Over a few months last season the Oakland Athletics trundled from dark-horse contender in the AL West to also-ran, and now over 13 days they have traded two of their better starting pitchers, and so begins yet another rebuild under Billy Beane.
On Thursday they agreed to send 26-year-old left-hander and 16-game winner Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals for four minor league prospects, three of them pitchers. The trade is pending physicals, so is not yet official. On Dec. 9, they traded Trevor Cahill, who won 18 games in 2010, to the Arizona Diamondbacks for three prospects, two of them pitchers.
So, while the A's again charted a course for some future opening day in a ballpark they don't know will be built in a city they don't know they can live in, first the Diamondbacks and now the Nationals benefit from the fruits of Beane's past rebuilding efforts.
In the NL East with the superpower Phillies, sturdy Atlanta Braves and emerging Miami Marlins, the Nationals gave up four of their top 10 prospects – right-handers Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, left-hander Tom Milone and catcher Derek Norris (as first reported by ESPN.com) – in order to deepen their rotation with Gonzalez.
Ace Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gonzalez and John Lannan give the Nationals a competitive one through four and a youthful staff that complements a maturing core of everyday players, among them Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and, perhaps this season, Bryce Harper. Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gonzalez won't be free agents until after the 2015 season.
When the A's let it be known they again were stripping down, primary interest around the league turned to Gonzalez, 31-21 over the past two seasons. The talented left-hander does have a tendency to lose the strike zone – his 92 walks in 2011 led the American League – and it's part of the reason he has been traded four times in six years.
The Nationals finished 21½ games behind the Phillies in the NL East and are likely to finish somewhere behind them again. They could, however, push for a wild-card spot, so relevant for the first time since the club moved to Washington D.C. for the 2005 season and for the first time as a franchise in going on two decades.
The A's, conversely, prepare themselves to be swamped – financially and competitively – in the suddenly beastly AL West. In the past couple weeks alone, the Los Angeles Angels spent more than $330 million to sign the best free-agent hitter (Albert Pujols) and pitcher (C.J. Wilson) on the market. The Texas Rangers, who've gone to consecutive World Series, had the high posting bid on Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, whom they'll likely sign in the coming weeks.
[ Related: Jeff Passan's ultimate free-agent tracker ]
Seeing that resistance might be futile in the short term, the A's went again to their nature, which is to plan for another day.
The Red Sox chose not to match a package offered by the Nationals that included four highly regarded prospects:
Peacock, 23, won 15 games in Double-A and Triple-A and allowed one run in 12 big league innings in September.
Cole, 19, had 108 strikeouts in 89 A-ball innings.
Milone, 24, started five games for the Nationals in 2011. The former 10th-rounder has gotten better every season.
Norris, the catcher, has had back-to-back supbar offensive seasons, but scouts like his ability.
Young starters such as Cahill and Gonzalez are bringing large returns on the market. Five days ago, the San Diego Padres traded 24-year-old right-hander Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds for four players, including three elite prospects. The deal was widely considered to be a big win for the Padres.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Dallas Cowboys are no longer 'America's team'
• UFC fighter making news in Thailand after bar brawl
• Fantasy Football video: Week 16 pickups