The Oakland A’s have planned to contend in 2015 all along.

While they were dumping All-Stars and stockpiling younger talent over the last two months, they were still planning on making their now-annual run at the top of their division. Billy Beane is still the organization’s general manager, and he still can draw his six shooter with the best in the American League West.

The A’s pulled off a stunning trade Saturday in what has been an offseason full of them, particularly for Oakland. Beane acquired second baseman/utility man Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar from the Tampa Bay Rays, pushing the A’s into contending position with a steady lineup and good-looking pitching staff.

It cost them, though. The Rays received Oakland’s top prospect, as rated by Baseball America last month and the publication’s No. 39 prospect overall, shortstop Daniel Robertson. Catcher John Jaso and outfielder prospect Boog Powell also go to Tampa Bay. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle first reported the trade Saturday morning, and others trickled in with further details.

Several baseball pundits and analysts have criticized Beane’s offseason moves, but those people had tunnel vision. The A’s were not being blown up, and the GM was not the bad guy. He was again surviving in the environment he’d been placed in and had a plan on how to do so the entire time.

“Billy is about as good as it gets as far as being able to handle that balance, keeping us competitive currently and looking down the road for the future,” A’s manager Bob Melvin told Slusser a month ago after the team traded away Brandon Moss.

When Beane was shuttling out All-Stars Josh Donaldson, Moss, Jeff Samardzija and Derek Norris, he was looking toward the future. His move to acquire Zobrist and Escobar, as when he traded Yoenis Cespedes for Jon Lester last July, is playing to win immediately.

Starting with that Cespedes deal, the A’s have dealt away five All-Stars in the last five-plus months, a block of trades that have sent some scrambling to put Beane in the stocks while prompting others to preach patience as we see how it ultimately plays out.

Now we know. The A’s are pretty much done making moves now, and here is what we know heading into spring training in about five weeks: Their lineup is solid with an upgraded infield overall, they have a good starting rotation even without Lester and Samardzija, and the bullpen is still one of the best in the majors.

After double-checking the math, that outlook is pretty damn good.

“That total rebuild is not something we really believe in, and not something Billy or I want to do,” A’s assistant GM David Forst told Eno Sarris of FanGraphs last month. “It’s not enjoyable to sit through six months of a season and lose 95-100 games. Luckily, I’ve never had to do it.”

This year will not be any different. The A’s plan to play for a fourth consecutive playoff berth and a third division title in four years. With the addition of Zobrist, who is in a contract year, this team will contend.

If you don’t know Zobrist’s skill set or what he is worth to a team, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Zobrist is the most underrated, undervalued player in the game who can play multiple positions, though he will primarily play second base for Oakland.

Making $7.5 million next season, Zobrist has a 23.2 WAR since 2011 based on FanGraphs’ calculations. That is the fourth-highest total in the American League during that time, trailing a trio of superstars in Mike Trout (29.1), Miguel Cabrera (26.5) and Robinson Cano (24.3).

In each of the last six seasons, only Zobrist and Cabrera have been worth at least a 4.5 WAR by the calculation.

The A’s are losing a couple of highly regarded prospects in this deal—Powell was the Class-A Midwest League All-Star Game MVP last season before being suspended 50 games for amphetamines—but people can’t complain when Beane builds for the future, or future trades, and when he goes for it in the now.

That double standard is undeserved, especially since virtually the entire baseball-loving world slammed Beane for his “rebuild” before the 2012 season when he traded away three All-Stars only to win the division the following two years.

Beane’s track record earned him the benefit of the doubt during all of his earlier trades this offseason, even if he did not get it from everyone. This Zobrist/Escobar trade is why. Before Saturday, knee-jerk reactors had the A’s being a terrible baseball team next season. That was always laughable considering what remained, mainly a very good rotation and bullpen.

Now, those same people may very well call the A’s contenders even though Zobrist by himself does not make them such.

Beane traded away his recognized talent, but plenty is left, much of it still unrecognized by casual observers. With a spotlight on Beane and the A’s in 2015, the rest of the talent will soon be known commodities.

And maybe this offseason will be the reason people are patient with Beane if he makes other trades shortly down the road.


Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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