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The A’s never conform to expectations. With most teams, that statement would mean they never play like PECOTA predicts. While that’s true here—PECOTA has pegged them as an 82-to-84-win team in four of the last five seasons, the exception being the year it had them down for 72 wins (they won 94 and the division)—it’s a part of the larger mystique borne from their off-the-field unpredictability. Asserting that a team goes against the grain means there’s a clear pattern in play—a counterculture pattern, but still a pattern. Here? There isn’t one; the A’s zig and zag and cut and curve and perform unnamed movements around expectations, based on either their past or the league as a whole. If it all makes sense to anyone, it’s them and them alone.

But unlike the public’s understanding of the A’s decision tree, every season preview concerning them leads to the same root: the expectation that Sonny Gray is not going to finish the calendar year in Oakland. Even acknowledging that the A’s are a pain in prognosticators’ ears, and that their 75-win projection doesn’t mean a heck of a whole lot, it’s natural to wonder about these things. Say it’s July and the A’s are reeling and the phones are ringing . . . can’t you see Billy Beane and David Forst moving Gray—can’t you see them doing it after the season, no matter what happens during it?

If you’ve followed the A’s for a while, the answer to both questions is yes. The reasons are the factory default of these situations: Gray enters the season with more than two years of big-league service time; barring a shocking demotion or suspension, he’s going to qualify for arbitration following the season. Though he won’t become a free agent until winter 2019—which feels like a longer time away than it is—the odds of him sticking with Oakland after that point are only slightly smaller than the odds of him being in Oakland during the run-up. Beane, Forst, God, and everyone below them knows it, too. Consider this quote:

No, it’s just the window is shorter because the costs in arbitration are higher and teams are willing to give up a lot less for players the further down, which is obvious. But you used to be able to trade a five-plus player and get a good return. Now, very few people want to give up young players for that. Then it was four-plus, now it keeps shrinking and shrinking.

That’s Beane talking about his offseason trades some four years ago. It might as well be six or eight or 14 years ago, because the shrinkage has continued. Mordecai Brown could count on his pitching hand how many general managers are willing to give up top prospect-laden packages for anyone these days: there’s, well, Beane-slash-Forst, Jon Daniels, Dave Dombrowski, Dave Stewart, and uh, maybe Dayton Moore and A.J. Preller. Otherwise, small-market teams are adjusting to a new, harsher reality in which they have to pick between a hyper-turnover rate and suboptimal returns.

So: Gray. He’s definitely gone before the 2017 season, right? Absolutely based on the A’s history and the lay of the market. Go back to the end of the 2009 season, right before Beane and the A’s started their second-to-latest retooling cycle, and you get a table of traded noteworthy starters that looks something like this:

Pitcher

Date

WARP thru trade

MLS bucket

Trevor Cahill

12/2011

6.1

3-4

Gio Gonzalez

12/2011

3.9

2-3

Brett Anderson

12/2013

5.2

5-6

Dan Straily

7/2014

~1.8

1-2

Jeff Samardzija

12/2014

9.6

5-6

Gray

2016?

11.6?

2-3?

Maybe you quibble with Straily’s inclusion, or Vin Mazzaro’s exclusion, or how Cahill’s parents spelled “Trevor.” It doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter because the A’s haven’t had a perfect comparison to Gray’s situation in a long time. He’s healthier than Anderson; more predictable than Gonzalez; more dynamic than Cahill; and under control for longer than Samardzija—who was acquired for a package that exported Straily.

You can go a step further (if you want) by acknowledging Gray as the most attractive talent the A’s have had since Josh Donaldson, who, by the way, was traded within the same two-plus MLS window (albeit due to special circumstances). Further? He’s the best pitcher the A’s have had since the Big Three. Further? He’s the white crow, the black sun, or whatever other oddity isn’t supposed to exist in nature: he’s a four-pitch throwin’, all-star impressin', commercial makin’, Cy Young vote gettin’ front-of-the-rotation stud whose smallness hasn’t prevented him from making 64 starts and gobbling 427 innings through his first two full seasons. Now take a step back and what do you have? A pitcher, maybe the pitcher, depending on Jose Fernandez’s health, who will test teams’ grip strength on their top prospects.

Which is why it’s logical and reasonable to think that Gray won’t be in Oakland past the deadline if the A’s struggle. How could you believe otherwise? Every indication points in that direction: the A’s past, the market trends, the easy copy, and so on. But you know what? If we’ve learned anything from the A’s over the last half-decade, it’s that you’re standing on a trapdoor whenever you proclaim what the A’s will (or won’t) do. In other words, enjoy your pennant and your ace, Oakland fans; you deserve ‘em both.