Something will happen with these A’s

The other day I was watching Moneyball (yes, again) when a singular question occurred to me: Without the Athetics’ 20-game winning streak and Scott Hatteberg’s climactic home run, would there have been a wildly bestselling book? An Oscar-nominated movie? Before thinking about this for too long, I e-mailed the author of the bestselling book…

Michael Lewis’s response? “Yes. I’d already laid out much of the book when that happened. I didn’t know where I was going to end it but I figured something would happen.”

Yeah, but something like Hatteberg’s home run?

Oh, I don’t doubt there would have been a book. When Lewis figures on writing a book, there’s a book. But I do have a hard time imagining the movie without that moment. And without Hatteberg, does Chris Pratt become 2014’s Box Office King?

Oh, probably. Most things that happen were going to happen, regardless of any particular prior happening. Which of course isn’t to suggest that small things can’t lead to big things. There were, over the years, innumerable small things that had to happen for Moneyball: The Movie to get made. It’s just really hard to know what those small things were. Was Jason Grimsley’s fastball to Scott Hatteberg one of those things? I don’t know. But thinking about it’s been a pleasant diversion during a week without much interesting non-Hall of Fame news.

And then of course we had some interesting news, coincidentally A’s-related. Well, semi-coincidentally, since it seems that half the interesting news in recent months has been A’s-related. Did you have them trading for a new, high-quality middle infield in plenty of time for spring training? I sure didn’t. I thought Billy Beane might have just about given up on 2015. And now it’s clear that he hasn’t; if you’re giving up, you don’t trade prospects for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar.

What about this, though?

No, I don’t think that I would.

Arguing for the affirmative? The A’s finished last season with the best run differential in the major leagues.

Arguing for the negative? The Angels were right behind the A’s, and the Mariners were pretty good, too. While Ben Zobrist makes the A’s better at second base (when he’s actually playing there), they’re today no better at catcher, first base, shortstop, third base, right field, or left field than they were last season, and at some positions are slightly worse. And we know the rotation won’t look nearly as good without Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, and (yes) Jason Hammel. This might change with the returns of A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker from elbow surgeries, but can they be counted upon? Hardly.

It’s natural to look at the A’s and think that something will happen. Because so much happened in 2002, when Scott Hatteberg hit that blessed home run, and because so much has happened these last few years.

There aren’t any guarantees, though. From 2007 through ’11, the A’s went 381-428 with nary a winning season. Has Billy Beane become smarter since then? Undoubtedly. Has just about everyone gotten smarter since then, too? Quite probably.

Meanwhile, I’ve been wondering how often a franchise has traded so many of its best prospects in such a short space of time. One year ago, Baseball America’s top five A’s prospects were Addison Russell, Billy McKinney, Michael Choice, Raul Alcantara, and Michael Ynoa; only Alcantara remains. One year ago, shortstop Daniel Robertson was ranked as the A’s No. 10 prospect, but recently he’s been elevated all the way to No. 1 … and now he’s been traded, too, in the package that netted Zobrist and Escobar from the Rays.

Oakland’s top prospect now? It’s probably not Alcantara, who made just three starts last spring in the minors before Tommy John surgery.  According to Baseball America, it’s shortstop Franklin Barreto, who accompanied Brett Lawrie—along with a couple of pitchers, also prospects—when Josh Donaldson was dispatched to Toronto. And Barreto’s certainly a fine prospect. But he doesn’t turn 19 until next month and hasn’t played full-season of Class A ball yet, so he’s hardly going to be starring for the big club anytime soon.

Roughly the same might be said about nearly all the A’s top prospects: They might well help, but not soon. Barring more trades, what we’re seeing is what we’re getting. And it doesn’t look like quite enough.

Another team that’s traded so many of its best prospects? I’m sure this isn’t the only answer, but I couldn’t help thinking of the Montreal Expos. In 2002, they traded seven of their top 13 prospects, including (famously) Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, and Cliff Lee. You know about those guys. You probably have forgotten the other four, none of whom ever did much (or anything) in the majors afterward. Sometimes trading prospects looks foolish later, and often it doesn’t. It’s just hard to know until it’s too late to change your mind.

The Expos, of course, were a special situation: They weren’t supposed to be the Expos for much longer, and by 2005 they weren’t. These A’s, though? I’ll bet they’re still the A’s in 2017. Beyond that, all we can say with any confidence is that something will happen.