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Is something different happening in Oakland? Yes and no

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

When the A's traded for Jed Lowrie this week, I asked someone in the organization when was the last time they made a deal where they picked up the higher-priced player.

He didn't know.

He should have, and I should have, too. It was only three weeks ago, when as their part of the three-team deal with the Mariners and Nationals, the A's traded three minor-leaguers and got back John Jaso.

OK, but Jaso will only make $1.8 million this year. So what about the time before that?

Last October. As part of another three-team deal, the A's dealt away low-priced infielder Cliff Pennington and another minor-leaguer to get Chris Young, who will make $8.5 million.

That's right. The A's have made three significant trades since losing Game 5 to the Tigers. In every one of them, they traded away kids for someone making more money.

Is there something happening in Oakland?

Well, yes and no.

The A's aren't spending crazy money, and their 2013 payroll will be in the $60-million range, right where it has been the last four years. But general manager Billy Beane admits that the A's strong and surprising run to the American League West title had him and his staff pushing for more.

"We won a very challenging division," Beane said Thursday. "We wanted to do everything we could to make the team better."

Lowrie is a perfect example of that, because the A's traded for him even though they didn't have a regular position in the lineup for him to fill. Lowrie will play plenty (if he can stay healthy), but a big reason for getting him was that the A's wanted to make sure they were deep enough.

What's interesting is that the A's traded away prospects in all these deals. There's some conventional wisdom that teams without big payrolls need to horde all the young players they can, hoping they can turn some of them into minimum-salary stars.

Not surprisingly, Beane has a different view, one that might put him out in front of some other teams with little money.

"Our currency is not cash," Beane said. "Our currency is young players."

Because the A's still don't have a stadium deal, they don't deal in five-year plans. They work from year to year.

Last year, that meant trading away Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey before they became too expensive. The A's won because the deals worked out so well -- and also because they were smart enough to gamble $36 million on Yoenis Cespedes.

So even in a winter where they traded three established players for prospects, the A's did spend some money.

They've never totally torn it down. They've never gone into a year with absolutely no hope, the way their new division rivals in Houston are doing this year.

As a result, the A's haven't had a 90-loss season since 1997.

What they've done this winter isn't a total change in approach.

It's still interesting. It's still a little different.

And it still might provide another surprise result in the AL West.

"What did David Axelrod say the night before the election?" Beane said. "We'll find out."

 
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