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The Oakland Athletics and the trade deadline in the Billy Beane era

With the non-waiver trade deadline just a week away, we did some research into the best and worst trades of the Billy Beane era with the Oakland Athletics.

Sean Manaea / Photo by Kimberly Contreras
Sean Manaea's acquistion was one of Billy Beane's better deals. / Photo by Kimberly Contreras

In doing the research for this piece, I was guesstimating which deadline deals would go down as the worst of the Billy Beane era, and which may have brought back the most value. The results are a bit surprising, actually.

In order to be true to the deadline deal format, I only included trades that were made in either July, before the non-waiver deadline, or August, when deals can still be made but are a little more convoluted. That really limits some of the deals that Billy Beane has been known for in his tenure with the Oakland Athletics, as he has typically made his blockbuster deals around the time of the Winter Meetings, or in the month or so ahead of the season beginning. Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Josh Donaldson were all traded in-between seasons, while players like Khris Davis and Yoenis Cespedes (not a trade, but still a big addition) were brought in just ahead of spring training.

To rank Beane’s deadline deals, I used each involved player’s MLB bWAR during the time they were with either the A’s, or the team they were originally traded to, and only under the contract that they were under at the time of the trade. For instance, the A’s traded Rich Hill to the Dodgers last year, and he re-signed with the team in the offseason. Only his bWAR total from the remainder of 2016 will count in his trade value here.

There are definitely some holes to doing it this way; for instance, if a player was traded to one team and then flipped to another, like Eric Byrnes going from Oakland to Colorado, then Colorado to Baltimore, or the A’s adding Jeff Samardzija then trading him to Chicago that winter for Josh Phegley, Chris Bassitt and Marcus Semien. Phegley, Bassitt and Semien were acquired during the offseason, and even though they help add value to the club, they aren’t included in the initial assessment of the deadline deal.

So that’s what we’re working with here.

We’ll mix the good with the bad, give some fun historical tidbits and some trends that may be of interest to A’s fans.

The Beginning of the Beane Era

The first trade that Billy Beane ever made at the deadline once taking the reigns from Sandy Alderson was to send Kenny Rogers to the Mets in exchange for Terrence Long and Leo Vazquez. Rogers was solid for the Mets for the remainder of the 1999 season, but it was his 1998 season with Oakland that was the best of his career in terms of WAR. He posted a 7.5 that season, and was flipped as a rental piece to New York the following summer. Vazquez never made it to the Majors, but Long provided one of the highlights of 2002 when he robbed Manny Ramirez of a game-winning home run over the short fence in right-center at Fenway and just ran towards the infield with his glove over his head before Jermaine Dye literally tackled him in the celebration.

One year later, Long took strike three looking with the bases loaded to end the A’s season. This was the at-bat that ended with Derek Lowe‘s infamous gesture towards the A’s bench.

Oh, and Billy Beane won that deal by a wide margin, with Long producing a bWAR of 4.7 in his four years with the A’s, while Rogers put up a 1.2 bWAR the rest of the way in 1999. The deal Beane made nearly a week later, adding Randy Velarde (5.1) and Omar Olivares (0.8) in exchange for Jeff DaVannon (4.6), Elvin Nina (0.0) and Nathan Haynes (0.0) was closer, but showed that Beane knew what he was up to. Velarde finished the ’99 season with a bWAR of 7, which was the ninth-best mark among all players in baseball that season. Pedro Martinez (9.7), Randy Johnson (8.8) and Derek Jeter (8.0) were the top-three in 1999.

The first trade I actually remember Beane making in real time came on the actual trade deadline in 1999, and is the first one that he wound up underwater in the value that he gave up compared to the value that he brought in. The deal? Kevin Appier (2.6) to the A’s for Blake Stein (4.5), Brad Rigby (-1.4) and Jeff D’Amico (-0.3). The main reason that the trade ended up more valuable for the Royals is because Stein had more time left on his contract than Appier, who was with the A’s through the 2000 season and then hit free agency. Stein was with the Royals for three and a half seasons but was eventually released by Kansas City, made some stops at minor league affiliates for the Devil Rays, Indians, Expos and Pirates, then called it quits in 2004.

The final deal Beane made during the 1999 trade deadline was sending feel good story Billy Taylor to the Mets in exchange for Jason Isringhausen and Greg McMichael. Taylor was signed by the A’s in 1993 after originally being drafted in 1980 by the Texas Rangers. He bounced around a bit before landing in Oakland that year, and had to wait another year to make his big league debut at the age of 32. This trade signified a trend to come for the Beane-led A’s: Anybody can be our closer.

