The Pain of 2014 is on Full Display This Postseason

2014 is going to sting for a long time. Life goes on, sure, but all over this postseason, there are reminders of those trades we don’t want to talk about and that game we don’t want to talk about. And I’m not even talking about Josh Donaldson – that was after the 2014 season. I’m talking solely about the two July blockbusters that created that team that would skate into the second Wild Card spot on the final day of the season and crash and burn in epic fashion on September 30, 2014 to once again be collateral damage on someone else’s road to glory.

russellAddison Russell was a great prospect and we all dreamed of him becoming the next Miguel Tejada. The A’s shortstop in 2014 was Jed Lowrie, for goodness sake, so Russell was a clear successor. He was untouchable, we thought. He was the future building block, we thought. But then came July 5.

July 5, 2014: Traded by the Oakland Athletics with Billy McKinney (minors), Dan Straily and cash to the Chicago Cubs for Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija.

Now look, I’m an A’s optimist, probably to a fault. I wasn’t mad about this trade at the time, as the A’s had the best record in baseball when it happened, and the plan to load up on pitching for a deep October run seemed clear to me. Here’s what I said:

It’s likely this trade will be talked about for more than just the next two years, however, if Russell pans out like everyone expects him to. Whether they’re saying good things or bad things about the A’s depends on if Billy Beane finally wins the last game of the season. World Series or bust, here we go.

Yep, World Series or bust. With less than half of the season to go and MLB’s best record, the A’s really seemed to be in the position to make that kind of trade. The A’s also had the best run oaklandathleticsvseattlemarinersx86sxhoc79kldifferential in baseball by a pretty wide margin as well, though on the pitching side of things, they were getting career years from Jesse Chavez and Scott Kazmir, and Sonny Gray was still just a second year starter. This trade made complete sense at the time. It’s hard for us to remember that now, but it really honestly did.

Samardzija was a very good pitcher – not quite an ace, but an All Star who was in the midst of what would be a 3.7 WAR, 3.20 FIP season. He was that type of workhorse arm that could be a solid #2 in a playoff series. The acquisition of him and Hammel certainly made the 2014 A’s better, despite sacrificing part of 2015 and beyond. But then came the even more controversial move on deadline day, July 31. Billy went out and got that #1 in Boston’s Jon Lester.

July 31, 2014: Traded by the Boston Red Sox with Jonny Gomes and cash to the Oakland Athletics for Yoenis Cespedes and 2015 competitive balance round B pick.

<record scratch>

There have been “#$%*ing A” trades, but this one was more than that. It was a compete and utter WTF. But I, being the shameless A’s optimist I am, spun this into being a good trade that sort of made sense.

Oakland Athletics v Tampa Bay RaysHe’s been an exciting player to have on the A’s and get to watch play every day but this season is about winning the World Series, and to do that you need top notch pitching that can shut the opposition down. In 2012, the ALDS games were started by Parker, Milone, Anderson, Griffin, Parker versus Verlander, Fister, Sanchez, Scherzer, Verlander. In 2013, it was Colon, Gray, Parker, Straily, Gray versus Scherzer, Verlander, Sanchez, Fister, Verlander. This year, baseball gods willing, we’ll have Lester, Samardzija, Gray, Kazmir. That’s a quartet of number ones like nothing we’ve had in recent years. I’ll miss Cespedes but as always I trust Billy Beane knows what he’s doing.

Doubling down on the strategy of stacking the deck with top notch pitching to win a short series seemed like it made a ton of sense. I mean, on July 31, the A’s had already begun to scuffle a little but they still had the best record in baseball at 66-41 that day. The Angels had begun surging and were only 2 1/2 games out of first, but the A’s were still very much in control of their playoff fate, and they had – as I described back then – “a quartet of number ones” to trot out there day after day.

cvqvq7cvuaexfieBut we couldn’t see then what would come in the final two months. The A’s ended up going 12-17 in August, fell out of first place by August 25, and then went 10-16 in September. It was only the recent existence of the second Wild Card spot that saved the A’s from completely missing the playoffs, but considering what happened on September 30, 2014, I’m not sure which I would have preferred. We had that do-or-die game sooner than we hoped, but we had that true ace in Lester ready to go for it.

Don’t worry, I’m not going rehash that game right now. But watching Lester pitch in the postseason for the Cubs two years later and taking co-MVP honors in the NLCS by winning Games 1 and 5 in dominating fashion is nauseating, as we had him on the mound for a huge game and he couldn’t get it done. Sure, it wasn’t all his fault but still – the A’s lost that playoff game that he started. Lester has pitched in seven posteasons and is 8-6 with a 2.50 ERA in 19 games, and that 2014 performance was the worst postseason he’s had. Single game-wise, only his 2008 ALCS Game 3 performance was slightly worse (a 40 game score vs. a 41 game score).

