Trying to predict what move will be made next by the Oakland Athletics and GM Billy Beane is impossible — and that is an understatement. On Friday night the A’s dealt All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for third baseman Brett Lawrie and three prospects.

Also heading to the A’s is Franklin Barreto, an 18-year old standout at shortstop, Sean Nolin, a 24-year old left-hander who is ready for major league action, and Kendall Graveman, a 23-year old right-hander who was drafted in 2013 and appeared in the majors out of the bullpen late in the season.

The Jays take home the biggest piece of the transaction in Donaldson, who is coming off a 6.4 fWAR campaign including a 129 wRC+ and Gold Glove nomination. The 28-year old has 54 home runs over the last two seasons and has been one of the best position players in all of baseball the last several seasons.

Lawrie was a first-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 and has carried the potential to be a star. However he has battled injuries for much of the last three years and has only shown said potential in spurts. Barreto is still quite raw and likely several years away from the majors, but is extremely talented with strengths in all five tools.

Both Nolin and Graveman are intriguing pitching prospects with plenty of potential, but they filled out the second tier of pitching prospects in Toronto’s system. The fact that the Blue Jays were able to acquire a player of Donaldson’s calibre without surrendering one of their top pitching prospects in Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman, and Daniel Norris is surprising, but the A’s do receive an everyday third baseman in Lawrie who still has reasonable upside so long as he remains healthy.

After moving all-in this past summer to acquire starters Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija it is very shocking to see the A’s deal a budding superstar and one of the faces of the franchise. And it’s not as if it is a cost thing either. Donaldson is eligible for arbitration for the first time as a super-two player and is projected to earn between $4 and 5 million. Oakland’s midseason acquisitions did deplete the system of prospects, so this is a trade geared more towards the future than the year ahead.

Oakland had a stranglehold on the American League West for much of the first half of 2014, but did not clinch a playoff spot until the final day of the season. The club would lose the Wild Card game to the eventual AL Champions Kansas City Royals. Beane admitted that the club’s shortcomings in 2014 factored into his decision to trade Donaldson.

Is this the first of many moves for a rebuilding Athletics team? Tough to say. The club is listening on Samardzija, who will be a free agent after 2015, but Beane gave no indication that he’s throwing in the towel. After all, the club did just sign Billy Butler to a three-year deal and likely has several more moves to be made.

This deal, and the ones that may follow, could shake up the balance of power at the top of the AL West and provide a small window of opportunity for the Seattle Mariners. At the moment the A’s are a much weaker club, but are reported to be in talks with the Atlanta Braves.

John Hickey tweets that Justin Upton and Evan Gattis are the topics, and Samardzija may “be the bait”. Oakland does have room in the outfield and could look to move Josh Reddick or Coco Crisp as well. The club used a three-headed catcher platoon last year with Dereck Norris, John Jaso, and Stephen Vogt but Jaso has been rumored to be available in trade talks. Gattis can play in the outfield and behind the dish, making him a great fit. It would not be the least bit surprising to see another move of this nature, and the A’s haven’t shied away from players with limited club control, like Upton or Lester.

Considering that Lawrie is the only player the A’s received that will presumably have a regular role on next year’s club — both Nolin and Graveman are expected to compete for spots — acquiring a player like Upton would be necessary for the club to regain the short-term talent that was lost. There is plenty of justification for dealing Donaldson as his stock will likely never be higher, but it can’t accurately be judged until we see what comes next. Including the departures of Lester, Jason Hammel, and Jed Lowrie, the A’s have a lot of talent departing the roster and holes that will have to be filled.

There will be increased pressure on the Mariners to make a splash of their own as the Jays and Boston Red Sox — teams likely to be involved in the Wild Card race — are much improved.

The winter meetings are just around the corner, and the stove is already boiling.

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Tyler Carmont

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10 Comments

  1. Tori certainly makes sense in an OF rotation. Still leaves room for another bat in a DH/1B type player (Gattis?). Would make a nice piece to the picture, both as a stop-gap to 2016 and as a legit bat for ’15.
    Tori must also see that he is a good fit for this situation for him to comment. Interesting to see what happens.