The 2000 deadline was a bit quiet, as the A’s added Jim Mecir and an unproven Nelson Cruz, but lacked the star power of the ’01 deadline that landed Jermaine Dye, or the ’02 deadline that brought in Ted Lilly (2.6), Ray Durham (1.2) and Ricardo Rincon (1.8). In ’03 and ’04, Beane swung for the fences and whiffed with Jose Guillen (0.1) and Octavio Dotel (1.2). Dotel wasn’t nearly as effective with Oakland as he had been with the Astros, holding a cumulative 3.95 ERA in his 60 games over two seasons with the A’s.

From the Dotel trade in 2004 until July of 2007, there weren’t a lot of trade deadline deals made. Jay Witasick and Joe Kennedy were brought aboard in exchange for Eric Byrnes, and Jay Payton made his way to Oakland in exchange for Chad Bradford, but none of those qualified as big trades that really helped shape the team. However, there was one trade that is interesting. The A’s and Giants notoriously haven’t traded players since 1990; however, in July of ’04, the A’s purchased Adam Pettyjohn from San Francisco.

Most fans will likely be a bit more familiar with some of the deals that have occurred since, like the deadline deal to move Jason Kendall in exchange for Jerry Blevins in 2007, and the following year the Rich Harden/Chad Gaudin deal that netted the A’s Josh Donaldson.

As bad as most fans think the Yoenis Cespedes-for-Jon Lester trade was, it was far from the worst deadline move that Billy Beane has made.

The Worst Deadline Deal of the Beane Era

Go ahead and take your guesses now.

Addison Russell (and others) for Jeff Samardzija (1.7) and Jason Hammel (0.0)? Not yet. Russell still has time to widen the current 1.6 bWAR gap, but he has a ways to go and is the only member of that deal still with Chicago, with Billy McKinney (0.0) now with New York and Dan Straily (-0.9) having made a few stops since this deal.

Remember the Alberto Callaspo deal? It’s definitely not the worst of the bunch, but as you may have guessed, Callaspo was not a valuable addition to the A’s with his -1.1 bWAR between 2013 and 2014. The piece that Oakland sent to the Angels to get him, Grant Green, was also a negative WAR player at -0.5.

The worst deal should come as a surprise. I was surprised, at least. Remember the Jose Guillen deal with the Reds back in ’03? I remember being at dinner and hearing that the A’s had made a trade and just asking who this guy was. The stats were solid before he headed to Oakland, but his production with the A’s was just above replacement-level the rest of the way (a broken hamate bone didn’t help his cause any).

The main piece that went back to Cincinnati was Aaron Harang, who was never a top prospect and held a 4.97 ERA in a little over 100 big league innings with the A’s. Turns out the A’s gave up on him too soon. Because the Reds had so much time left on Harang’s contract, Cincinnati was able to reap the rewards of this deal through the 2010 season, and Harang gave them a total of 1,343 innings with a 4.28 ERA (4.11 FIP) and tallied an 18.2 bWAR.

The final tally on this deal: Jose Guillen (0.1) for Aaron Harang (18.2), Joe Valentine (-1.0) and Jeff Bruksch (0.0).

The other big losses: Remember the Carlos Pena deal from Moneyball…er real life? That’s the one that landed the A’s Ted Lilly (2.6), but along with Pena, Oakland included Jeremy Bonderman in the package and he had a few very solid years with Detroit. Combined, Pena and Bonderman produced a bWAR of 10.9, giving Detroit an 8.2 win advantage on this deal.

Another under-the-radar trade that is making this list is the Brad Ziegler-to-Arizona deal back in 2011. Brandon Allen didn’t spend much time with Oakland, just 44 games in all, and Jordan Norberto put up one win in his 58 2/3 innings with the green and gold. Ziegler produced a bWAR of 7.2, giving the Diamondbacks a 6.2 win margin.

Matt Holiday was a disaster of a trade target and chip for the A’s, as Oakland paid both to acquire him and to get rid of him. His get-out-of-Oakland trade saw the A’s at a 3.1 win disadvantage.

The last of this line of downers, Mark Ellis to the Rockies, saw the thin air in Coors Field give the beloved second baseman a boost, as he produced a 1.6 bWAR in 70 games, while the return the A’s got of Eliezer Mesa and Bruce Billings combined for a -0.3.

The Best Deadline Deal of the Beane Era is the One You Think it is

It’s the deal that brought Josh Donaldson to Oakland, duh! In the green and gold, Donaldson put up a 16.2 bWAR. Even with negative returns from Sean Gallagher (-1.4, later involved in Scott Hairston deal), Eric Patterson (-0.3) and Matt Murton (-0.4), the A’s still came out ahead because of Donaldson. The chips the A’s traded away Chad Gaudin (-0.4) and Rich Harden (5.2) didn’t come close to equalling Donaldson’s value. Gaudin had a rough time in Chicago and while Harden was solid for the remainder of 2008, but he wasn’t nearly as effective in 2009. He left the Cubs after that season and in 2010 with Texas and 2011 with the A’s, injuries once again caught up to the righty with all the potential in the world.

