A brief recap of the A's offseason in two acts:
The first act was the dismantling. The rebuilding. The stereotype of the low-budget, small-market team. The A's traded their young pitchers for younger pitchers, who they'd trade in three years for younger pitchers. If the rate of exchange held up, we were all going to look up in 2018 and see Billy Beane trading infants on the black market for Ziploc baggies filled with sperm. We're talking five-tool sperm, of course.
The second act was the mystery teaming. The Marlins were spending money like GM Richard Pryor was trying to get a bigger inheritance, yet the A's still outbid them for Yoenis Cespedes. Everyone was wondering where Coco Crisp was going to sign, and the A's swooped in and retained him. Bartolo Colon, useful pitcher, was signed for a few million. Manny Ramirez was being courted by a couple of teams, and it was the A's who came away with him.
The two acts seemed contradictory, as if the A's had an identity crisis or a change of heart midway through the offseason. But now that we have the benefit of a little hindsight, it doesn't seem that strange. The A's strategy was to a) shift the best-case scenario for contending back a couple of years, when the Rangers and Angels might be older and less stable, and b) build a team that was still interesting in the interim.
And here we are in the middle of July, and the A's are interesting. Really interesting. They're a half-game back of the Tigers for the second Wild Card spot, and they're one of the hottest teams in baseball, winning 10 of their last 11.
What they've become, then, is the perfect example of Second Wild Card Chaos.
Remember July 1? Yeah, that was a trip back there, man. People all driving cars around. Smartphones and stuff. Everyone always on computers, right? "Hey, I'll send you an e-mail?" While that seems like a lifetime ago, it was only two weeks ago. Seriously, look it up. And way back on July 1, the A's were 37-42, behind seven different teams for the two Wild Card spots -- 4½ back from the second spot.
If you figured that was about the true talent level of the A's, you weren't alone. Not awful. Not really that bad. Within spitting distance of average if a few things broke right. And, as such, their trade-deadline strategy seemed obvious. Anyone who was a short-term player might be on the block. Bartolo Colon could help more than a few contenders. A lefty-masher like Jonny Gomes would have been highly prized, and don't underestimate what a desperate team might have done for Grant Balfour or Jerry Blevins at the last second.
Instead, a crazy-hot two-week stretch changes everything. If you were interested in Colon, you have to back the heck off now. Whatever C+ prospect he could have garnered isn't worth giving up on the chance that the 2012 A's really are a contending team. Same goes with Gomes, with Blevins, with Balfour … the A's have no choice but to keep them. It's the right play all around.
And with that, one fewer team is offering its wares at the deadline. More importantly? There's one more team that's looking for players. I know you're going to be stunned to find this out, but it turns out that Brandon Inge couldn't keep up with his hot start, and he's hitting .152/.200/.174 over the last 25 games. Considering that he's 35, and that he had a miserable year last season as well, the A's might want to upgrade. They'll have options, from Placido Polanco to Chase Headley; they can go stopgap or go big.
Or they can stand still. Which would also be a smart idea. The window was supposed to be 2014 or 2015 -- a hot two weeks shouldn't change that.
Or should it? Flags fly forever, and other clichés. I'm still a member of the Church of Jeff Weaver, whose main tenets include believing that any team can win 11 games out of its last 19 once they're in the playoffs. Even a division series appearance would do wonders to replace the A's reputation locally. They've been so focused on getting out of Oakland -- and broadcasting as much -- the casual fan around the Bay Area probably figures they're in Astros/Royals territory. It's not like a playoff spot would lead to three million fans in 2013, but it would make a difference.
Or should they even sell? If the Pirates stopped believing they were for real before last trade deadline, they could have picked something up for Paul Maholm that might have helped their surge in 2012. Sometimes you have to be honest with your evaluation of your team and stick to your timetables.
Or, or, or. There's no right answer. No wrong answer. We'll have answers in November. Until then, meet the A's, the Most Second Wild Card Team to Ever Exist. They're the first example of Second Wild Card Chaos. They won't be the last example. But they might be the best example.