After another season of overachieving, and subsequently falling short of the ultimate goal of a World Series title, Beane stood in the wake of the 2002 season at a crossroads. With a $12.5 million offer from the Boston Red Sox to become the richest general manager in the history of professional sports at the time, Beane, played by Brad Pitt, drives down the freeway in his truck while listening to a CD his daughter made for him as the shot fades to black at which point we (the audience) learn that “Billy is still trying to win the last game of the season.”
Now, 12 years later, Beane may finally achieve his lofty, coveted goal after adding arguably the most dominant starting pitcher on this year’s market to a team that already held baseball’s best record and owned the lowest team ERA among starters.
The trade went down on the 4th of July, and lit the fuse and what will hopefully be a great firework show this month with the trade deadline quickly approaching. The A’s acquired starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for pitcher Dan Straily, and former first round draft picks Addison Russell and Billy McKinney.
To make room for the new hurlers, the team unclogged its potential pitching logjam by designating Brad Mills (the pitcher, not the former Astros’ manager) for assignment, and sending Tommy Milone to Triple-A.
The trade of Samardzija didn’t come as a shock to the baseball world. It’s been a foregone conclusion that Cubs’ ace would be moved, the only questions where when and to whom. Teams like the Yankees, Blue Jays, Mariners, and Royals seemed to be in the mix, maybe even teams that needed a shot in the arm to chase down their division leaders like the Pirates or Angels. Nevertheless, I had to do a double take when I saw the news come across the wire…Oakland? Really? They already have an abundance of pitching. The more I thought about it, the more I loved the move for that particular club.
Billy is GOING FOR IT ALL, and rightly so…
Over the past two seasons Beane has seen his club win back-to-back division titles in the scrappiest of fashions, but has also seen both of those seasons end after game five losses in the American League Division Series. Ironically, those early 2000’s teams who brought “Moneyball” into the baseball mainstream also endured four straight ALDS game 5 loses from 2000-2003.
Something’s got to give.
While those “Moneyball” teams relied heavily on the Big 3 of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito, Beane has now assembled a pretty stout top three in Samardzija, Kazmir, and Gray, with both Hammel and Chavez fully capable of complimenting the backend of the rotation.
The trade is already paying dividends as Samardzija won his first start in the green and gold on Sunday when he scattered four hits and struck our five while giving up one run over seven innings against the powerful Blue Jays.
The trade itself is one that Beane said his club had been eyeing for a while.
“This was an area a few weeks ago we absolutely felt like we had to address,” Beane said Saturday morning during an interview with A’s beat writer Jane Lee. “We Really started the process of trying to find at least one guy, and ultimately decided we needed two guys … we thought they were two of the best guys available.”
Detroit Tigers’ long-time ace Justin Verlander chimed in following the trade stated that he believed the trade was aimed at competing with his club, who bounced the A’s out of last year’s playoffs.
“Really, when I saw that trade, I thought they made that trade for us,” Verlander said. “No doubt about it in my mind.”
With the A’s primed for a run at another division title and beyond; the bolstered rotation comes at the perfect time. Rather than waiting until the July 31st deadline, and letting other teams woo the Cubs with their best offers, Billy pulled the trigger early and in turn gets more out of both arms this summer with roughly five more starts from each guy down the stretch.
Currently, Oakland has a 3.5 game lead on the Los Angeles Angels, and a 7 game lead on the up-and-coming Seattle Mariners.
With the Mid-Summer Classic a week away, the A’s will be the most represented team in Minnesota with 6 All-Stars.
Over the past couple of years, even when baseball people and critics have said, “there’s no way they can keep it up,” the A’s have refused to go away. They keep on hitting, they keep on pitching, and they keep on finding ways to win with another “collection of misfit toys.”
This year’s 2014 squad (56-33) has the franchise’s highest winning percentage (.629) that it has had since that 2002 team (.636) went 103-59 and ultimately inspired the “Moneyball” picture.
While he’ll never have the means of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who own the game’s highest payroll just north of $235 million, and isn’t quite as bad off as the Houston Astros lowest payroll at $44 million, Beane has made the best of his 25th ranked payroll ($83 million) out of 30 teams. The team still has the best record in all of baseball, a great group of players, strong pitching, and a tactical manager that seems to know how to push the right buttons at the right time.
Also, after adding a top of the rotation starter to match up with the Verlanders, Scherzers, Lesters, and Prices of the world, Beane may have just put his team in the perfect position to finally win that elusive final game of the season.