7/10/2014 3:48 P.M. ET
A's focus on today to prove themselves this season
After winning AL West before elimination last two seasons, Oakland looks to go further
By Tracy Ringolsby / MLB.com
Mention a five-year plan to Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, and he smiles.
"They just don't happen the way they are planned," he adds.
Beane's concern is the next game on the schedule, not next year's schedule.
His focus is on today. And it can change by tomorrow.
That's why last week Beane jumped feet first into the in-season trading scheme. That's why he was happy to land Jason Hammel, even if he is a free agent after the season, and Jeff Samardzija, even though he can walk after next season, from the Chicago Cubs for the price of two of the game's -- not just the A's -- top prospects and a promising starting pitcher, Dan Straily.
Packaged with Straily were the Athletics' top picks of the past two First-Year Player Drafts -- outfielder Billy McKinney from 2013 and shortstop Addison Russell from '12. Both those high school products could turn into big league All-Stars, and folks might be moaning about Oakland letting them get away. But then again ...
The late Jim Fregosi was always quick to point out, "You know why they are prospects? Because they haven't proven anything yet."
And the A's are looking to prove something right now. They have won the American League West the last two years, but were eliminated in the AL Division Series both times. That is seven times now since 2000 the Athletics have advanced to the postseason, and they were eliminated in the opening round six times.
That is something that eats at Beane. So close, but yet Oakland is still in search of its first World Series championship since 1989, and even that celebration was muted because of the earthquake that rattled the Bay Area.
The A's are not only sitting atop the AL West today, but they have the best record in baseball despite losing starting pitchers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to Tommy John surgery before the season even began. They were able to work their way through that situation for half a year, but Beane didn't want to leave anything to chance in the second half.
So Beane stepped up and made the deal for Samardzija and Hammel, and he did it well in advance of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, so he could ensure the Athletics would get an additional nine, 10 starts from the two additions. Don't think it was a mere coincidence that the trade came down on the heels of Oakland being swept in Detroit, the AL Central leader and the team that eliminated the A's in five games each of the past two Octobers.
"There is a lot of opportunity if you are willing to grab it," Beane said.
What Beane grabbed were two pitchers who give Oakland a five-man rotation that went into Thursday with five of the 25 lowest ERAs in the big leagues -- Scott Kazmir (eighth, 2.53 ERA), Samardzija (16th, 2.74 ERA), Sonny Gray (23rd, 2.97 ERA), Hammel (24th, 3.01 ERA) and Jesse Chavez (25th, 3.06 ERA).
The window is not open that long.
"Things change in a hurry," Beane said. "Two weeks ago, I didn't know if we were even going to have a [home stadium] next year, then we signed [a 10-year lease extension on O.co Coliseum], and I wake up [Wednesday] read that the [NFL] Raiders are going to demolish the Coliseum."
Well, Coco Crisp is the only player on the A's roster who was with the team when Bob Melvin took over as manager 63 games into the 2011 season. And Crisp, signed through 2016, and reliever Sean Doolittle, signed through '18, are the only current A's signed past next season.
That adds to the urgency of today.
"We aren't in the middle," Beane said. "We are either trading our best players for prospects or trading our best prospect for players."
And sometimes it is both.
Prior to the 2009 season, the Athletics traded closer Huston Street and two prospects, left-hander Greg Smith and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, to the Rockies for All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday. Colorado claimed the AL Wild Card that year. Oakland? Well, it traded Holliday to St. Louis on July 24 that season for super prospect Brett Wallace plus Shane Peterson and Clayton Mortensen. And the A's finished last in the AL West that season.
"I was one of those," Beane said, referring to being the New York Mets' first-round pick in 1980, the 23rd player taken overall, "and we all know how that turned out."
Beane appeared in 148 big league games and had 301 at-bats in a career that stretched over six seasons.
"Prospects are a little like turtles," said Beane. "They lay hundreds of eggs, but only a few survive."
This year, Beane and the A's aren't looking to survive. They are looking to thrive.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.