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The A's made a horrible, win-later deal

The A's traded Josh Donaldson, their best player, for a downgrade at the same position. The goal was to save money. The money was already spent on an iffy DH.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jays and their fans had their Thanksgiving in October. That's not a metaphor -- Canadian Thanksgiving is in October. Oh, you should see it. They build a large cave-like structure out of bread cubes and stuff it with shredded turkey, then they dance around the Thanksgiving tree. So you can forgive them for making a blockbuster deal over our Thanksgiving weekend. They already had their day of rest and reflection and thanks.

The A's, though, didn't give a damn. Which they're especially good at. Billy Beane likely spent his day of rest and reflection hammering out the final details of a franchise-jarring deal. It was unexpected, counter-intuitive, and nauseatingly risky. So an A's trade, then. This is the deal that's on the dust jacket of Billy Beane's Book of Oh-Shit Trades.

For me, the good part about it happening over Thanksgiving weekend was I didn't have to offer an immediate opinion. The hot takes were put in the fridge, and some people like them even better three days later. Put them in a sandwich, with the cranberry sauce and stuffing around them -- mmm-mmmm. The hot takes keep. The flavors deepen. And where once the insta-opinion might have been something about the nice team the Blue Jays have put together, or how we shouldn't be surprised by anything Beane does, even if we always are, every opinion coagulated into one, large lumpy mass of opinion at the bottom of the Tupperware. It became the only opinion worth sharing.

My word, does this trade seem awful for the A's.

The more facets you inspect, the more you flip it around, looking for a different angle, the worse it looks. When you wake up a day later, it makes even less sense. It was someone trading their jacket for a pair of shorts right before the winter, figuring they can always sew legs on the shorts if they need to. It's nonsensical. It's befuddling. The A's traded their best player for a lesser player at the same position, and they gave up a year of team control to do it. That's like a magic trick. The dove's dead, sure, but the boldness of the attempt is worth something, right?

Start with the caveat that I'm not a prospect maven, so there's a chance for the perpetual motion machine of prospects to keep spinning. Of the three prospects acquired, there's a chance one of them will develop into a nice, young player who is traded for three prospects, and one of them will develop into a nice, young player who is traded for three prospects. If two of the prospects develop, well, things start getting exponential. Here, pretend the guy in this picture is Billy Beane, and the things around him are nice, young players:

tribbles

If everything pans out, why, Beane won't know what to do with all of the prospects he's turned into prospects by trading his prospects after they develop into All-Stars. I'm particularly interested in the young shortstop, Franklin Barreto. In three years, it's possible that he's the most valuable player involved in the trade, once salaries are accounted for. There were people who hated the Rich Harden trade, too, and that's what led to Donaldson in the first place.

That's the only way to praise this trade, to look toward the future. To that end, Keith Law isn't wild about the young players going back to Oakland, and Baseball America somehow described Tommy Milone twice without ever using his actual name. Maybe in 2018, the A's will still be a contender, and two or three of the prospects in this deal will be a part of the core.

For 2015, though, the trade is miserable. It was a compromise of a deal, a cake-in-mouth, cake-in-fridge trade that tried to do two things at once. Instead of targeting the very best prospects in baseball (like the Cubs did with the Jeff Samardzija deal) or making a win-now for win-now move (like the A's did with Yoenis Cespedes and Jon Lester), the A's got a little help for the present, a little help for the future. It came at the expense of the best player on the team, though. The 2015 team is appreciably worse. There's a lot of baseball between now and those prospects arriving to make everyone feel better, and that's if they arrive at all.

Next season is about Brett Lawrie vs. Josh Donaldson. Note that Lawrie is a free agent after the 2017 season, and Donaldson is a free agent after the 2018 season. This means we're way, way behind on Lawrie trade rumors. What do the A's want for Brett Lawrie? Who is in the Brett Lawrie market, because the A's are listening? Assuming the A's keep him, though, they're instantly worse. Lawrie is diluted Josh Donaldson, doing everything the former A's third baseman did well, but doing it just a tick worse.

But he's doing it a tick cheaper, too. If those savings are invested in the team this year -- invested wisely, that is, and not on Ben Sheets or Jim Johnson -- maybe this will work out for 2015. So if -- oh, say, look at that, the savings were already spent on Billy Butler, and not just for this season. The difference in cost between Lawrie and Donaldson over the next three years will immediately go to Butler. Also, the A's probably won't open the 2015 season with Ike Davis hitting fifth and Eric Sogard at second, but that's the current permutation. There's still a ton of work to do, and the A's just took a step backward on the win-now road.

The only silver lining for next year is to think of Lawrie not as Donaldson Light, but as Donaldson-in-waiting. As in, the low-average, average-power, plus-defense package that Lawrie offers will turn into the low-average, high-power, plus-plus-defense package the A's enjoyed with Donaldson, and it'll happen right away. It's not crazy to hope for it. Lawrie's just 24, and when Donaldson was that age, he was posting unimpressive lines in Triple-A. It's foolish to believe that Lawrie is incapable of quickly becoming the player Donaldson is, especially when it was far more likely for Lawrie to develop into that player in the first place (and as recently as 2013).

It's also foolish to expect Lawrie to turn into that player, though. It's not likely next year, at least. So for 2015, the A's got worse. They hit worse and they field worse. Perhaps as important, the fan-centric perception of the team is worse. Just another fan-favorite getting shipped out for cheaper players. Just another jersey to bury in the back of the closet. The A's barely made the postseason in 2014, and they've replaced their best player with a lite version and made up the difference with a lumbering DH.

The prospects might pan out, but this will need to be quite a December for Beane and the A's if the 2015 team starts with a roster as talented as the one from the year before. Considering that it wasn't urgent to trade Donaldson -- not in the slightest -- this trade is as nonsensical as any in Beane's history. It's almost impressive, in a way.