereotype of a professional athlete. With his appearance and modest demeanour, he’s the sort of player you want to see do well and while his new hitters paradise of a home ballpark could be disastrous for him, I really hope he defies the odds and has success in Philadelphia.
Still, I fully understand what GM Billy Beane is doing in making this trade and it’s probable that Blanton won’t be the last player out of the door before the trading deadline. The Brewers are reportedly eyeing up closer Huston Street, while Justin Duchscherer’s value is unlikely to ever be as high as it is right now. Good pitching is always in demand and with teams looking to make that one final deal that could push them into the post-season, the A’s may well be about to cash in their chips.
Suffice to say, Oakland’s promising first half will remain just that: a nice surprise but one that won’t lead on to a battle with the Angels for the AL West crown. The A’s and their fans didn’t expect to be challenging this year and when you look at their roster (particularly the batting lineup), it’s easy to conclude that they have played above themselves so far. A quick glimpse downwards in their division to the Mariners will provide a strong lesson to any A’s fan about the dangers of fooling yourself into thinking that your team is better than it really is. If the M’s do trade Erik Bedard before the end of July, you can be certain that it will be for a lesser package than the one they gave up to obtain him just five months ago.
If (or should that be ‘when’?) Street and Duchscherer are traded, the A’s would be looking ahead to a 2009 roster including only two players (the oft-injured, and therefore currently untradeable, duo of Chavez and Crosby) making much more than $1m (possibly three depending on whether Alan Embree’s option is picked up or not). Everyone else will be either young talent or odds-and-sods they’ve picked up off the scrapheap. Contrast this lack of investment in the current MLB roster with the $4.25m signing bonus they’ve just given to sixteen year old Dominican pitcher Michel Inoa and the overall plan is pretty clear: the A’s are concentrating completely on the future.
It’s partly because of their unique situation that Oakland can do this. The Front Office is not under the level of constant scrutiny that teams within mass media markets are subjected to. With the fifth lowest average home attendance in 2007 (a record-breaking year for MLB as a whole), the A’s can also take a few liberties. They aren’t going to lose lots of fans with these moves because they don’t have lots of fans to begin with. Oakland are planning to relocate to a new stadium in Fremont in the near future and the focus is now on building a great team ready for when they move in.
Moving teams to new cities is one of the parts of North American sports that is difficult for British fans to accept. It’s an inevitable product of the franchise system though. Of course, it’s much easier for me to say that as an A’s fan in Britain than it would be if I lived in Oakland and was facing the prospect of my team leaving my home town. I can’t imagine what that must feel like. At least Fremont isn’t a million miles away.
What I do like about the A’s current direction is that they are being decisive. So many teams are happy to toddle along, paying lip service to their fans and the media about putting a contender on the field. Oakland’s Front Office has been absolutely honest in stating that they are rebuilding. Most, if not all, fans would prefer a few bad years followed by some very good years, rather than an endless procession of mediocrity. This roster, even before the off-season trades, was only going to scrape into the play-offs at best. Instead of settling for that, the A’s have started a project which will hopefully turn a mediocre team into a great team several years down the line. I’ll settle for that.
You couldn’t do this in a British sporting league because the risk of relegation doesn’t allow it. The A’s are exploiting the system, picking up dollars via revenue sharing, pooling a large crop of prospects and investing their money in draft picks and international young talent. It’s an extreme makeover of brutal proportions, but the end results should be well worth waiting for as an A’s fan.
Until then, I’ll keep logging on to Oakland’s website first thing each morning to find out who we have traded and to learn the names of our latest new signings.