“Time to shit on (A’s general manager David) Forst’s lawn.”
This was a comment in a thread of more than 900 on Athletics Nation following the trade of Oakland A Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees. After a month of excruciating trade chatter, Forst traded the face of the franchise to the Bronx Bombers for an outfielder with a ruptured patellar tendon (Dustin Fowler), a pitcher without a working UCL (James Kaprielian) and a shortstop with an attitude problem (Jorge Mateo). Needless to say, the Oakland faithful were not happy about it at all.
And looking at the trade at the surface, could you really blame them? Fowler’s success in the majors depends on whether or not his knee heals well enough to roam center field. Kaprielian had only thrown a total of 29 professional innings prior to his ligament replacement surgery and the 23-year-old probably won’t throw another one until he’s almost 25. Mateo, even with 80-grade speed and a plus-hit tool, was suspended for two weeks after complaining that he was not getting promoted from Single-A fast enough.
My main vice with the trade was not getting a single player that could contribute to the team immediately. Looking at past trades, the A’s always made sure to get a polished enough prospect to contribute to the current team.
Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone slotted in for Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez in 2012, Chris Bassitt replaced Jeff Samardzija in 2015 and Jharel Cotton took over for Rich Hill in 2016. This made it all the more confusing for me when the A’s chose Kaprielian’s potential over a prospect with a higher floor such as Chance Adams.
But why would anybody trade an All-Star pitcher for a chance at striking it big with three lottery ticket prospects?
The easy answer: to rebuild.
Though it’s an extremely tough pill to swallow, this trade was exactly what the Oakland Athletic franchise needed to ensure its success in three years and beyond. Executive vice president Billy Beane recently came out saying that the A’s are abandoning their “retool” method of trading and are instead going into full rebuild mode to focus on bringing up a young core team for years to come.
To me, the best way to look at this trade is to imagine if, for a second, none of the three players had any warts. When healthy, Fowler is a 22-year-old centerfielder with 20/20 potential and Kaprielian has the stuff to zip through the minors. Mateo started 2017 as Baseball Prospectus’ 43rd best prospect and has actually played better in Double-A than Single-A. If this trade were to have happened during last year’s winter meetings, people would say that the Yankees got fleeced, plain and simple.
The A’s are banking on their new prospects to go back to their preseason rankings, and honestly, they can afford to wait as long as it takes for that to happen. The Gray trade pretty much cemented the A’s in the cellar of the American League West for the next three seasons. But that’s okay, because they were probably not going to make any noise anyways.
The A’s have their core figured out. Anchored on the mound by Sean Manaea and at the plate by Matt Chapman, the A’s have an extremely talented but inexperienced team that will need to endure growing pains before they can live up to their potential as a championship team. That gives time for Fowler and Kaprielian to fully heal, and time for Mateo to mature in the minor leagues.
So while the Gray trade may seem lopsided at first, under a microscope, there is reason to pull up your pants and hold off that shit on David Forst’s lawn.