If you had to vote which team had the most interesting offseason, some of you would probably vote for the Angels. It'd be an understandable pick. But signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson is almost trying too hard to be interesting. It's like the guy on the college campus who walks his ferret on a leash in the quad. We get it. Very interesting. What a fascinating individual that person must be.
The A's are a different kind of interesting. They're the guy at the end of the hall who lives in his bathrobe and carries a tattered journal that no one will ever read. Is it filled with the greatest poetry of our generation, or is it filled with threats against the government written in blood and feces? That's still interesting. Possibly crazy. Possibly a genius that we can't comprehend just yet! Probably crazy.
At one point in the offseason, the A's were clearly rebuilding. Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, and Trevor Cahill weren't going to be free agents for a long time; Gonzalez and Bailey were under contract through the 2014 season before his extension with the Nationals, and Cahill is under contract through 2015 with two team options after that.
Unless the A's were scared that one or both weren't going to stay healthy, there was no pressing reason to trade either. But if the A's figured that they weren't going to be good anytime soon, then it made some sense to trade the two in for all sorts of prospects and save some money.
So the A's made the trades. They got something close to an overwhelming return from the Nats and an interesting return from the Diamondbacks, depending on how enamored you are of Jarrod Parker. Fine, so the A's were rebuilding.
But it was like the orders to rebuild were given via crank call. Some punk teenager got Billy Beane's number, affected a low voice, and pretended to be owner Lew Wolff. Sell, sell, sell!, the punk teenager cried, covering the phone and and telling his friends to shut up. When everything was sorted out, it became clear that Wolff had all sorts of revenue-sharing that he was just dying to spend. I'm picturing the Gift of the Magi with a slide-trombone soundtrack.
In came Yoenis Cespedes. Back came Coco Crisp. And, what the heck, a couple of million for Bartolo Colon might work out for some reason. All told, the A's committed $52 million to those three free agents over the offseason. That's about what they would have had committed to Cahill and Gonzalez through 2014. So the A's didn't save money. They'll have Cespedes at least as long as they would have had Cahill, but they'll pay him more.
They just moved the money around for different players. Cespedes is the big strike, the short-term gamble with long-term ramifications. Crisp is the known quantity. Colon is an additional $1.5 million surcharge the A's will pay not to rush a prospect. There's a chance that with all three, they'll be just as well off in 2012 as they would have been with just Cahill and Gonzalez. Maybe they'll break even this year.
Which means that when the music stopped and it was time to sit down, the A's had a team that was still expected to finish third or fourth, they were spending the same money, but they had seven prospects under team control for six years after they made their debuts. Not a bad trick.
This all presupposes, though, that the combination of Cespedes/Crisp/Colon is going to be anywhere near as valuable in 2012 as would Cahill/Gonzalez/Crisp's replacement. There's a great chance that they won't be. For all of the hype and scouting goodness that Cespedes comes with, a low-average tweener glove with power in center field sure sounds a lot like Cody Ross. Either the power would have to show up right away, the contact concerns will have to be overblown, or the glove will have to be better than advertised to make Cespedes a success in 2012. Over the next four years, he might grow into superstardom. Expecting it in 2012 is a tad optimistic.
For all of the money the A's spent in the offseason, then, not a lot of it was meant for this season. Colon was, sure, and Crisp … well, I can't figure out why they re-signed Crisp. But the bulk of the money went to Cespedes. It's a risk to think that Cespedes plus Jarrod Parker, A.J. Cole, Brad Peacock, Derek Norris, Tom Milone, Ryan Cook, and Collin Cowgill will be more valuable than Cahill and Gonzalez in 2015, but when you stack all the names up like that, it makes you feel a little confident that it was all a good risk, especially when you figure that Jemile Weeks and Michael Choice should be entering their primes.
In the short term, though, the A's are probably worse. Crisp is a year older, Colon isn't going to match Gonzalez's 2011, it's possible but not likely that one of the prospects will match Cahill's season, and Cespedes would be a revelation if he repeated Josh Willingham's season. One of their better offensive performers last year, Scott Sizemore, is out for the year. And for 50 games the A's will get to play around with Brandon Allen, Chris Carter, and Daric Barton, and then two of them will give way for Manny Ramirez, who will …
Hell, I don't know what Manny will do. Get caught in the tarp in the upper deck? Take BART to Pittsburg when interleague play starts, hoping to beat the team there? Ask Josh Reddick if that's his real name or his Native American name? No idea.
And I also have no idea if he'll hit. He only played 90 games in 2010, and he pootered out towards the end. He missed almost all of last season. He'll miss the first two months of 2012. Even if he's one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time, asking him to be an offensive force after a year-plus off at the age of 40 is legitimately insane. But he'll be entertaining, and that's his real draw. It's more of a PR move than an HR move.
Brandon McCarthy is a treat to watch, and here's hoping he can stay healthy all season. Colon is an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a delicious and crunchy outer shell. I would have given him a two-percent chance of having an ERA below 5.00 last year in Yankee Stadium, but he was far better than that. His strikeout/walk ratio indicated that his renaissance was real, and he's moving from a murderous environment to Oakland, where the foul territory has about the same acreage as the grounds on which Yankee Stadium was built. After that, it's young pitchers ahoy as the A's will attempt to find out who will stick when Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson come back from injury.
It's not a bad strategy that Beane is employing. And that tattered journal from the intro? It's filled with errands and reminders. Pick up dry-cleaning. Pay electric bill. All functional stuff, just in a bit of a sketchy package. The A's spent the same amount of money to shift their window of contending back a little, and in 2012 they shouldn't be as good. But they're likely set up better for three years down the line, which was the point. There's a chance that they'll have a new stadium by then and go Marlins on the world. Hey, stranger things have happened. Like the Marlins.
Coulda Shoulda Woulda (Move they didn't make)
There isn't really a candidate for this spot. Before Sizemore was injured, the A's had major-league quality players all over the field. Not good, necessarily, but quality. Seth Smith and Beane have been star-crossed for a while, even if they didn't consciously know it. Smith is the Beaneiest outfielder since the last one. If there's a move that they might have wanted to consider, it would have been trading Kurt Suzuki for as much as he'd bring back as long as the young pitchers were being shipped out for younger pitchers.
With the benefit of the gigantic stadium, pitchers like Parker, Milone, and Peacock could have immediate success, not unlike Anderson and Cahill did at a young age. If McCarthy and Colon stay healthy, and the young pitchers don't have initial struggles, the A's might even improve over last year.
The A's won't finish above third place for a couple of years, but they could finish around .500 as soon as this year. But if the young pitching starts doing young-pitching things -- gets hurt, wild, or erratic at all the wrong times -- they could lose close to 100 games. Buck up, though, A's! Astros! The Astros are coming! They shouldn't be able to pitch or hit.