Billy Beane ended up winning this deal by 9.4 wins, and that margin could have been higher if Donaldson were still with the club. The second Donaldson deal is still a hot debate topic among the fan base, with the current tally having the Blue Jays up in that deal 17.3 wins to 7.3. Yet with Franklin Barreto soon to be up for good and Kendall Graveman still under club control through 2020, this one has a chance to at least become a wash. But, either way, it wasn’t a deadline deal, so it didn’t come into play in this assessment.

We’ve been over a couple of the other solid trades that Beane has made, like grabbing Isringhausen or T-Long, but there’s one recent deal that could end up paying off big for the A’s. Before the start of the 2015 season, Beane added Ben Zobrist, a highly sought-after piece on the market with one year left on his deal. The A’s sent John Jaso, Boog Powell and Daniel Robertson to Tampa to nab him and Yunel Escobar, who was flipped immediately for Tyler Clippard. Both Clippard and Zobrist were flipped at the trade deadline that year, with Clippard departing on July 27, and Zobrist the following day.

In a deal with the Mets, the A’s acquired Casey Meisner (7-8, 4.78 ERA with Stockton and Midland this season) for Clippard, and nabbed soon-to-be ace Sean Manaea and starter Aaron Brooks from the Royals for Zobrist. Meisner is still a work in progress as he makes his way through the minor leagues, but Manaea has been making great strides this season and has a career bWAR total of 5.1 thus far. (Brooks was traded the following off-season for Chris Coghlan.) If the A’s are looking to extend someone, Manaea may be on their radar before long. Considering that Zobrist put up a 1.2 WAR in his time with Kansas City, this deal has a chance to really work out for the A’s, especially with the path that the tall left-hander is on.

The Bottom Line

I tallied the bWAR totals from all deadline deals of the Beane era, and it turns out that the A’s are in the red by a little bit with 64.2 wins above replacement being added, while 70.4 wins have been taken away. The total difference is 6.2, which is roughly equal to one season from an elite player. Over the course of 20 years, that’s not too bad.

Tidbits

As we saw in both 2003/2004 and 2014, when Beane feels his window closing, he pushes his chips into the middle of the table. In trading for Jose Guillen and Octavio Dotel, the A’s lost the long-term WAR battle. In 2014, he moved the team’s top prospect in Addison Russell, and essentially their heart and soul in Yoenis Cespedes in order to get past the Detroit Tigers. It led to one hell of a Wild Card game, but eventually the writing was on the wall: the A’s were going to start selling off.

In 2005, the A’s still had plenty of parts to work with. After some offseason dealings that included shipping off Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, they still had Eric Chavez, Barry Zito, a newly acquired Dan Haren, Mark Ellis, Joe Blanton, Rich Harden, Bobby Crosby, Huston Street…you get the point. That’s why they ended up winning 88 games and traded for Jay Witasick, Joe Kennedy and Jay Payton during that deadline stretch. The A’s would make it to the ALCS the next season, so while those traded didn’t immediately pay-off, they had some runtime for the team.

Heading into 2015, the mindset was obviously going to be different. After barely gaining a Wild Card spot in 2014, Beane had to make a decisive action, which he did, to an extent, in trading just about all of the the previous season’s All Stars away. The problem with the approach was that he also brought on players like Billy Butler and Ben Zobrist, which seemed to suggest they were going to go for it again. And it’s the little moves like that that get us to where we are today, with Beane officially announcing that he’s fully committed to a rebuild. If he had had that mindset a year or two ago, we’d probably be in a similar position, given that most of the A’s top prospects had been in the lower minors at that time, but there is a chance that an extra prospect or two could have been picked up along the way.

I’m buying into the new direction that the front office is putting out there for us to consume. I believe that they’re going to keep the club in Oakland and start re-signing some of the team’s top players. I also believe that they’re still going to be cutthroat at times and trade some of our favorites away. If you look across the Bay, the Giants have albatross contracts on their books year in and year out, and I doubt that the A’s could put a winner on the field with that much dead money in their ledger.

Beane isn’t afraid to make the tough deal as we saw last week when he traded Sean Doolittle to Washington, or like the deal that will be made in the coming week when Sonny Gray finds a new home. One thing that we have to keep in mind (and this is going to sound heartless) is that sometimes prospects don’t work out, and sometimes it’s an under-the-radar addition that ends up being a franchise-changer. Patience will be the key here.

If all goes well, this may be the last big rebuild that the club will have to go through for a little while.

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