Brad Pitt played Billy Beane in a movie before he played Derek Jeter or Joe Torre.
General managers are this generation's luminaries, scrutinized and critiqued as deeply and emotionally as a team's best player or manager. Players are now viewed as fungible assets. Impending free agent? Trade him! Not a star? Trade him, too! Helped your team reach a World Series or two but is on the backside of his career? Definitely trade that guy. Managers, meanwhile, have been relegated to middle-manager status. The Hall of Fame just enshrined Torre, Bobby Cox and Tony La Russa, but those were the last of the superstar managers. In the future, we'll be discussing the legacies of general managers more than managers.
Thursday's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is, of course, a time when a general manager can make his impact felt, improve his team and maybe alter its postseason results with the right move that works out. It takes a smart trade and more than a little luck, but a lot is riding on what happens on Thursday.
Most of the recent World Series winners made a significant trade at the deadline (or right before): In 2013, the Red Sox acquired Jake Peavy; in 2012, the Giants acquired Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro; the 2011 Cardinals traded for Rafael Furcal, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski; the 2011 Giants acquired Javier Lopez (and then got Cody Ross, Jose Guillen and Mike Fontenot in August); in 2008, the Phillies trades for Joe Blanton.
No general manager has more on the line in 2014 than Beane. He's the most famous general manager in the game; he's also never reached a World Series, let alone won one. He already made one blockbuster deal this season, but rumors have picked up the past two days that he might have something else in the works, something big something like Jon Lester.
I love the idea. Beane traded his best prospect and last year's first-round pick to get Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. He did it early because the A's have to win the AL West and the Angels are in hot pursuit, just 2½ games behind. Beane knows he has to avoid that wild-card game, in which one bad bounce or blooper can end your season.
So go get Lester. The A's rotation would then line up as Lester, Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Samardzija and Hammel (who is now 0-4 in four starts after getting roughed up on Wednesday). The tiring Jesse Chavez gets shuttled back to the bullpen. That's a rotation that can hold off the Angels, who already solidified their bullpen, the team's weak spot the first three months of these season. Lester is pitching the best baseball of his career right now -- a 1.07 ERA over his past eight starts -- and is the kind of pitcher you want fronting a playoff rotation, given his career postseason ERA of 2.11.
Beane knows the importance of having that ace. The past two postseasons the A's ran out rookie Jarrod Parker and Bartolo "Methuselah" Colon as his Game 1 starters, both times against Justin Verlander. It's no guarantee of playoff success, but having a guy like Lester would certainly help.
So don't be surprised if Lester to Oakland is Thursday's shocking trade of the day. Maybe they give up power-hitting first basemen Matt Olson (30 home runs in Class A ball) or shortstop Daniel Robertson, the team's top prospect now that Addison Russell has been traded. Maybe it's a Billy Beane special -- a three-way trade.
Maybe the A's will be mortgaging their future. OK. I think Beane would like to win in the present.
Other random thoughts about the trade deadline
The Dodgers have apparently taken prospects Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Julio Urias off the table. That seems to indicate they're likely to stand pat, other than maybe adding a reliever for bullpen depth. I think it's the right move, as they're a better than the Giants, maybe the best team in the NL, not that their slim lead is completely safe. No need to trade multiple prospects of that caliber for a guy who would be your No. 2 or 3 postseason starter. Seager and Pederson have the talent to be impact players, Pederson maybe later this year and Seager as soon as midseason next year. The next great Dodgers teams will be built around Clayton Kershaw and a middle of the order featuring Yasiel Puig, Pederson and Seager.
It also means Matt Kemp isn't going anywhere, as much as the Dodgers would have loved to trade his contract. But Kemp was never going anywhere; his contract is too prohibitive, his defense too poor and his batting line too uninspiring to stir up much interest. Moving forward, the move of Puig to center field has lined up the outfield as Carl Crawford, Puig and Kemp from left to right. Manager Don Mattingly had been reluctant to move Puig to center due to some of his adventures in right field (which have been less of an issue this year), but he's clearly the guy with the speed and range to play there. Well, him or Pederson. Don't rule out a Pederson call-up in August.
As I write this, the Giants are reportedly mulling the decision to release Dan Uggla, who has played four games for the Giants bat sat on Wednesday. Look, it was harmless to take a look at Uggla, as slim as the likelihood of it working out. If they do cut bait with Uggla, at least give GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy credit for making a quick decision. But it still means the team will be looking for a second baseman. Daniel Murphy of the Mets would be the dream fit, but there hasn't been much in the way of Murphy rumors.
After watching Corey Kluber annihilate the Mariners with an 85-pitch, complete-game shutout, I expect Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik to make some kind of desperate -- maybe dumb -- move to improve his offense. But the Mariners need three hitters, not one, and there just aren't any real impact bats out there, except maybe Marlon Byrd.
I'm kind of tired of all the Phillies talk. OK, I mean, a Cole Hamels trade would be pretty cool, but it's not going to happen. Maybe Cliff Lee gets dealt, or maybe that happens in August (Cardinals?) after he shows he's completely healthy. But if GM Ruben Amaro really wanted to make some deals, wouldn't he have made one by now? He's known for weeks that his team is terrible and not going anywhere.
Yankees? Sure, I suppose they'll do something -- maybe add a right fielder (they're 28th in the majors in OPS from right field) -- but I still don't see this team making the playoffs no matter what they do at the deadline, unless Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda re-emerge in August.
Kevin Gausman looked good for the Orioles on Wednesday against the Angels, showing a plus changeup and holding the Angels to three hits over seven innings. He's untouchable in a trade, but you do wonder if the Orioles will consider trading Dylan Bundy if it lands them Lester. Probably not, but the O's are the one division leader lacking a No. 1 starter.
That's all for now. Let's hope for a hectic, crazy day of trades.