Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Oakland A's.
2008 record: 75-86
Finish: Third place, American League West
2008 opening-day payroll: $48 million
2009 estimated opening-day payroll: Between $50 million and $65 million
Long forgotten amid the Yankees' half-billion-dollar spending spree and the rest of baseball locking its money deep in a safe is the shocking move of the winter, the one accompanied by a phalanx of questions – what, why and how, in that order – that all had reasonable answers.
When the Oakland A's acquired Matt Holliday, the initial incredulity yielded to understanding. With a $15 million profit last season, the A's had money to spend. With a loaded farm system, they had the room to deal quantity (Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith) for quality. And with Holliday bringing two draft picks via free agency if he stays with the A's all year – and perhaps more should they trade him midseason – the return, in addition to Holliday's usual production, was deemed worth it.
Most of all, it was a signal from the A's: They actually intend to compete this season after stumbling in the second half last year following the trades of Rich Harden and Joe Blanton. Even with only seven players currently on the projected 25-man roster owning more than three years' experience, the A's have cobbled together a young nucleus with the best pitching in the minor leagues – and still have plenty of money to spend this offseason.
Priority No. 1 is a big bat, and while the A's are pursuing old favorite Jason Giambi, they've also reached out to Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell and Garret Anderson. The holes don't end there. Oakland placed shortstop Bobby Crosby on waivers, only to see him go through unclaimed, and may be tempted to pursue free-agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera should his price continue to drop – especially since they wouldn't have to yield their first-round pick next season.
Oakland also could sign a lower-end starting pitcher to tide over its rotation until Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, James Simmons, Josh Outman and Craig Italiano arrive. Anderson and Cahill, the system's two best prospects and bronze-medal winners at the 2008 Olympics, are expected to start in Triple-A this season and join Oakland in June or July.
To measure Oakland's accomplishments in championships – or lack thereof – is unfair, and to call the A's a great success simply because they've made five postseasons this decade is unfair, too. The reality is somewhere in between: The A's are remarkable for both what they've been able to do (put together great teams on a scant budget) and what they haven't (winning just one playoff series with such great teams).
This rebuilding time around, general manager Billy Beane and consigliere David Forst have stockpiled prospects with eyes on both quality and quantity, aware that staggering their arrivals allows them to avoid the mass purges that have become inevitabilities in Oakland.
Of course, Beane and Forst are hopeful that those days will end when – actually, if – Oakland's new ballpark is built. The surplus from last season certainly is edifying, as is the notion that the A's have developed a whole new set of pitching prospects after dealing Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder in December 2004, Dan Haren three years later, and Rich Harden and Joe Blanton last July.
The A's are spending $13.5 million this year on Holliday and in July signed pitcher Michel Inoa out of the Dominican Republic for $4.25 million, a record for 16-year-olds. For every salary dump, they try to make two maneuvers that put them on the forward track.
They can only do so much. The Yankees will spend their money, the Red Sox will throw around theirs, the Rays aren't going anywhere, the Indians have retooled, the Twins' young pitching will improve – and that's not even in their division. The A's think they can compete in the West, especially with Los Angeles' lineup, Texas' youth and Seattle's rebuilding.
Beyond that? Well, that's the hard part.
Next: Washington Nationals