Back on December 23, the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics made a trade that few could have seen being beneficial to both sides for the 2012 season. What ended up happening was both teams winning their divisions and making the playoffs.
The trade from a Washington perspective was to get a solid No. 2 starter behind Stephen Strasburg with hopes that they could be a dark horse candidate to win the division when everyone else was watching defending champion Philadelphia, heartbroken Atlanta and money-spending Miami. That’s exactly what happened.
Oct 7, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki (24) talks with starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez (47) during the second inning of the 2012 NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE
For Oakland, it seemed like a firesale. Then, they got Yoenis Cespedes late in the offseason and people wondered why the team suddenly wanted to spend money. In the end, two of the prospects Oakland received from Washington made major impacts on the team – Derek Norris and A.J. Cole – plus Jarrod Parker who was received from Arizona in a package for Trevor Cahill.
Not since the three-way trade involving Max Scherzer, Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson between the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Detroit Tigers has a trade worked out so well for all teams involved. All of those teams made the playoffs in 2010 following their Winter 2009 trade.
To get an Oakland perspective on the trade, I went to speak with Sean Davis the editor of Fansided’s Oakland Athletics page, Swingin’ A’s.
He says that the fact that Oakland came from nowhere to win the division was a shock to even the most optimistic A’s fan. Of course, they were going against the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers and the high-spending Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
“I would have laughed in your face,” he said about if I had told him the A’s would win the division on the day of the trade. ” Even the most optimistic predictions for the A’s season had them winning 85-86 games. I thought they would be much better than the 90-100 loss expectations many had, at 79-83 and in 3rd place in the division ahead of Seattle. So the fact that they even were in contention, let alone taking the division was completely out of nowhere.”
It’s true. Even the Nationals had been the “sexy” pick among experts as a darkhorse to win. No one saw Oakland with that potential, especially after trading their top two pitchers. But, even though they had at one point five rookies in the rotation, they kept playing hard under manager Bob Melvin and got unexpected contributions.
“Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker were expected to log some innings in Oakland, but neither were expected to have such an impact. Most thought that if Derek Norris made it to Triple A it would be considered a successful season for him, and he might find himself in the mix for the A’s in 2013 at some point, so his ascension to the starting catcher job in Oakland was rather shocking,” he said.
Oct 10, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics catcher Derek Norris (36) hits the ball against the Detroit Tigers during the fifth inning of game four of the 2012 ALDS at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE
Norris’s ascension along with the acquisition of George Kottaras saw Kurt Suzuki as the odd man out in Oakland. Washington GM Mike Rizzo spoke to Oakland GM Billy Beane when the catcher’s position was a weakness for the Nationals. Suzuki came in on August 3, and was a stabilizing force behind the plate. Suzuki was a fan favourite in Oakland, and Davis says that Oakland fans kept an eye on their former backstop.
“Seeing Kurt Suzuki leave the A’s was really tough for a lot of fans. He was the longest tenured Athletic, and was always a fan favorite in Oakland. His character and attitude is second to none, and that was something many fans adored him for. He struggled badly in Oakland this year, and it was tough to see such a good man have such a tough time. So when he moved on to the Nationals, it was really great to see him get a fresh start and contribute to their playoff run. Kurt is one of those players A’s fans will always root for no matter where he is.”
The prized prospect in the trade wasn’t Norris or Cole but Brad Peacock who saw time with the Nationals in 2011. He struggled in Triple A this year and never saw time in the big leagues despite the shuttle of rookie pitchers making the jump to the Majors.
“Tommy Milone seems to have become the new Trevor Cahill of the rotation, and Jarrod Parker is the new Gio Gonzalez. If Peacock can get right in 2013, this trade will go from a fairly successful deal, to possibly a spectacular success,” Davis said.
Despite the three players given up, I doubt many Washington fans will look back at this trade badly as long as Gonzalez is pitching well. In fact, one could argue that all three of the trades made recently between the two teams have worked out well. The Suzuki trade, the Gonzalez trade and before that, a 2010 trade that saw Josh Willingham sent to Oakland for Corey Brown and Henry Rodriguez who both saw time with the Nationals last year. [Fun fact only I will enjoy: Willingham’s most similar player according to Baseball Reference is Henry Rodriguez – the slugger, not the pitcher.]
“Billy Beane has a reputation for fleecing opposing GMs in deals like this, but this one seems to be mutually successful. We can’t say the same for the other big trades of last offseason, as I’m sure the Red Sox wish they still had Josh Reddick, and Ryan Cook and Jarrod Parker are surely missed in Arizona. The A’s and Nationals have made 3 fairly big trades in the last few years (Gio Gonzalez, Kurt Suzuki, Josh Willingham) and seem to have one another on speed dial when a deal needs to be made. I expect more in the future, and maybe sometime the two teams will meet up in October as a result,” Davis said.