Blockbuster deal puts A's in win-now mode
Beane has taken opportunity to make an exceptional team even better
This may be parity's finest hour.
The Oakland Athletics, in the Major League Baseball scheme of things a low-revenue, low-salary operation, are now favored to win it all in the American League.
This is good for them. This is good for baseball. This is good for America. Admittedly, it probably has no impact on the World Cup.
The A's have won two straight AL West titles and are in the driver's seat for a third. But up until last weekend, they were under-recognized.
You could still hear people talking about how the 2014 A's were "surprising." No. That was one thing they were not. They had the usual terrific pitching. They had the underrated but remarkably proficient offense. They had general manager Billy Beane in charge of putting together another top-shelf roster at bargain-basement rates. And they had Bob Melvin, one of the best and the brightest in the managerial profession.
By now, the surprise would have been if this Oakland club had been in any place other than first.
But the situational surprise, for some people at least, was that the A's went into a win-now mode with the acquisition of two more starting pitchers; Jeff Samardzija, who was at the top of a lot of clubs' wish lists, and Jason Hammel, who appeared to be a reliable Plan B for those many clubs seeking pitching.
This was a coup. This was a double victory: Two quality additions to an already impressive Oakland staff, and two quality pitchers that the competition wouldn't have.
The Athletics didn't have to spend zillions. They merely had to part with some serious young talent, including two No. 1 Draft choices; the rare and precious blue-chip shortstop and a left-handed hitter with power.
Again, there was shock in some quarters. This was not the classic "Moneyball" approach to development. Right. This just in, the A's haven't been a by-the-book "Moneyball" team for some time.
But more than that, you don't have to be the Yankees to get into a win-now frame of mind. The Oakland organization was in possession of a currency that can be more valuable than money in cases such as these -- young talent. The A's were at a point where spending some of that currency in an effort to seize the day, the time, the opportunity to win.
The one knock on the Oakland operation has been that, for all the years in which the A's have succeeded in the regular season, they have only advanced to the AL Championship Series once during the Beane administration.
It can be argued that the truest test of the worth of a baseball team is the 162-game season. The team that wins in the postseason may be the best team, but it may also be merely the hottest team in a particular October.
Either way, the Athletics just improved their chances of being the best regular-season club and then playing better than the competition in the postseason.
Some people have internalized the A's major move.
"Really, when I saw that trade, I thought that they made that trade for us," Detroit's Justin Verlander said. "No doubt about it in my mind. If they want to win a World Series, they're envisioning that they have to go through us, and even though it's been two fantastic series, it's been heartbreaking for them the last two years."
There is no doubt that the Tigers have eliminated the Athletics in two straight AL Division Series. Beane's response to the notion that this was a postseason move said exactly what needed to be said.
"I think it would be a bit arrogant and presumptuous to think this is a postseason move when we've got two teams behind us that are very, very good teams that aren't going to go away," said Beane. "Right now, we have a tremendous amount of respect for the talent that the Mariners and Angels have. Our priority is to win the division first, and then we'll worry about the postseason."
Isn't it enough that the A's have acted this boldly, at this time? Yes, it is.
They have taken the opportunity to make an exceptional team even better. This deal did not involve hundreds of millions of dollars, did not change the economic landscape one iota. But it still may be the biggest difference-maker of the season.
Good for the A's. Good for baseball.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.