  2. This is interesting.

    http://rangersblog.dallasnews.com/2014/11/texas-rangers-on-torii-hunters-short-list.html/

    Apparently Torii Hunter is a distinct possibility for the M’s. This is more than just a speculative pseudo-rumor, as it came directly from the horses mouth.

    I’m normally not that stoked on picking up older players that have a lot of value due to their ‘veteran leadership’. But Hunter is still a pretty good player at age 38, and he could help this team a lot. First, he’s a RH OFer who still is an above average hitter. He hits lefties pretty well, and would be a great fit in the OF in a rotation with Saunders and Ackley, as well as getting some time at DH. With the Tigers, that wasn’t an option. I think the M’s could potentially coax a very good season out of him by limiting his playing time in the OF, where he is no longer close to his former self. He is similar to his former self as a hitter, though.

    Plus, he’s pretty universally praised as an exceptional teammate and locker room guy. Adding a guy like him is almost like bringing in an extra coach with shitloads of street cred. And he would be very familiar with McClendon.

    I’ve always loved watching him play, and he’s been one of my favorite non-M’s for a long time. I’d like to see the M’s pick him up. Before we were talking about under the radar moves. This is a perfect example. It probably wouldn’t cost much, and definitely wouldn’t require a long contract or forfeiture of prospects or draft picks. Why not?

  3. Ken,

    I totally agree. I think Beane is sorta like Schneider/Carroll with the Hawks: they make moves that people question often, and they are most often right and frequent brilliant in hindsight. After a while, I think you need to defer to an excellent track record. I rarely understand the Seahawks drafts, but I never complain about them anymore.

    Jack Z. and the current ownership/front office haven’t earned that level of confidence yet, IMHO.

  4. For all the unpopular moves Beane has made over the years, you have to hand it to him for continuing to keep him club in contention year after year. The A’s were suppose to be weaker on paper going into the season last year and pretty much dominated baseball for 3/4 of the year. I don’t think the M’s can shortchange the A’s regardless of the roster they put on the field.

  5. Was Shark even a very good pitcher last year? With all the available arms still out there in free agency, I wouldn’t think he has much trade value, especially as a one year rental…

  6. It’s funny — I suggested something of this nature on Twitter last night and more or less was laughed at. Jack Z and Beane definitely have the wherewithal to pull something like this off. Probably more likely to occur during the winter meetings.

  7. Hmm. A’s now are trying to deal Shark and want a SS in return. Braves want an ace and have RH power bats available to deal. M’s have a young SS to trade. Hmmm. 3 way anyone?

  8. I’m guessing that while the M’s are trying to put some things together, Beane will swoop in and grab Upton and Gattis, and other teams will step in and sign Cruz and Cabrera. And those might not necessarily be bad things. The Mariners might not actually need more than slight upgrades in a few positions.

    I sure hope Jack Z has some good things up his sleeve, though. The spectre of Billy Beane looms large, and while this looks like the A’s are taking a step backward, I have a hunch they will be one of the best teams in the division again next year because I’m sure he is far from done.

  9. I also saw the Blanks DFA and thought he’d be a nice pickup: big dude, RH hitter, who can play 1B, DH, and corner OF. Great fit.

    After reading a lot of the commentary on this trade – the majority of which is “WTF Beane!” – I’m wondering if this deal is a lot less lopsided than people think. Donaldson is a great player, but he’s 29 and is probably maxed out. Beane is great at finding guys who have unrealized talent. Donaldson himself was an ‘interesting throw-in” in a trade, and vastly outperformed expectations once he landed in Oakland. Beane as also gotten huge production from diamonds in the rough like Carlos Pena, Josh Reddick, Brandon Moss, etc. He’s just good at this. Thus, I’m wondering if Lawrie is his next find. He’s clearly got big time talent, and just needs to tone down his game a bit and stay healthy. He’s also 24, and his upside is Josh Donaldson with more raw power. If Lawrie matches Donaldson this year – not impossible – the A’s win this trade. They also got two ML ready starters and a very good young prospect. Beane does this shit often, and he’s more often right than wrong.

  10. My initial reaction is this is good news, getting rid of one of the best players in baseball out of the AL West. But ya better be cautious of what Beane has up his sleeve. Wonder if the M’s could pick up Blanks for a song?

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