Canseco-less A's are just a 'B' team


TORONTO -- Well, hon, the Blue Jays and Athletics played a pretty good ballgame to start the American League playoffs last night. But did it feel strange to you, too?

Sorry, those are just not the A's without Jose Canseco.

Let's call them the Oakland B's.

It's not that they're necessarily inferior to the Oakland teams that have slam-dunked the league these last few years. Why, they might just run right through these "new and improved" Jays, who heartily rallied from three runs down last night, but still wound up resembling their collapsible ancestors in a 4-3 loss.

Still, without Canseco, who was traded to the Rangers on Aug. 31 in an astonishing piece of baseball business, the A's do become B's. They're somehow diminished, if only in perception. Their shoulders are not so broad. Their bats are not so intimidating.

Of course, the broad-shouldered, intimidating A's were struck dumb by the Dodgers and Reds in colossal World Series upsets, in which Canseco had two hits in 31 at-bats for a .064 batting average dwarfed by his customary driving speed. So maybe sometimes swagger doesn't mean diddly, right?

Which gets us back to the issue: Was it a smart trade or not?

You don't really think anyone already knows, do you? All anyone knows right now is that it is one of the tallest gambles ever -- not just in baseball history, but all of pro sports.

Can you think of another example, in any sport, of a championship team trading its best player just before the playoffs? Don't think too hard. It hasn't happened. Not once. Never.

Did the Yankees trade Gehrig in August? Did the Celtics trade Russell in March? Have the 49ers traded Rice in December?

Maybe Canseco, who had a bad season, doesn't yet deserve to be mentioned with those names. And, certainly, with his chronically sore back and shoulder, it is fair to question whether he will play long enough to merit that mention. That is one reason the A's unloaded him.

But there is no denying that he remains a prodigious talent, and removing that from a championship blend would seem an enormous no-no. It doesn't matter that Ruben Sierra, his replacement in the outfield and batting order, is almost his equal. Even Sierra admitted the other day that it's not quite a dead-even exchange.

But then, the A's have suggested Canseco was more trouble than he was worth; that for every time you heard about him being involved in some goofy incident, there were two times you didn't hear about. Canseco has said that is an exaggeration, but what is his definition of exaggeration?

In any case, now we find ourselves on uncharted (artificial) turf. How will it all play out? Will this most venturesome of trades succeed? The question really is two questions: Will it work in this postseason? And will it work in the coming years?

Canseco is gone from this championship series, but certainly not forgotten. His presence -- or rather, the concept of his presence -- hovers over every piece of action. Would Canseco have made a difference last night, either way? Would he have run down the two balls Sierra did? Would the Jays have pitched differently to other batters? Would Sierra have rammed his wife's car on the way to the park?

At the very least, it is a talking point of Cooperstown caliber. But understand, there probably won't be a resolution. If the B's beat the Jays and go on to win the World Series, who will know if Canseco would have helped or hurt? Same thing if the B's lose. Maybe it would have happened anyway. Maybe not.

Measuring the hypothetical impact of a recently traded player in a series -- and measuring it against his replacement's contribution -- is like trying to stack raindrops on a plate. You just can't do it.

Measuring the long-term success of the trade will be easier. Let's see how Canseco does in Texas. Let's see how Sierra, reliever Jeff Russell and starter Bobby Witt -- the troika who came from Texas -- fare for the B's. If they're even playing for the B's next year. Sierra and Russell are free agents, Witt expendable.

Fourteen B's are free agents after the season. The team's basic constitution is sure to be altered. At such a moment of re-formulation, the A's decided not to build around the increasingly fragile Canseco. They wanted his $5 million salary to secure other players.

They might not miss him this postseason, and then again, they might. This isn't an easy one, folks. Personally, I never would have dealt him. He's just too young and talented. Still, if the B's win the Series, will it ever be possible to say that GM Sandy Alderson made a mistake?

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad