With spring training only a week away, fans in Oakland can be rest assured that the 2009 Athletics will pack a little more punch than their 2008 counterparts.
Much can be said about the A's offseason moves, which included the signing of Jason Giamb and the acquisition of OF Matt Holliday. Nonetheless, their young pitching will be the deciding factor to their success in 2009.
With a much more dangerous offense this year, the A's hope that their young and talented rotation can mature into dominant starters. General Manager Billy Beane added two very gifted hitters to the offense in hopes that they would carry the load for the young rotation.
Back in 2000-2004, the A's had great offensive players like Miguel Tajeda, Jermaine Dye, Erubiel Durazo, and Jason Giambi, among others who provided runs for the young rotation. Pitchers like Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder benefited from the run support, and eventually became known as the "Big Three".
But not since Barry Zito left have the A's had talented young pitchers. Although the A's parted ways with players like Zito, Hudson, