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Beane not afraid to take a chance to make A's better

Trading Donaldson a risk, but Oakland always makes the offseason more interesting
MLB.com @RichardJustice

If you're wondering what Billy Beane has in mind for the Oakland A's, don't waste your time. Besides, why spoil the surprise?

This isn't a trade that's easy to grasp. On the other hand, that's the beauty of watching the A's work. Sometime between now and Opening Day, there'll probably be an understanding of how Beane saw his roster fitting together.

If you're wondering what Billy Beane has in mind for the Oakland A's, don't waste your time. Besides, why spoil the surprise?

This isn't a trade that's easy to grasp. On the other hand, that's the beauty of watching the A's work. Sometime between now and Opening Day, there'll probably be an understanding of how Beane saw his roster fitting together.

About the surest bet is that there's more to come. Whether this deal makes it more likely right-hander Jeff Samardzija could be traded, stay tuned.

Here's guessing that Beane never intended to trade Josh Donaldson. He represents most of what we love about the A's and admire about Beane.

When Beane acquired Donaldson from the Cubs in a six-player deal, exactly zero eyebrows were raised. He was a Minor League catcher who would ultimately become the best defensive third baseman on the planet.

Donaldson would also come to represent the energy and competitive fire of three straight Oakland playoff teams. Because he's still four years removed from free agency and also because he has produced at such a high level, some of us thought he might be the only player Beane wouldn't deal.

On the other hand, there's a reason Beane is in the middle of so many conversations. He simply is willing to listen to anything. Beane takes a cold, practical approach to roster construction. No one is untouchable, absolutely no one.

So when Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulous pushed him on Donaldson a couple of times, Beane essentially dared him to make an offer he couldn't refuse.

On Friday, Anthopoulous complied.

Beane will get a 24-year-old third baseman, Brett Lawrie, who has been productive, but also has had trouble staying on the field, averaging 101 games the last three seasons. The A's also get two Major League-ready pitchers in the trade -- right-hander Kendall Graveman and left-hander Sean Nolin. And just to make sure Beane couldn't say no, Anthopoulous threw in 18-year-old shortstop Franklin Barreto.

A's Top 20 prospects

Oakland's depth was depleted this season in the deals for Samardzija and Jon Lester, so Beane was going to get kids thrown into any deal he made.

Did the A's take a step backward? Yes, Lawrie represents a downgrade from Donaldson. But the three other young guys give Oakland important depth and perhaps the opportunity to do other things. So Beane will see the trade as improving the organization in a larger sense.

Again, we just don't know. The A's will do more. Earlier, Beane signed free-agent designated hitter Billy Butler and acquired first baseman Ike Davis. He has Brandon Moss, Davis, Nate Freiman and Stephen Vogt lined up at first base. That's a lot of depth for a team that just signed a full-time DH and has outfield depth, too.

Beane may not know himself how it's going to play out. He simply places a certain value on each player and figures he can deal them to fill positions of need.

This trade makes Lawrie the everyday third baseman in Oakland, so even after trading his best player, Beane has a team that probably could go out and compete tomorrow.

The A's still must acquire a shortstop, and when Beane does that, they might be good enough to go back to the postseason for a fourth straight year. Or not.

Three years ago, Beane dealt away three All-Star pitchers and announced that Oakland was taking a big step back to regroup and make another run at the World Series. Turns out, that regrouping didn't take long. The A's won the first of two straight American League West division titles in 2012 and pushed the Tigers to a full five games in an AL Division Series.

The deals for Samardzija and Lester this season seemed to give Oakland a rotation good enough to carry it right into the World Series. When it didn't work out, Beane went back to work. The A's are being reworked again, with a flurry of moves in the books and more surely to come.

Let's face it, regardless of who ultimately wins and loses in these deals, Oakland makes the offseason more interesting.

Beane doesn't play scared. He's unafraid to take a chance, to rework what already seems to be working. There's a beauty, both in the guts to do it and in the vision to see what others can't.

If you love the Hot Stove League, you love this guy. Even if we don't completely understand what Beane is up to.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.

Oakland Athletics, Josh Donaldson, Brett Lawrie