As the A’s swept the Yankees last weekend with their MLB-leading 11th walk-off win, I was convinced the best move Billy Beane can make at the trade deadline next week is staying put and rolling with the players he already has on the roster.
After fighting the injury bug throughout the first 10 weeks of the season, the A’s finally established a relatively consistent lineup toward the end of June after Brandon Moss and Chris Carter emerged as reliable everyday players. This coincided with the rise of Travis Blackley and A.J Griffin on the mound, which stabilized a rotation that had shuffled through eight starters in two months.
And what happened? The A’s caught fire, putting together a major-league best 14-2 record since July 1.
Of course, I’m not suggesting the team can play .875 baseball the rest of the way; but if you caught any of the drama at the Coliseum last weekend, you might have noticed that this unexpected band of misfits and precocious rookies has rallied together to form an old-school T-E-A-M. They’re pieing each other with shaving cream after walk-offs, “moving like Berney” after a big plays and telling the world that they’re just having fun playing a kid’s game.
This sandlot camaraderie wasn’t manufactured in the front office and tinkering with the roster now could alter the chemistry in unpredictable ways, especially if Beane goes shopping for a new third baseman.
Sure, Brandon Inge looks disposable on paper (.200 batting average), but he brings so many intangibles to the clubhouse. He’s a team guy who can loosen things up with a prank and still lead by example by staying late after games for extra cuts in the batting cage. And every hit he gets seems to be a game breaker. He’s batting .310 with runners in scoring position, has 42 RBI’s in 56 games with the team and his walk-off grand slam in his first home game at the Coliseum (May 8) inspired the play-till-the-last-out attitude that’s infected the club.
“He’s keeping us on our toes in the clubhouse, making us laugh all the time out there during batting practice,” said Josh Reddick. “You just need one of those guys in every clubhouse.”
The A’s could undoubtedly use an upgrade at shortstop (the position is batting .186 this year), but who are you willing give up? A.J Griffin? Brandon McCarthy? Dan Straily (who leads all minor league pitchers in strikeouts)? Is it really worth it for Stephen Drew or Yunel Escobar?
Probably not. Besides, you can get away with having a light-hitting shortstop these days and, ultimately, one position isn’t going to make or break the season.
Realistically, October baseball in Oakland hinges on the A’s pitching. If Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone or the bullpen gets hit down the stretch, it won’t matter who’s playing in the infield. But if they keep throwing with maturity beyond their years and either McCarthy, Brett Anderson or Dallas Braden can come off the disabled list and return to pre-injury form, the A’s could make some noise in September.
But this team is still figuring out who they are and they’re having a blast in the process. That’s why the most rational move is to just let them play it out. Then, in the offseason, Beane can wheel and deal when it’s clear exactly what kind of hand he’s holding.
Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.