Athletics GM and minority owner Billy Beane told me back in 2007 that he doubted Oakland would ever have another starting rotation equivalent to the one it had in the early 2000s with Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito. Four years later, Beane said, "Maybe it wasn't a fair comment; maybe we have it again in Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez."
So which was the better trio? Beane replied, "Oh gosh, tough question. Oh gosh. Hudson, Zito and Mulder were backed by tremendous offensive teams; these guys [Cahill, Anderson and Gonzalez] have no room for error. I still have to be protective of the Big Three, though, because of how great they were for so long and their big personalities. These kids are so much younger, but like them, so talented."
Beane doesn't have to decide. One was special, and one is about to be.
Beane, 49, is one of the most respected general managers of this era. While his career took off away from baseball with the release of Michael Lewis' 2003 book "Moneyball," and while most focused on the book's view of Beane looking at undervalued players or different views of statistical analysis and scouting, the reality in the baseball world is that Beane was most respected for the drafting of Mulder, Zito and Hudson. Starting rotations and pitching have been and always will be the most critical part of any baseball team's chances for success.
The Athletics during the six-year period from 1993-98 never had a winning record; in fact, they never won more than 78 games in a season during that span. However, those six years of losing set them up for quality draft picks. In 1997, they drafted Tim Hudson in the sixth round. In 1998, they selected Mark Mulder selected with second overall pick. And in 1999, they chose Barry Zito with the ninth overall pick. The results of those three draft choices were franchising changing.