Thanks in part to the addition of the second Wild Card, the playoff picture in the American League is, at best cloudy, at worst completely and totally insane.
Through games of July 17th, 10 of the 14 AL team are .500 or better and within two games of the final Wild Card spot. That is going to make for a lot of tough decisions in those front offices as each GM makes their own respective decision on whether or not to go all-in at the deadline to try and nab that post-season berth.
There might be no team that has a tougher call to make than the suddenly red hot Oakland Athletics. With a meager payroll of just over $50 million and a roster full of youngsters and platoon players, the A's were not supposed to be in the playoff picture. Heck, most predicted they would be contending for the worst record in the American League. Yet here they stand a mere half game out.
What ever is super-famous, Hollywood-glorified general manager with an itchy trade trigger finger to do?Well, he could try and buy and sell at the same time.
It is an unconvention tact for sure, but we all know that A's general manager Billy Beane is no stranger to employing unconventional team management strategies. What he is also no stranger to is having to sell of his veterans at the trade deadline in his quest to rebuild the organization. That is something that he has probably grown quite weary of, and if the attendance numbers for home games in Oakland are any indicator, the fans are way past being weary of it themselves. While few people actually believe the Athletics would be able to do any damage in the post-season should they qualify for it, does Oakland not owe it to their fans to try and make a real run at the playoffs now that they are so close?
Keep in mind too that the A's have put themselves in a bad situation with their fans by way of their open cries for MLB to allow them to relocate to San Jose. Those cries continue to be ignored by the league, but the citizens of Oakland have definitely heard them and been antagonized by them. Making a few small, savvy moves to bolster the roster for a potential playoff run could be seen as an olive branch of sorts.
The A's probably wouldn't be in the business of acquiring rental players, but if they can find any kind of upgrade to their meager lineup, especially at an infield position, it is something they could pursue. They could roll the dice on recently recovered Stephen Drew, who has a club option for 2013. Perhaps they could make a surprise push to acquire Chase Headley as a long-term solution to their gaping hole at third base. Or maybe they could add Bryan LaHair to their bevvy of platoon players at first base. Or they could pursue lesser names like Adam Lind, Travis Snider, Gaby Sanchez, Jamey Carroll or Placido Polanco.
Some of those might be pricier options than one might expect the A's to pursue, but they can offset those potential payouts by selling off their extraneous parts. Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson are all on track to come off the disabled list in the next few weeks, which could give Oakland the luxury of having too much starting pitching. That could free them up to deal Bartolo Colon or Brandon McCarthy at the deadline, both of whom should fetch a solid return. They've also got expendable veterans like OF Coco Crisp, RHP Grant Balfour and C Kurt Suzuki readily available for the highest bidder. None of those names are going to return huge bounties of prospects, but they should bring back enough to keep the Oakland farm system stocked and the rebuilding effort on track.
Seeing Oakland go into seller mode is the easy part of the equation. They are stuck in a division with two of the top teams in baseball and even the untrained eye can see that the A's don't match up talent-wise with the other Wild Card contenders. Beane is seldom one to let an asset go to waste and making a longshot run at the playoffs isn't going to scare him off. Besides, swinging deals for prospects is what Beane does best.
Convincing Beane to also buy is the hard part. The heart of the argument is basically that it is a PR move and teams with limited financial resources can't risk giving away assets just to placate the fans for a few months. In fact, making a trade because "they owe it to the fans" rates pretty low on the list of reasons to make a trade, not that it has stopped teams before. What Oakland really needs to consider is if there is a long-term benefit to making a legitimate run for a Wild Card spot. Will it prompt ownership to increase payroll going forward? Will it convince free agents to sign with the team in the off-season? Most importantly, will it precipitate the franchise finally shifting back into "win mode" for the foreseeable future?
If those answers are yes, then expect to Billy Beane and the A's to potentially become one of the most active and unpredictable teams at the trade deadline.
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I don't think Braden is really an upgrade in terms of the rotation but do believe Anderson could give the team a lift. If he's looking good during his rehab, I'd support moving one of the veteran starting pitchers with the caveat they make a move to bolster the infield. Oakland has pop this year and I think they'll contend down to the wire and hopefully beyond.