Only time will tell for Beane's moves
Oakland's GM has had a varying record with successful trades
This just in: The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have become the first team in baseball history to clinch a division title before the annual All-Star break.Roll the printing presses for playoff tickets. Iron the Rally Monkey's postseason duds. Technically, it's premature to pop champagne corks, but they can at least spray around some O'Doul's. Mid-afternoon Tuesday, gassed and hobbled, the Oakland A's said, "Take it. It's yours." Or, at the very least, got out of Texas' way, in case the Rangers feel up to taking on the Angels. The day dawned with the A's six games behind the Angels, against whom they have nine remaining games. The big dreamers on the American League side of the Bay Area were lighting candles for another typical charge out of the darkhorse by the little team that always could. But Billy Beane awoke and decided he wasn't going to chase rainbows. Rather than be nuts, he would squirrel them. And so the Oakland GM told Jim Hendry, his Chicago Cubs counterpart, yes, you can have Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin for those four guys.
Sean, Matt, Eric and Josh sound like members of the newest boy band. But Sean Gallagher, Matt Murton, Eric Patterson and Josh Donaldson form a quartet of young talent, none older than 26, thus satisfying Beane's M.O.Keep developing young pitchers to make the veterans expendable, the most lucrative currency in the baseball market. Still, this was Roberto Duran not answering the bell against Sugar Ray Leonard. (Although not as extreme as the Chicago White Sox's decision to unload half of their pitching staff to San Francisco on July 31, 1997, when they reposed a mere three games behind Cleveland in the AL Central.) But Beane, too, said, "No mas!" He folded a decent hand, unwilling to chase for the inside straight, especially with two more of his key players now on the outside. Beane, a perceptive visionary, can look at the same situation as someone else and see more, or at least see it differently. When he looked at the road the current A's were traveling, he saw a dead end, maybe just around another turn like last week's loss of the right side of the infield -- shortstop Bobby Crosby and third baseman Eric Chavez -- to injuries. He decided to cut bait. Deferred satisfaction.
"We've had numerous injuries," Beane acknowledged. "Guys have done a good job battling through it, but as far as what we're doing, this is a step forward for what we're doing for the next four or five years."Do the math, adding the offseason deals of Dan Haren and Nick Swisher, and Beane has landed 13 young players in exchange for four veterans. This deal is a little different because it included another established pitcher, Gaudin, himself only 25 and a right-hander who has shown occasional flashes of brilliance. So is Moneyball, like the rest of the economy, also in recession? As with all Beane moves, only time will tell. Gallagher, Murton and Patterson have all spent part of this season in Triple-A; Donaldson is spending his first full pro season -- he was the Cubs' second round choice in the 2007 First Year Player Draft -- in Class A. This is Billy Beane, not King Midas. Not all of his moves have been golden -- although his gilded body of work is reflected by the modest-payroll A's having had one losing season in the last 10. Most glaringly, four years ago he swapped Tim Hudson for a sack of beans. Neither Juan Cruz, Charles Thomas nor Dan Meyer, the trio acquired in the deal from the Atlanta Braves, ever did anything in Oakland. On deals such as this however, the jury is years away from even deliberating. However, it must be pointed out that baseball's "sellers" are on a heck of a run. There were three major offseason transactions of a similar vein, and all three have provoked buyer's regret. The Orioles dealt Erik Bedard to Seattle, the Twins had to give up Johan Santana to the Mets, and the Marlins packaged Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers. Baltimore, Minnesota and Florida today are all considerably better off than their trade partners. And if we're assigning risks, Hendry also accepted a big one. Harden has given regular evidence that, when healthy, he is one of the Majors' most dominating pitchers. Not just a reliable winner, but someone cut from the same cloth as Roger Clemens. But the 26-year-old has also served six disabled list hitches, some very long. Oakland manager Bob Geren knows well the trepidation of feeling as though Harden is pitching off egg shells, not a rubber. Of course, rolling the dice is perfectly in line with the heritage of a team desperate to win another World Series before the calendar strikes a century. Being cast as a central Cubs character immediately appealed to Harden. "I think it'll be good. They're a good team. I think they have a chance of doing something special," he said upon hearing that days of rumors had led to fact. "I'm glad to be part of that. It's tough to leave here, at the same time. I've been here my whole career." No one really stays their whole career in Oakland, just its formative years. "Go out and win us a game" eventually turns into "Go out and get us a bunch of young players." Harden, and Gaudin, have fulfilled that destiny. Unlike going for that win, how well they performed their final act was out of their control and in the GM's hands. We shall see whether Billy Beane won his game.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.