A's begin rebuilding by dealing Haren
Oakland trades ace, stocks farm system with six prospects
OAKLAND -- A's general manager Billy Beane doesn't often traffic in subtlety, and his latest holiday-season blockbuster left no doubt about the course he's set for the franchise.
After trading ace right-hander Dan Haren and a Minor League reliever to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a package of six prospects, Beane emphatically confirmed that he's in full rebuilding mode.
"I don't think it's unfair to say that at all," Beane said. "I don't think there's any reason to dance around the subject. I think it's something we need to do."
Haren, a 27-year-old whose budget-friendly contract will cost the D-Backs $16.2 million over the next three seasons (if they exercise the 2010 club option in the deal), established himself as the rock of Oakland's rotation in 2007, enjoying a breakout season in which he started for the American League in the All-Star Game on the way to going 15-9 with a 3.07 ERA in his third full year in the big leagues.
But Beane, citing the many health-related question marks on his roster and a farm system in need of replenishing, swapped his rock -- and righty Connor Robertson -- for what he hopes will prove to be part of a "foundation" similar to the one he built in the late 1990s that led to a decade of annual playoff contention.
The prospects coming to Oakland are left-handed pitchers Brett Anderson, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith, infielder Chris Carter, and outfielders Aaron Cunningham and Carlos Gonzalez. Eveland, 24, is expected to compete for a spot in Oakland's starting rotation this spring; he and Gonzalez, a 22-year-old who finished the 2007 season at Triple-A Tucson, were added to Oakland's 40-man roster.
"I think we're at a point now where the last couple years we were dealing on very thin margin," Beane explained. "And we need to get back to the point where we put together a club that has a chance to put together a long, sustained run. We really do need to get back to that kind of foundation, and this trade is really the first major step toward that.
"We obviously like the players we're getting quite a bit, or we wouldn't be giving up a player of Danny's caliber. There's a little bit of everything there."
One of the cornerstones of Beane's previous rebuilding project was third baseman Eric Chavez, who along with shortstop Miguel Tejada, first baseman Jason Giambi, catcher Ramon Hernandez and starting pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito formed the young nucleus that jump-started a string of eight consecutive seasons (1999-2006) in which the A's finished first or second in the American League West and reached the playoffs five times.
Chavez broke into the big leagues with Oakland as a raw 21-year-old in 1998, and he's the only player among the aforementioned stars still with the A's. Now 30, and admittedly one of the question marks that prompted Beane to deal Haren, Chavez laughed when it was suggested that he'd come full circle.
"I guess so, yeah," he said. "But to tell you the truth, it seems like I've been through this a bunch of times here already, losing big names almost every year to free agency or trades. So I'm kind of numb to it. I'm not surprised. I'm not shocked."
Three years ago, Beane traded Hudson and Mulder to the Braves and Cardinals, respectively, in a three-day span during December. One of the players acquired in the Mulder deal was Haren. Another was Daric Barton, a prospect at the time who is now penciled in as Oakland's starting first baseman in 2008.
"Billy's done this before," Chavez said. "And maybe he'll move more guys, maybe he won't. All I know is that with the exception of last year, we've been winning every year even after losing guys like Jason and Miggy and Huddy and Mulder.
"Losing a guy like Danny, with so many health questions on the team, and with the way the [AL West rival] Angels have stacked their team this offseason, it might be unrealistic to think we'll win next year. It's going to be an uphill battle for sure. But I know that just like everything Billy has done since I've been here, somewhere down the line it's going to benefit the organization as a whole.
The team Beane put together last winter was expected to compete with the Angels for the AL West title, but it was decimated by injuries to several key players, including Chavez, projected ace Rich Harden and top setup man Justin Duchscherer.
All three were in Arizona this week for a team health summit, and Beane noted that with Chavez still in the early stages of recovery from surgeries on both shoulders and his back, Harden not yet recovered from the strained right shoulder that cost him most of 2007, Duchscherer on the mend from hip surgery, and the surprise news that righty starter Chad Gaudin might soon need hip surgery, he simply couldn't stand pat.
The A's have been planning to move Duchscherer into the starting rotation next spring, so even with Haren in the mix, they'd have entered Spring Training with three-fifths of their rotation very much uncertain.
"The direction was somewhat determined by health," Beane said. "Gaudin may need surgery that could eat into Spring Training, and for a starting pitcher, that's critical. We're still dealing with issues with Rich at this point; he doesn't seem to be fully over what prevented him from pitching last year. Duke is a major part of the team, and he's doing well, but to rely on a guy having major hip surgery and assume some things probably wasn't a great idea. And I think we have to be realistic about when Eric's going to be at full strength.
"I struggled with this. It's not easy making decisions like this, so you wait as long as you possibly can. But once we got to this point, we all kind of looked at each other and said, 'You know what, we're placing too much hope into this equation.'"
Chavez said his surgically repaired shoulders feel great, but he's slightly behind where he hoped to be at this point in his recovery from the back surgery.
"I thought I'd be hitting right about now, but there's still some nerve things -- a little tingling -- going on that I need to get rid of, so I'm probably not going to be cleared for baseball activity for another month," he said. "I'd like to say I'll be 100 percent by Spring Training, but I can't say that for sure. And even though everyone looked good and felt good when we had our thing in Arizona, that's great, but it's only December, and you do have to be realistic.
"It would have been a huge risk to go out next year with the same team we had last year and try to compete. I think Billy's doing the right thing, absolutely."
Gaudin told MLB.com Friday that he was bothered by hip and foot injuries during the second half of the 2007 season, in which his numbers took a dive after the All-Star break. He didn't want his injuries made public at the time because, he said, "It was my decision to pitch through it, and I don't want to make excuses. Everyone plays hurt."
Added Gaudin, "We don't know if I'm going to need surgery or not right now. It's possible."
Like Chavez, veteran outfielder Mark Kotsay, who missed the first two months of last season while recovering from back surgery and was shut down in the final month with more back problems, expressed faith in Beane's track record.
"The guy's as competitive as any GM you'll ever find, so I don't see him waving a white flag," Kotsay said. "He wants to win as bad as anyone, so when he does something like this, you know it's done with winning in mind. Whether this deal is about winning short-term or long-term, only time will tell that, but Billy's earned the benefit of the doubt on stuff like this."
Righty Joe Blanton, a strong and healthy No. 2 behind Haren in 2007, could be the next Athletic dealt. Closer Huston Street, with whom the A's have been discussing a multiyear contract, also might find himself on the block if Beane is looking to further fortify the farm system.
Beane was evasive when asked about what his next move might be, saying the Haren deal has been his focus since he returned from last week's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
"We just finished this [trade] about an hour ago," he said. "I've only got one mouth."
Minutes later, however, he again called the Haren deal the "first major step" in the rebuilding process.
"We finally know where we're going," he said, "and we're going to go full bore."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.