The deal isn't official yet and particulars haven't been announced, but it looks like the A's could get Matt Holliday from the Rockies for something like outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and pitchers Greg Smith and Huston Street.
Trying to figure out what the Athletics' plan for the past year has been isn't easy. They traded Joe Blanton to the Phils for prospects while they were in the midst of a playoff race, but they got a very good youngster in Adrian Cardenas. Then they traded Rich Harden to the Cubs for table scraps, only to watch him pitch 71 dominant innings in the National League (in Oakland's defense, catcher Josh Donaldson immediately put up much better numbers after being traded). Now they're dealing prospects for a star.
If this deal is as it's been reported, the A's may have some work ahead of them to get this to turn out right. Holliday makes $13.5 million in 2009, and then he becomes a free agent. Scott Boras is his agent, so Holliday won't even consider an extension. The A's collapsed badly down the stretch last year and finished 25 games behind the Angels. They had a young team and might well improve somewhat, and the Angels may well lose Mark Teixeira and Francisco Rodriguez to free agency, but this move alone probably isn't enough to propel the A's to contention. If in fact this trade does happen, it could be a prelude to another big move.
Then again, it might not. In Oakland's defense, Street hasn't improved and is about to get pretty expensive. He also lost his job as the A's closer this year. Oakland's excellent fielding made Smith look a lot better than he actually is this year; he's not a great bet to have a long career, because he doesn't have very good stuff.
And Gonzalez was supposed to be the crown jewel of the Dan Haren trade, but it may be time to recalibrate; now that he's out of the Diamondbacks' bizarro minor league ballparks, he doesn't look so good. He was completely overmatched in 302 big-league at bats in 2008, posting an 81:13 K:BB ratio that bodes poorly for his future. True, he's toolsy and he was only 22, but he didn't really hit at Class AAA Sacramento either, and his strike zone judgment has always been poor.
So, depending on how the final deal shakes out, it may be that the A's just figured they weren't giving up a lot here, and with the Angels potentially losing a couple of key players, it wouldn't cost them much to just go for it in 2009. If that doesn't work out, they can just deal Holliday at the trading deadline and probably get back more than they're giving up.