The Oakland Athletics took a major step in their quest for American League dominance with the first blockbuster trade of the 2014 season on Friday by acquiring pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel form the Chicago Cubs for three top prospects; as first reported by FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal.
With the acquisition of one of the top starters in the National League (Samardzija currently sports a 2.83 ERA), the Athletics have it all now. Going into Friday's Fourth of July walk-off victory over the Toronto Blue Jays, their bats lead all of baseball in runs scored (429) and runs batted in (405), while their .332 on-base percentage – Billy Beane’s signature -- tops the American League.
Their soon to be All-Star starting third baseman Josh Donaldson is batting .244 but has 18 home runs and 61 RBIs. Another All-Star power source is Brandon Moss, who has 19 home runs, 62 RBIs and is slugging .530. Their only .300 hitter is their catcher Derrek Norris, who is spitting time with John Jaso. The two combined for 15 home runs and 60 RBIs; essentially providing the A’s with another power source in an unlikely position.
“The beauty of this team is we have a bunch of guys who have been “heroes” throughout the course of the season,” said Tommy Milone, who threw six shutout innings on Friday's win. “I think that’s what makes us so good is we don’t rely on just the one or two guys to carry us throughout the season.”
The Oakland starting rotation already consists of two aces in a rotation filled with sub-four ERA hurlers. Now they bring in the Shark and Hammel (8-5, 2.93 ERA, 8.6 K/9) to go with Scott Kazmir, their big free agent acquisition who currently sports a 2.61 ERA, a 7.9 K/9 and a 1.03 WHIP. He hasn’t pitched that well since the last time he donned the green in 2007 in the Tampa Bay. Sonny Grey is their home grown thoroughbred and Jesse Chavez is their ingenious experiment.
For the first five seasons of his Major League career, Chavez was a struggling reliever. He had a career year in Oakland’s bullpen last season and now as a starter, he’s 6-4 with a 3.23 ERA and an 8.0 K/9.
But historically for the A’s, that’s not enough. There has to be character to it. Like Rollie Fingers’ gentleman handlebar mustache in the 1970’s and Dennis Eckersley’s “anchorman” mustache in the 1980’s, this team’s top reliever has to have some unique form of facial hair. Sean Doolittle sports a K/9 of 13.2 and a beard that makes him qualified to join a biker gang. Derek Norris looks like a barbarian and J.J. Reddick looks like a WWE wrestler. On top of all that, there’s a freaking country singing group on the roster! A's reliever Ryan Cook, outfielder Craig Gentry and Moss practice their country melody before every game in the clubhouse as if they spend the off-days crashing the cherokee bar.
Team chemistry is one of those sports clichés that is unmeasurable and can make fools out of analysts who use chemistry and a last resort when trying to explain success. In Oakland, the chemistry is real.
“I can imagine there’re some teams out there where it’s not as fun,” Milone said. “Where you go there, you just play the game, and you go home. Here, it’s not a grind. It’s something that we want to do, and I think that’s what makes it so special. There’re some guys like that who are doing well who haven’t done well in the past because they feel comfortable around this group of guys.”
There's truth to that. Brandon Moss was a former Red Sox prospect who traded to Pittsburgh for Jason Bay and did nothing for the Pirates. Now he's an A's All-Star. J.J. Reddick was also a Red Sox prospect who did next to nothing in Boston. Now he's a power hitter for the A's. Coco Crisp looked washed up in Kansas City back in 2009. Now he's their catalyst.
“He’s really been our spark plug the last couple years,” Milone said of his centerfielder. “When he’s going good, we’re usually going good.”
Talent wins the regular season, but it takes a group of talented characters to win the postseason. The Boston Red Sox had the legendary idiots of 2004, and dancing Irish Papelbon in 2007 and the Boston strong beards of 2013. Oakland has that this year and now unquestionably has the pitching and bats to back it up.