The Dealers' Dilemma
“The franchise under my leadership has never really committed to a full rebuild…There’s only one way to open a stadium successfully, and that’s with a good, young team.” These were the words of Oakland A’s “executive vice president” (aka GM) Billy Beane after the team traded away veteran bullpen stoppers Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. The quote was an interesting one, as the A’s have always been a team that rides the rollercoaster of success, never FULLY going for it (except for 2012) but never fully rebuilding either. With Beane’s comments shocking many and the Trade Deadline nearing, a number of teams are drooling over RHP Sonny Gray, who has posted a 1.48 ERA in the month of July and is seemingly on his way out of Oakland. However, rumors about Gray being traded have swirled for years with nothing ever actually being done. This brings up an interesting point: every team undergoes a rebuild at some point, but which players do you keep and which players do you sell? The A’s have never been shy in the trade market, recording the 6th most amount of trades (120) since 2003. Yet they always keep some core pieces around that help them with their next run, just like any other rebuilding team.
Most fans are very choosy when it comes to the success of their teams. Nobody is satisfied with a team that can consistently win the Wild Card then get blown out of the playoffs. Everyone either wants their team to be title contenders or prospect hoarders. In order for a team to transition from the latter to the former, key players must be held in place to aid future victories. Even the White Sox, who have listed every player on their roster as “available”, have managed to hold on to some young talent in the form of Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia, Tim Anderson, and Carlos Rodon. By keeping those juvenile pawns in place, the White Sox will be able to put a presentable team on the field in a few years when their plethora of prospects matures.
The MLB encourages teams to hold on to their best young pieces by requiring six years of Major League service before free agency, and three before arbitration (the process by which players and executives argue until they agree on a fitting or not-so-fitting price). By doing so, small market teams (or cheap teams like the A’s) can operate under a theoretical six/five and a half year window during which they have a shot at glory. Of course, your big name teams like the Dodgers and Yankees can afford to sign/resign just about anybody in free agency, so their window of opportunity seemingly never closes. But for the smaller teams, it’s all about finding core pieces to build around then grooming your finest prospects until you have a good team in place (even if it is only for a few years). That’s simply how low-budget teams have to operate. The Brewers, who own the LOWEST PAYROLL IN BASEBALL, managed to hold onto players like Chase Anderson, Ryan Braun, Jonathan Villar, Corey Knebel, and Jimmy Nelson, then combine them with new talent such as Eric Thames/Sogard, Zach Davies, Junior Guerra, Orlando Arcia, Travis Shaw, and Domingo Santana to form the surprise of the year so far.
So though it may seem tempting to drop everything and get what you can, teams like these must identify their best young players and hold onto them for the long run. There will be painful years full of trade speculation, but when it all unfolds those teams will be the ones looking down on the rest of the league.