Billy Beane was at it again on Friday, but in a role reversal, the A’s were not the team trading for prospects. Oakland enters play Sunday boasting both the best record and the highest scoring offense in the Majors. Their pitching isn’t too bad either, sporting an American League best 3.16 ERA. But there’s always room for improvement, and that pitching just got a whole lot better with the additions of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. By focusing solely on Samardzija’s 2-7 record, you would never know that the 29-year-old is enjoying his finest season to date, with a 2.83 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and almost a strikeout per inning through 17 starts. Being that this is his first ace-caliber season, it might be too soon to label him as a legitimate #1 starter, but he’s close. Speaking of career-best seasons, Hammel is in the midst of one of those, as he heads to Oakland with a 2.98 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. Still, considering his inconsistent track record, Hammel should be viewed more as a very good #4, and that’s exactly where he will slot in for the A’s, behind Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir and Samardzija.
Beane is clearly going for it this time, but the added appeal of Samardzija is that he’s actually signed through next season, so this isn’t simply a three-month rental. And that probably played a role in his willingness to give up top prospect Addison Russell. If the A’s are not in contention at this time next year, you can bet that Samardzija will be dealt for more prospects, kind of like what the club did in 2009 when they sent Matt Holliday, who they had acquired from the Rockies the previous season for a package headlined by Carlos Gonzalez, to the Cardinals for top prospect Brett Wallace. That didn’t work out too well, but there were other moves that worked out quite well for Beane, like the 2004 trade that brought Dan Haren to Oakland for Mark Mulder or the 2007 deal that shipped Haren to Arizona and made Car-Go a member of the A’s. I guess my point is that for Oakland, there will be more Addison Russells to cash in for “win now” guys. That’s just how they do things out there.
The team I root for operates in an entirely different way, and quite honestly, I’m getting tired of it. You see, the Yankees never seem to have any appealing prospects to either use as trade chips or even hold onto with the idea that lowering the average age of the 25-man roster is a good thing. Since the turn of the century, the number of Yankee prospects who made a significant contribution to the big league club isn’t even close to a double-digit number. You’ve got Robinson Cano, Chien-Ming Wang (remember him?), Melky Cabrera, Brett Gardner, David Robertson and to a lesser degree, Ivan Nova. I’d like to say that I’m forgetting some, but the sad truth is that I doubt it. As for the trade chip category, Austin Jackson and Ian Kennedy netted Curtis Granderson in a three-team deal that sort of worked out for all parties involved. But for the most part, the trades the Yankees make these days are of the salary dump variety, like the Alfonso Soriano deal last year or the Ichiro Suzuki trade the year before that. But what if the team trading the big-name player wants a young player with some degree of upside in return? Forget about it.
Instead, we’ll use the free agent market to upgrade our roster and continue to pay exorbitant prices for guys who are either at the tail end of their prime (Jacoby Ellsbury) or well past it (Carlos Beltran). The only problem is that the free agent period comes only once a year, and when you’re 43-43 on July 6th and need to do something to improve your squad, trades are really your best option. And when you don’t have any young pieces to attract a rebuilding team like the Cubs, you’re pretty much out of luck.
Maybe this will change soon. Maybe the days of the Yankee minor league system being a laughingstock will eventually come to an end. I do hear that they have some promising talent at the lower levels. Now that’s a refreshing thought. Life would be so much easier.
Just ask Billy Beane.