Few teams will ever out-mystery-team what the Oakland Athletics did this past offseason. They started the offseason by selling. Selling everything and anything. Selling starting pitchers and selling a closer. They would have traded their last Stomper costume for some felt, which would hopefully develop into a new mascot down the line. Sell, sell, sell.
And then they signed Yoenis Cespedes, beating out all sorts of interested big-market teams. They made other win-relatively-soon moves like signing Bartolo Colon, trading for Seth Smith, and re-signing Coco Crisp. It wasn't a complete rebuild, then. They just wanted to maximum value out of the good pitchers under team control for several years.
The goal wasn't to dismantle the team, going from a possible .500 team to a last-place abomination. It was to get young players who would be around even longer than the young players they already had. And in 12 months, it's possible Cespedes will be in the middle of a 0-for-190 slump. It's possible the prospects in the deal will all be disintegrating in that prospecty and ephemeral kind of way. It's possible the long-term future of the A's will look much worse than it did before last winter.
Right now, though, the offseason the A's had looks impressive. Really, really impressive. The A's might have had the best offseason in baseball. We just won't know for a year or three.
Start with the Trevor Cahill-for-Jarrod Parker swap. If you go just by ERA, it looks like Parker is already the better pitcher. Except it's not 1983. I don't know why your hair looks like that -- that's between you and yours -- but you aren't going just by ERA. Cahill looks like the better bet for sustained success in the short term. He looks like the Cahill of old, and Parker looks like the very essence of a rookie pitcher, striking out as easily as he walks the bases loaded.
Over the next two or three years, though, you can make an argument for Parker. At the very least, you can make the argument for Parker's upside over the known quantity of a Cahill. Add in the extra $14 million or so that Cahill will make over Parker's arbitration years, and it's an easy choice for the A's. They can be patient with Parker in a way they couldn't with the increasingly expensive Cahill.
Gio Gonzalez am become Death, destroyer of worlds when we weren't looking, but the A's still got an incredible haul for him. They essentially got the prospect package they would have if the Nationals could have seen into the future and known how well Gonzalez would pitch for them. Tom Milone is already a competent major-league pitcher -- not that easy to find. A.J. Cole, a 20-year-old prospect, is back on track at low-A after a slow start. Brad Peacock, maybe the best prospect in the deal, has encouraging strikeout numbers in AAA.
And now Derek Norris is up. He's a powerful, high-patience, low-average, and apparently hirsute catcher with a good arm:
If he can stick, he'll allow the A's to deal Kurt Suzuki, who probably still has a little trade value left, even though he's hitting like Mac Suzuki right now*. Norris might eventually be the third- or fourth-best player in the Gio Gonzalez deal, which says a lot more about the quality of the overall trade package than it does Norris.
Andrew Bailey hasn't thrown a pitch for the Red Sox this year, but Josh Reddick has been something of a surprise for the A's, looking like more of a long-term solution than they might have expected. More importantly, 21-year-old Miles Head was just promoted out of the high-A California League because he was doing mean things:
Yes, it's the offense-heavy Cal League, and, yes, he struck out a bit more than you'd like. But he's still just 21. That's an impressive line from a 21-year-old playing for a short-season team on the moon; it's exceptional, regardless of context.
Also: Miles Head.
And the best part? They took the money they saved on Cahill and Parker, and they immediately invested it in four years of Cespedes, who scares the bejeezus out of pitchers already, even though hasn't even gotten settled yet. If he doesn't improve a lick, the money was well spent. But he looks like a perfect asset for a team like the A's -- dynamic, but not too expensive.
Your mileage may vary. You might think the Nationals or Marlins had the best offseason. But considering the okay-not-terrible-not-good roster with which the A's finished 2011, the A's did a pretty amazing job of turning current talent into talent that'll be around for longer and at a more opportune time. The offseason of the A's isn't the kind of thing they write books about, but the early returns are sensational.
* Seems important to note that at one point, Mac Suzuki was a .500 hitter in the majors.