Each of those pitchers -- Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito -- put their signature to four-year deals and, before being traded away, helped Oakland accomplish just that.
Now, a decade later, A's general manager Billy Beane is reverting to that very method, as evidenced by the club's third multiyear deal in less than a year, the most recent one being awarded to All-Star hurler Trevor Cahill, whom the A's officially locked up for five years on Monday.
The 23-year-old right-hander is set to earn a guaranteed $30.5 million through those years. The agreement also includes club options for both the 2016 and 2017 seasons, valued at $13 million and $13.5 million, respectively, making for a potential seven-year deal that could take Cahill to age 30.
"I'm guaranteed to pitch here for a while, so I couldn't be happier," Cahill said. "There's no place I'd rather play."
The new deal voids Cahill's previously structured 2011 contract -- worth $440,000 -- and carries him through at least his first year of free agency, possibly three. He becomes the fifth player whom the A's hold under contract beyond 2011 and the third whom Oakland will house through 2013.
The A's signed fellow starter Brett Anderson to a four-year, $12.5 million deal last April, and locked up catcher Kurt Suzuki for four years and $16.25 million in July. With Cahill's deal, the A's have assured themselves further continuity on the mound, where Oakland starters produced an American League-leading 3.56 ERA last season.
"Everybody out there knows that starting pitching is our strength," Suzuki said. "To know that Trevor's going to be around, along with Brett and I, it's cool thinking about how that's how Mulder, Hudson and Zito were, along with [catcher] Ramon [Hernandez].
"I think it's a process for a catcher and a pitcher to build a relationship, and with time, it only gets better. I think that things are good right now, but everything can get better, and who knows how good they're going to be a few years down the road when we're all in the middle of these contracts."
Cahill, who was handed Opening Day starter duties this year, is coming off a breakout 2010 campaign, when he compiled an 18-8 record and 2.97 ERA in 30 starts. The righty wasn't even on the club's season-opening roster last year, as he began the season on the disabled list and was then sent down to Triple-A Sacramento for two starts before being called up to fill in for the injured Anderson.
At that point, Cahill joked on Monday, "I would have signed for almost anything."
"I would probably say that, in all my years here, I don't know I've seen somebody make such great strides in such a short amount of time as Trevor," Beane said. "He went from being a guy that was probably a year ahead of his time in the big leagues to being one of the better pitchers in the league all in a span of about 12 months."
"The transition's been incredible," Anderson said. "His command's better, his pitches are better, and we've seen it in the success he's had."
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez appears a likely candidate to join Cahill, Anderson and Suzuki on the multiyear contract list, but Beane stayed mum on the topic, only admitting that long-term deals are "certainly the template for sustaining some success in a market like ours."
"I think it would stand to reason," he said, "that if you've got that kind of talent, that you'd look to do something aggressively to keep them around."
Beane's negotiations with Cahill's agent, John Boggs, began in the fall before season's end, he noted, and picked up again during Spring Training. In that time, Toronto's Ricky Romero -- who boasts similar service time and numbers -- reached a deal worth $30-plus million. Hurler Clay Buchholz's new contract with Boston, reached Sunday, is similar in stature.
"Trevor's been guaranteed a significant amount of money," Beane said, "but the club has also been granted a significant amount of time for the use of his skills, his talents."
"I think it's great for everybody involved," manager Bob Geren said. "We're very happy with him and his performance. He's a guy who works hard, takes care of himself, is a good person off the field. We look forward to having him for a long time."
Cahill, a second-round selection by Oakland in 2006, has registered a 29-21 record and 3.69 ERA in 64 career games, all starts, since making his Major League debut in 2009. The Southern California native revels in a laidback atmosphere, along with one that provides his rather shy nature with a sense of comfort.
"I'm a guy that kind of feeds off being comfortable in the clubhouse, and it makes it a lot easier knowing other guys will be here for a while also," he said. "Hopefully, they think I'm good enough to live up to the contract, and hopefully, I exceed it. That's my goal -- to out-pitch it.
"You give guys guaranteed contracts, and they're not worried about individual performance. We're trying to go out and win. I think that's what the focus should be on, but when young guys come up, they are kinda worried about pitching good enough to not get sent down, and then when they're pitching good, arbitration is around the corner. We just want to win."
That objective appears in place, as Oakland's starters have combined for all of the team's four wins this season and entered Monday's contest against the White Sox with a Major League-best 2.47 ERA -- numbers, many believe, that could remain low for years to come.
"I think it's special," Anderson said. "It's not too often a group of young guys like this comes together and kind of works their way up the system and are given the chance to stay together."