A's rebuilding starts with Holliday

November, 11, 2008
Oakland owner Lew Wolff came to call Billy Beane "Chicken Little" because his general manager had a global view of the world economy and saw some of what was coming. So as Beane began rebuilding the Athletics and traded valued veteran commodities like Dan Haren, Joe Blanton and Nick Swisher, he stored away capital for when he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When this offseason began, while some of his peers were listening to the sincere fears of their owners, Beane had somewhere around $30 million to play with. So, first, he's making the trade for Matt Holliday, which will cost him $13.5M this season. And he may well make a run at Rafael Furcal, and maybe even Jason Giambi, if not others. And suddenly the Athletics, who won 74 games and were last in the American League in runs scored in 2008, will be interesting again.

In Beane's view, Holliday is a great player. Oh, he's represented by Scott Boras and will be a free agent at the end of the 2009 season, but Beane can either take the two compensatory draft picks or trade him in July and continue the building process while trying to restore Oakland to respectability.

Holliday is 29, and while some worry -- as they do about all Colorado players -- about his home/road splits (1.099/.856 OPS the past three seasons), check these overall numbers for 2006 to 2008: .329 average, 32 homers, 113 RBIs, .979 OPS. Holliday comes from a baseball family and loves the game. He is an extraordinary baserunner.

When Beane began looking around for offense, he talked to Boston about Jason Bay, but the price was prohibitive. But when it took Huston Street, Greg Smith and Carlos Gonzalez to get Holliday, Beane did not hesitate; it's taking longer to clear the paperwork than it did to tell Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd he would make the deal.

Beane knows he needs to build a foundation for his young, arriving pitchers like Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, James Simmons, Vin Mazzaro and others. Because when Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito came up, Oakland had a good, competitive team around them. The Athletics have one of the best corps of young arms in the minor leagues, and need to get the offense moving again.

Anderson, Cahill and others will be pitching in Oakland come July, and if Holliday has jolted the offense and the A's can make a run at the Angels, then Beane can sit on Holliday the way he once sat on Giambi and Johnny Damon, take two more draft choices and continue the building. Or if the Athletics are not in contention, he will have Ryan Sweeney in center and perhaps Furcal at short and can see if the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals or someone else will make a huge run at Holliday and make a Mark Teixeira-type deal somewhere between what Texas got from Atlanta (five young players) and what the Braves got from the Angels (Casey Kotchman and a minor leaguer).

As we see the Padres, Diamondbacks and Rockies cut back their payrolls and as we wait for more teams to have their owners rein in their finances, this may be a good winter to have spent the previous 15 months being called Chicken Little.


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