OaklandClubhouse Mailbag #9

With the trade deadline nearing, we answer a question about what the A's might look to do at the deadline in this week's mailbag...

Are there any prospects that may be used as trade bait? If so, can you describe how those players would be valuable to another team?

-Denis, San Diego

It still remains to be seen whether or not the A's will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. GM Billy Beane has been quoted as saying that the A's will be both buyers and sellers this season. Beane generally holds his intentions close to the vest, but it wouldn't be surprising for the A's to make a couple of deals, some that help the team now and some that help the team in the near future. For an example of how this trade deadline might look, one needs only to go back to the deadline in 1999.

That 1999 A's squad had the makings of a great team, but was still young and inconsistent. When Beane pulled off his first trade of the season, it appeared that the A's were going to be sellers. On July 23, 1999, Beane sent the A's number one starter, Kenny Rogers, to the New York Mets for a pair of young prospects, including outfield prospect Terrence Long.

Then six days later, Beane seemingly changed course, sending a package of prospects to the Anaheim Angels for veteran starter Omar Olivares and second baseman Randy Velarde. Two days after that, Beane shocked the baseball world by trading for the best pitcher on the market that season – Kevin Appier of the Kansas City Royals – in exchange for three more prospects. That same day, Beane made another trade, this one with the future in mind, as he sent A's closer Billy Taylor to the Mets for future A's closer Jason Isringhausen and another prospect.

Those 1999 A's fell short of a playoff berth but were competitive up until the last few weeks of the season. However, all of the key players in the 1999 trades were important cogs in the A's 2000 AL West championship team. So what can we learn from the 1999 trading season that will help us guess what will happen in 2005?

For one, we can assume that any trade the A's make this season will help the team in the future. It isn't likely that the A's will make any deals for high-priced veterans whose contracts run out at the end of the season. Instead, if they do target veteran players, those players will be signed through at least next season, like Olivares, Velarde and Appier were in 1999.

It is reasonable to guess that Beane will make multiple trades and some of those deals will involve trading for prospects to bolster parts of the farm system that are thin and some of those deals will involve dealing prospects to acquire veterans who will help the team win now. The A's veterans who are mostly likely to be on the block include reliever Ricardo Rincon, 1B Scott Hatteberg, and OFs Mark Kotsay and Eric Byrnes. Not all of these players will be traded, obviously, but it would be surprising if at least one of them isn't moved.

Currently, the A's system is thinnest in two areas: major league-ready power hitting outfielders and starting pitching prospects. They are very deep in bullpen prospects and lower-level (A or AA) position player prospects. It is likely that Oakland will be looking to acquire either a young major league outfielder in the mold of an Austin Kearns or Xavier Nady or a top flight minor league outfielder who is on the verge of being major league ready like Long was in 1999.

The A's are in pretty good shape in their starting rotation with four young starters (Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton) locked up through next season or beyond. However, they don't have a lot of depth in the starting rotation beyond those four. Current fifth starter Kirk Saarloos is more likely to be a reliever in the future as opposed to a starter. In AAA, the A's have two promising pitchers in Dan Meyer and Juan Cruz, but both have had problems this season and may not be ready to slide into the rotation next season. Seth Etherton has impressed at AAA this season, but he struggled during his time with Oakland. John Rheinecker was also having a great year at AAA, but he is out for the season with a finger injury. Beyond AAA, the starting pitching depth is very thin, with Midland's Jason Windsor and Dallas Braden being the closest to major league ready of the bunch.

If the A's do target a major league player in a trade, they will have a number of prospects they can use in a trade. On the top of the list may be reliever Jairo Garcia. Garcia is a top-flight relief prospect, but the A's are deep in this area both in the majors and in the minors and Garcia's arm could draw a hefty return. The A's may also be able to get a team to have some interest in Juan Cruz. Cruz struggled as a reliever with Oakland this season, but he has been tremendous in Sacramento as a starter this month and he still has incredible stuff. A team like Cincinnati might have some interest in Cruz as a starter.

Oakland is also deep with first basemen and could move either Brant Colamarino or Vasili Spanos. Both players have had great seasons but figure to be blocked by players like Dan Johnson and Daric Barton at the major league level. Spanos plays both first base and third base, so his versatility could make him even more attractive to other teams. Midland star Andre Ethier could also be included in a package for a major league player. Ethier is in the middle of a breakout season for the Rockhounds. However, he isn't a classic power-hitting corner outfielder, so the A's may be willing to move him for someone with a little more pop.

Major league ready prospects such as middle infielder Mike Rouse, designated hitter Jack Cust, outfielder Matt Watson and catcher John Baker may also draw some interest from teams looking to rebuild their teams at the major league level.

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