The trade deadline is less than three weeks away, and history suggests the A's will try shipping some of their best veterans out of town.
Yet they have good reason to ditch that familiar script this year. At 43-43, the A's sport their best record entering the second half since they were 51-44 in 2008. They are 2½ games behind Baltimore for the second wild-card spot.
After trading away three All-Star pitchers last winter with an eye toward the future, who would have thought this team might be worth improving for the present? But the A's are positioned to at least entertain the idea of being buyers as the July 31 trade deadline approaches.
"I don't think if something is within your grasp, you ignore it," A's general manager Billy Beane said. "When we made these trades, we made them with the (emphasis on) the long-term future. But if the future is now, you'd be a fool not to make that attempt."
The A's face an uphill battle to make the postseason for the first time since 2006. They currently have five teams to pass -- Tampa Bay (45-41), Cleveland (44-41), Detroit (44-42), Boston (43-43) and Toronto (43-43) -- to catch the Orioles, who are 45-40.
They're also nine games behind Texas in the American League West race.
There's no doubt the A's have deficiencies. Their .225 team batting average at the All-Star break was the lowest in franchise history. They rank last in the A.L. in runs (319).
But the A's also show the
As right-hander Brandon McCarthy put it, "we have a team that is young enough and dumb enough" to stay in contention.
Indeed, several young players have emerged sooner than expected.
Jarrod Parker, 23, has a 2.86 ERA that is second among major league rookie starters with a minimum of 70 innings pitched. Reliever Ryan Cook, 25, who fought just to make the big league club out of spring training, has developed into an All-Star closer in his first full season. Both were acquired from Arizona in the December trade that sent right-hander Trevor Cahill to Arizona.
Left-hander Tommy Milone, 25, was the least heralded of the four players who came over from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez deal. But Milone's eight victories are third among major league rookies.
As a team, the A's lead the A.L. with a 3.38 ERA.
But no one has been more important than right fielder Josh Reddick, who is providing a badly needed jolt of power as the No. 3 hitter. He's the first Athletic since Nick Swisher in 2006 to reach 20 homers by the All-Star break. This from a player who had just 10 homers in parts of three seasons with Boston before coming over in January as part of the Andrew Bailey trade.
"The production from Josh is something we thought we would see more down the line," Beane said. "I don't think anyone expected that kind of power this early."
As flawed as the A's are offensively, they have improved. After scoring just 159 runs combined in April and May -- the fewest in the A.L. -- they bounced back with 133 runs in June.
But they remain capable of being shut out on any given day. The A's have been blanked 11 times this season, and some of the starting pitchers who participated in those shutouts include Seattle's Hector Noesi (2-11, 5.77 ERA this season) and Kansas City's Felipe Paulino (13-32 lifetime) and Vince Mazzaro (5.70 ERA this season).
Considering the injury-riddled first half of cleanup hitter Yoenis Cespedes, it's worth considering whether the A's should pursue an impact hitter via trade.
A's co-owner Lew Wolff told this newspaper the team has the capability to take on payroll.
"You'd have to ask Billy," Wolff said. "If he wanted to add somebody, it's not a matter of money. It's a matter of availability and his decision."
The A's stockpiled 10 prospects in trades last winter because they thought they had no chance to compete this season. With the team playing better than expected, Beane must decide whether it's worth parting with some of those players for a bat.
He is hesitant to do so despite his talk of being opportunistic.
"The goal was to build a team that can compete year after year instead of just a few months," Beane said. "We are going to have to be somewhat leery of a short-term fix if we give up players for the long term, because I do like this group."
One major league scout, who requested anonymity, doubts whether the A's pitching will hold up down the stretch, and he considers it a risk for them to make a trade geared toward this season.
"I think it will be hard for them to stay afloat," he said.
Then again, few predicted the A's would be a .500 team at the All-Star break. At the very least, they've shown enough encouraging signs to warrant keeping the current cast together rather than sell at the deadline.
Starting pitcher Bartolo Colon, outfielder Coco Crisp, reliever Grant Balfour and catcher Kurt Suzuki are all trade chips should the A's wave the white flag on 2012. But Crisp, after a slow start, has sparked the offense from the leadoff spot, hitting .337 over his past 22 games.
And this quote from Beane about Colon seems telling: "He's had a huge impact on and off the field. We like him just fine pitching for us, to be honest."
Actions will speak louder than words. In 2008, the A's were 51-44 and six games out of first as they came out of the All-Star break. That didn't stop Beane from dealing No. 1 starter Joe Blanton to Philadelphia one day before the second half began.
Figure the next 21/2 weeks will influence his decision-making. The A's play the Rangers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles and Rays -- a stern test of 14 games against contending teams that will shed light on whether the A's are true contenders themselves.