OAKLAND -- Although they gave up their top outfield prospect, a young left-handed starter and a former star closer still shy of his 26th birthday to do it, the A's got better with one bold November move. Did they get so much better that a return to contention should be expected? No. But with six weeks left until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in Phoenix, A's general manager Billy Beane and his aides have plenty of time to make more moves. Oakland's offense was nothing short of awful in 2008, and in trading the aforementioned trio -- Carlos Gonzalez, Greg Smith and Huston Street, respectively -- to the Rockies for three-time All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday, the A's instantly improved their chances of competing for the 2009 American League West crown.
Oh, and the Angels -- the reigning two-time division champs -- lost record-setting closer Francisco Rodriguez, All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira and veteran mainstay Garret Anderson. The gap between the A's and Angels is considerably slimmer now than it was three months ago, to say the least. But as Beane cranks up his Blackberry for what figures to be a busy January, it's obvious that he doesn't think Holliday alone can bridge the gap. Actually, that's been obvious since shortly after Holliday was acquired. Almost immediately thereafter came Oakland's long, public and ultimately fruitless pursuit of free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal. Thus, anyone paying attention to the A's over the winter knows that incumbent shortstop Bobby Crosby, who was placed on outright waivers (and unclaimed) after Furcal re-signed with the Dodgers, should be wary of dropping a non-refundable deposit down on an East Bay pad for the coming season. There also was a brief Oakland dalliance with free-agent lefty Randy Johnson, a Bay Area native who ended up signing with the Giants. And as offshoots of Oakland's still-active interest in free-agent first baseman Jason Giambi, it's been reported that the A's have at least looked into trading for Nationals first baseman Nick Johnson, and that they've had contact with the representatives for free-agent outfielders Bobby Abreu and former Angels All-Star Anderson.
The fact is, however, that the A's got Holliday before the holidays and added nothing over the holidays.That shouldn't startle or discourage Oakland fans, though. Beane has infant twins who surely monopolized his attention in late December, and he suggested throughout the fall and at the Winter Meetings that he was prepared to be patient in what he called a "slow-developing market." The market for Giambi, who turns 39 on Thursday, Abreu, 35 in March, and Anderson, 37 in June, appears to be developing at a glacial pace. But Giambi remains the favorite to serve as Oakland's annual attempt at catching lightning in a bottle with a veteran slugger looking for a late-career resurrection. It started with Frank Thomas in 2006 and continued with Mike Piazza in '07 and Mike Sweeney in '08. Thomas, Piazza and Sweeney all signed one-year contracts with the A's, but only the Thomas gamble truly paid off; Piazza and Sweeney sent huge chunks of time on the disabled list. Giambi is said to be looking for a guaranteed three-year deal, which is unlikely to come from Beane, who might be flirting with Abreu and Anderson simply to let Giambi know the A's have other options. Abreu, however, also wants at least three guaranteed years, and like Anderson, he's an outfielder/designated hitter. That makes both players less of an ideal fit because the A's are set at DH with Jack Cust, Holliday and Ryan Sweeney have starting outfield jobs locked up, and Oakland has a number of bright young outfield prospects. Beane said at the Winter Meetings that he'd still like to add more offense, but he also said he was open to the idea of adding an impact starting pitcher. All-Star righty Justin Duchscherer is the only truly established starter on the current staff. In short, that one bold November move was a nice start. It kicked off an offseason that's been loaded with A's rumors. Oakland fans should hole that all that smoke will bring some fire in the following weeks.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.