And then there’s Russell. We’ll never know what he would’ve been as an A, but he remains in the consciousness of “what if” if only by way of the national stage he’s playing on right now. Not only is he coming through with clutch hits in the NLCS, but he’s doing it as a member of the Cubs, who have just won their first pennant in 71 years. Everybody notices and everybody loves Addison and he used to be ours. The A’s look dumb for letting him go. Regardless of the numbers and the transactions that have occurred since, that’s what people notice.

2014 was the most all-in the A’s have ever gone, and its end result was the most epic fail the A’s have ever had. And it’s all on display for the national baseball audience to see every night. It makes me wonder if the A’s can someday overcome this and finally write a chapter of postseason success again. I hope that I live to see it.


Well, there it is. Another season of Oakland A’s baseball is in the books. Another last place finish, another year in which I stopped watching games on a daily basis by late May. I just re-read my end of the season piece from last season and it sounds similar to some of the thoughts I have at the end of this season. Much like in 2015, we saw some bad baseball played, and saw some veterans traded away at the deadline. And my optimism for the future is still there – it’s always there – only with different names attached.

dp-spt-jharel-cotton-photosThanks to trades, we have new names to be excited about, like Jharel Cotton, who was exceptionally impressive in five September starts. Thanks to development in the minors, we’re starting to see some of that talent that has led minor league teams to championships in recent years, and guys like Ryon Healy, Bruce Maxwell, and Joey Wendle got significant time in the second half of this season. And we also saw a lot of the old guard depart, saying goodbye to both Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick this season. We even got rid of Billy Butler! It really feels like the slate is wiped clean.

mookie-betts-sonny-gray-mlb-oakland-athletics-boston-red-sox-850x560It’s interesting – I spoke a lot in last season’s piece about how I didn’t want the A’s to trade Sonny Gray in the offseason, and I still feel that way but with different factors at play. Last offseason, he was at peak trade value and this offseason, his trade value has diminished after a lackluster, injury-riddled season. I didn’t want the A’s to even sell high on their cost controlled young ace, so I definitely don’t want them to sell low. It feels to me like Sonny’s poor season was a blessing in disguise, as he certainly would’ve been shipped out at the deadline if he had been healthy and in All Star form. It feels like the stars aligned for him to stay. Let’s take that as a sign and keep him around, A’s.

There are plenty of other questions as we go into the offseason. What will become of the other veterans, like Stephen Vogt and Danny Valencia and Ryan Madson? Could Ron Washington be on the move, after working his magic with Marcus Semien and other young infielders? What about BoMel? Or something I haven’t thought of yet? As always, I’m ready for whatever is next. Go 2017 A’s…


Yesterday was annual Refresh Twitter Day and it yielded results for the A’s, as they made one of the biggest deadline day trades, shipping both Josh Reddick and Rich Hill to the Dodgers for a trio of pitching prospects. We knew it was probably coming, as both players were due to be free agents after this season. There had been some talk of extending one or both, but come on – this is the A’s. The expected happened. A similar scenario is how we even got Reddick in the first place. It’s the cycle of the A’s roster.

636056588945864558-josh-reddickReddick was a really good Oakland A – a little flamboyant, definitely unique, and an excellent fielder and a good hitter most of the time. I will have lasting memories of him gunning down runners at third and delivering post-game pies to the faces of walkoff heroes. He was probably one of our most recognizable Oakland A’s in the last two years, so this is a loss of identity as much as it a loss of one of our best players. But we’re used to being the anonymous team.

Rich Hill’s short stay here leaves me with little feelings about him leaving, other than it’s nice to get something for a guy that was signed out of free agency. He was stellar in the 76 innings he pitched as an A, but with little on the line this season, I won’t remember him for much more than just passing through. That’s unfortunate, because he’s been a great story in baseball the last year and will probably continue to be with the Dodgers.

Grant-Holmes-Bud-SeligThe return for this trade sounds like a very good one. I don’t pretend to know who prospects are most of the time so I leave it to people who know, and the general consensus is that the A’s did very well getting Grant Holmes, Frankie Montas, and Jharel Cotton in return for Reddick and Hill. Holmes is the big get of the deal, drafted in the first round just last season, while Montas and Cotton are more advanced but lower ceiling arms. I’ve seen the “#2 starter” ceiling thrown around for Holmes, which is probably about or maybe slightly better than Sean Manaea level. It remains to be seen whether Montas and Cotton are rotation or bullpen material, but we’ll probably find out soon-ish. Both project to be in Oakland in ’17, if not this season.

We’ve seen a lot of A’s teams over the years and they are always built around good, young pitching. This is where it begins. I know a lot of fans get sick of the trades, but being mad about stuff like this is really short-sighted. I get how roster building works. We’ve been good before and we’ll be good again. Go A’s…