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Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H12

Well, "Mr. Moneyball," let's see how smart you are now.

For as long as the A's have been the epitome of small-market success, GM Billy Beane's detractors (and there are many) could shrug him off as the lucky beneficiary of three great, young pitchers coming of age at the same time.

But now, on the heels of a second-place finish, Beane has reduced the Big Three to the Big One -- trading Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, and leaving only Barry Zito. As with all things regarding the A's, the trades were about money -- both Hudson and Mulder were scheduled to be free agents after the season. Still, the safe thing would have been to keep them, make another run in 2005 and take your chances with re-signing them after the season.

Instead, Beane took a step in the direction of rebuilding. The arms he got from Atlanta and St. Louis for Hudson (Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer) and Mulder (Dan Haren, Kiko Calero), respectively, are formidable ones -- but pitching prospects rarely have a 100 percent success rate. With so much youth in the rotation (the four starters behind Zito have an average age of about 23 1/2), Beane was wise enough to construct a deep bullpen that appears capable of sucking up whatever innings the rotation can't handle.

And of course, the A's lineup is stacked with "Moneyball" prototypes who draw lots of walks and force pitchers to throw lots of pitches. The latest such additions are catcher Jason Kendall and young right fielder Nick Swisher. Indeed, the A's still have enough pieces to contend and perhaps even to reclaim the division from the Angels. In which case, we will bow down to "King Moneyball."

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