My favorite trade-day headline comes from the Bay Area Website McCoveychronicles.com:
“Giants do absolutely nothing at the trade deadline.”
“Dan Uggla still on the roster, though!”
OK, that was a little maudlin Giants humor, but wowie, zowie, what a day of trades.
The general theme is that Oakland, by acquiring Jon Lester from Boston, and Detroit, by nabbing David Price from Tampa Bay, are in an arms race, destined to meet in the ALCS, and that winner is a heavy favorite for the World Series title.
There’s more to these two trades, and that’s what made Thursday a big day in baseball and just might make or break the future of two franchises.
Conventional thought is that the A’s are going for broke, while the Red Sox are rebuilding, and that’s true to some extent. (Yoenis Cespedes is a great addition to the Sox, and Boston is able and will do some pitching shopping, including possibly resigning Lester, this winter. The Red Sox will return in 2015, especially with parity in the AL East.)
But Oakland’s really going for broke here, and it’s more than just trying to win the World Series in October.
We can talk Moneyball and envision Brad Pitt greeting Jon Lester at O.co Coliseum all we want. But the A’s are breaking with the concept of Moneyball — see lots of pitches, draw walks, find undervalued players — and joining the theory of “Pitching Wins Championships,” not only in acquiring Lester, but also pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel earlier in the month.
Moneyball, for all its merits during the regular season, doesn’t work in the postseason as the A’s have found in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2012 and 2013. Oakland is 1-7 in postseason series during this time. (The A’s won their lone series in 2006 against the Twins before getting dusted by the Tigers in the ALCS.)
It’s just that, come postseason, you face good pitching and you don’t get to work the count and draw walks. Take pitches against, say, Justin Verlander? Congrats, you’re in an 0-2 hole and guessing between the 95 mph-ish fastball or the deuce, and you’re done. Verlander has ended Oakland’s season in consecutive years in Game 5s that way.
Hence the break from Moneyball.
I have nothing against Billy Beane/Brad Pitt and the Moneyball concept and the stats trend, which has followed in baseball. The A’s have built a tremendous franchise — with a good minor-league system and a competitive big club — under unfavorable conditions.
The A’s are a small-market team, dwarfed by the San Francisco Giants. Yes, I’m Giants boy, but San Francisco dominates the print media, television ratings and, most importantly, attendance and stadium-generated revenue in the area. Facts are facts. Meanwhile, the Coliseum is a cesspool of an aging football stadium.
When I say cesspool, I mean it literally. The plumbing backs up.
The A’s are going all in to win the World Series, yes. They’re also going all in to get a new stadium.
Oakland’s sporting scene is in flux. The A’s, Raiders and Warriors are all looking for new facilities. The A’s have signed a 10-year lease with the Coliseum which has an out if the team can build a new stadium. Meanwhile, the Raiders’ lease expires in 2015, and in the subtle tradition of the Silver and Black, they want to bulldoze the Coliseum and build a football stadium there.
That, of course, really wouldn’t work for the A’s, so not only does the World Series mean rings for the Green and Gold, but leverage with the city of Oakland.
“Build us a new stadium or we’re moving to San Jose, if the Giants/MLB lets us, or we’re off to Montreal, San Antonio, etc.” (The Giants have “territorial rights” to San Jose, and either they must relent — very unlikely — or whoever’s the new commissioner of baseball will need to broker a deal to get the A’s to Silicon Valley.)
Think I’m joking? The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the A’s visited San Antonio before getting a lease, which they can still probably break. Mark Davis, Al’s son and the Raiders owner, also visited Spurs-ville within the past week.
The A’s are playing for keeps in 2014 and beyond.
Bye, bye, Trop
The Tigers plucked Price from the Rays in a three-way trade with the Tigers’ Austin Jackson going to Seattle and Drew Smyly, Nick Franklin and Willy Adames to the Rays. This gives Detroit some combination of Verlander, Max Scherzer, Price, Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez in a postseason rotation, and also cushions the blow when Scherzer bolts for free agency. (Last year’s Cy Young winner turned down six years and $140 million-ish during the offseason, so it’s not a huge assumption that he’s going elsewhere this winter — Boston? — while the Tigers lock down Price to a big deal.)
But before everyone declares the Tigers the ultimate winners of the deal, beware of the Rays.
Like the A’s, out of necessity, Tampa Bay is a model organization. How else do you explain that this franchise (24th in payroll, $81 million this year, an all-time high with Price up from $61 million last year) has competed with big boys like the Yankees (second, $209 million), the Red Sox (fifth, $154 million) Toronto (eighth, $128 million) and Baltimore (16th, $101 million) on a regular basis? Ironically, the Orioles — tsk, tsk, poor spenders — lead the AL East.
When the Rays dealt James Shields to the Royals, baseball experts claimed Kansas City got away with murder. That is, until Wil Myers was the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year and Jake Odorizzi has turned into a very good starter. Oh, yeah, the Rays were also toast when Carl Crawford left for Boston via free agency. This stuff isn’t coincidence.
Never judge a Rays transaction too quickly. (Although the Rays are getting ripped early and often for the Price deal.)
What we can judge is, like the A’s, the Rays need a new stadium, too. Tropicana Field is ugly and poorly located. Despite a good product on the field, the Rays can’t draw, and, thus, continue to offload prime talent, albeit efficiently.
Despite all the passion, the fact that baseball is a game played by grown men, and all this, at its core, is entertainment, never forget that it is a business first. In the interest of the integrity of the game, baseball has to fix these two situations.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, firstname.lastname@example.org and @cfreud.