There is a reason John Schuerholz and Billy Beane are what they are.
Schuerholz lost Jaret Wright and Russ Ortiz. So, now he has Tim Hudson, with his .702 lifetime winning percentage and the most wins (81) in the American League in the last five years, and a potential Hall of Famer named John Smoltz in the starting rotation with Dan Kolb as the closer.
Tim Hudson will become the ace of the Braves rotation.
Beane, who is looking to retool for 2006, took his ace -- a free agent at the end of the 2005 season -- and moved him for three players he wanted badly. Earlier this offseason, Beane acquired catcher Jason Kendall from the Pirates and, when he knew the Braves couldn't part with Marcus Giles, he traded with Milwaukee for Keith Ginter.
Schuerholz knew he had to reconstruct his pitching and did so by giving up two superb young pitchers, Dan Meyer (in the Hudson trade) and Jose Capellan (in the Kolb deal). Oh, he has some offense to rebuild because of the departure of outfielder J.D. Drew and the trade of the talented Charles Thomas, but Schuerholz will figure all that out as he waits for John Francouer to arrive in the majors to play right field in 2006.
Now -- with Hudson, Smoltz, John Thomson and Mike Hampton, along with Kyle Davies as the fifth starter -- the only way the Yankees can trade Kevin Brown to Atlanta is if they pay the entire freight -- the Braves have the best rotation in the National League East. And they should stand a good chance to sign Hudson, who lives in Birmingham, Ala.
There were three other teams in the Hudson sweepstakes: the Cardinals (package of right-handed pitcher Danny Haren and minor leaguers Anthony Reyes, a right-hander, and super catching prospect Daric Barton), Orioles (lefty Erik Bedard, righty John Maine and righty Hayden Penn) and the Dodgers; problem was, L.A. GM Paul DePodesta couldn't get a third team involved, as the Blue Jays wouldn't deal Ted Lilly and Alexis Rios for Edwin Jackson and Hee Seop Choi. The Orioles might have gotten their proposed deal done, but wouldn't do it without a window to sign Hudson, which wasn't going to happen. The Red Sox and Yankees, meanwhile, were never seriously involved because they had no players who interested the A's.
Start with this: Oakland got three good players with fewer than three years of major-league service time. They love Thomas, who had an .813 OPS in Atlanta in '04 (after posting a .951 OPS at Triple-A Richmond in 2003), has defensive numbers in left field that are off the charts, and brings -- with Kendall -- energy to a team that needs a spark. The Oakland organization believes Meyer is one of the five best pitching prospects coming out of Triple-A (he was 9-6 in Double-A and Triple-A combined); he has a 381-87 career strikeout-walk ratio in 352 career innings pitched. Cruz gives the A's a third power arm out of the bullpen with Huston Street and Jairo Garcia in front of closer Octavio Dotel.
The A's know losing a pitcher the caliber of Hudson is never good, but they believe that Mark Mulder and Barry Zito will come back and have better seasons in 2005. After all, they are guys who have been 1-2 in Cy Young balloting in the past. Rich Harden has the stuff that should make him a No. 1 starter, and Joe Blanton will be the No. 5 starter, with Cruz being a swingman, if necessary.
After breaking in Bobby Crosby as a future All-Star shortstop in 2004, the A's will have a similar thing to do in '05 with Nick Swisher in right field, and Street, Blanton, Meyer and Garcia on the mound. They had three major holes: catcher, second base and the bullpen, and they have addressed all three in the short and long term this offseason.
Schuerholz, one of the greatest GMs in the history of baseball for his run of 13 straight first-place finishes, has put the Braves right back where they usually are. Beane has made the A's a better team than they were on Oct. 1 and now has, with one of the five deepest farm systems in the game, positioned his team to contend for another five years. That's a remarkable accomplishment, doing so on a shoestring budget.