Did the A's lose too much offense when they traded left fielder Yoenis Cespedes?
General manager Billy Beane probably will shout "no," until he is blue in the face. Others -- including, perhaps, some players in the Athletics' own clubhouse -- are not so sure.
The argument should only continue now that the A's have acquired Adam Dunn – and a classic 21st-century baseball argument it is, pitting the old-school value of Cespedes' presence against the sheer weight of his raw numbers.
The trade was announced early Sunday morning, with teams facing a midnight ET deadline for players to be eligible for postseason rosters. The Athletics sent minor-league pitcher Nolan Sanburn to the White Sox for Dunn and cash -- a move that probably would have been unnecessary if Cespedes still was in an Oakland uniform.
But one month after sending Cespedes to the Red Sox for left-hander Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes, the A's needed to do something.
They continue to lead the majors in runs, but in August they're 13th out of 15 in that category among American League teams. They also have failed to score in their last 22 innings, losing three straight games to the division-leading Angels, 13 of their last 19 overall.
In truth, the A's had stopped hitting even before trading Cespedes – a "downward track" is what Beane called it last week, speaking to the San Jose Mercury News.
"I'm happy to have Lester's three wins," Beane said. "Those are three wins I don't know that we'd have without him."
Meanwhile, it’s difficult to argue that Cespedes would have solved the Athletics' offensive problems, not when his on-base percentage is .298 since the start of 2013.
And yet ...
The Athletics’ offense became even more unsettled after losing Cespedes. Injuries to catcher John Jaso and shortstop Jed Lowrie contributed. So did the in-and-out presence of center fielder Coco Crisp, not to mention massive slumps by first baseman Brandon Moss, catcher Derek Norris and infielder Alberto Callaspo.
Is the loss of Cespedes to blame for all that? Again, it hardly seems logical. But do the Athletics’ players believe they miss the threat of Cespedes? Did they look to him to provide an intimidating presence? Are they putting more pressure on themselves without him?
If all that is somehow inside of the players’ heads, it almost doesn’t matter what the numbers say.
If all this is inside of the players’ heads, then the Athletics have a problem.
Which brings us to Dunn, an all-or-nothing platoon type who seemed destined his entire career to join the OBP A’s.
Dunn’s personality alone elicits a wide range of opinions within the sport. One baseball man told me Sunday, “Maybe there is a reason he’s never been to the postseason.” But some with the White Sox will tell you that Dunn was one of the best teammates they ever had.
If intangibles truly are an issue for the A’s, Dunn should be good for the clubhouse. No, he isn’t a rah-rah leader. But he also isn’t as aloof as many believe. He cares and he likes to have fun. The way the A’s are going, the latter is no small thing.
Well, Dunn is pretty much useless against lefties, but he’s batting .232 with an .808 OPS against righties this season, with 18 homers in 311 at-bats. He gets on base at a higher rate than Cespedes. Somehow, some way, he should help.
Check that – he’d better help.
Otherwise, the debate over the Cespedes trade will become even more heated than it is right now.