Rumored all offseason, the inevitable became reality December 16 as the A's traded away star pitcher Tim Hudson, whose debut coincided with the rebirth of the franchise in 1999 and was the leader of the "Big Three" starters that were the face of the team.
But then came the move that shocked the team's fans and reduced the Big Three to the Last One. In Oakland's first deal with St. Louis since Mark McGwire was sent there in 1997, the A's traded LHP Mark Mulder to the Cardinals for two promising right-handers, Dan Haren and Kiko Calero, and a top catching prospect, 19-year-old Daric Barton.
Faced with an expanding payroll and limited resources, and realizing they couldn't afford to sign Hudson when he would become a free agent after the 2005 season, the A's traded Hudson to the Atlanta Braves for rising pitching prospect Dan Meyer, reliever Juan Cruz and outfielder Charles Thomas.
The A's are accustomed to losing star players. But recently, they held onto them until they were free agents and signed lucrative contracts elsewhere.
Hudson was the first A's star player traded before he became a free agent since McGwire was sent to St. Louis. The difference is that, back then, the A's were rebuilding. Now, the A's are coming off four playoff appearances in five years.
The trades were a rare admission from ultra-competitive general manager Billy Beane -- who refuses to use "frustrating" whenever he loses a star player, but instead says "challenging" to replace him -- that next year isn't his top priority.
"I'm not going to say we're a better team with these guys gone," Beane said after the Hudson trade ... but before the Mulder trade cemented their seeming downward spiral. "But in '06 we will be, '05 remains to be seen. I'm optimistic still."
Beane said trading Hudson was necessary even before acquiring catcher Jason Kendall. The Kendall trade, in turn, necessitated dealing Mulder.
"We'll continue to be aggressive and consider some bold moves," Beane said. "It's the only way we can compete and keep our heads above water."
In early December, Hudson set a March 1 deadline for a contract extension or he would play out the final year of his contract and the A's would receive only draft picks in return.
The most comparable pitcher to Hudson is Pedro Martinez, who finalized a four-year, $53 million contract Thursday (Dec. 16). Hudson is four years younger than Martinez and could get even more.
"It became pretty evident," Beane said. "There was no way, no chance, we could ever come close to a market deal (for Hudson)."
Why not keep the Big Three together for one last run?
"We came up short last year, and to return the exact same team would not be something we could afford -- and it was a flawed team as it was," Beane said. "We needed to do something bold. Managing our payroll and going forward was important as well. This year, under those circumstances, that was the best route."
--2B Keith Ginter was acquired in a trade with Milwaukee for RHP Justin Lehr and OF prospect Nelson Cruz. The A's don't know for sure if 2B Mark Ellis will be healthy by Opening Day and needed a backup plan. If Ellis is healthy, he will compete for the job with Ginter.
--2B Mark Ellis is throwing a baseball and football every day and hitting three times a week as he rehabs a torn labrum. Ellis said his feelings weren't hurt by the A's acquiring Keith Ginter, and he's confident he will be 100 percent by Opening Day and able to compete for the job.
--INF Mark McLemore confirmed his retirement during an Internet chat.
--DH Erubiel Durazo and RHP Octavio Dotel could receive multiyear contract offers from the A's, but GM Billy Beane hasn't had the time to work on them yet. That could come in the next week now that Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder have been traded.
BY THE NUMBERS: .702 -- Career winning percentage of former A's pitcher Tim Hudson, the third-best among pitchers with 100 or more decisions.
.658 -- Career winning percentage of former A's pitcher Mark Mulder.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've had a number of trades where we have to go out on a limb. There's always going to be a lot of things that we do that are open for question. This is the best thing going forward for us. But that's not to say we won't miss the guy terribly. He was this generation's Dave Stewart." -- A's general manager Billy Beane after the trade of RHP Tim Hudson.
Inside Pitch: Breaking Down the Big Three Break-Up
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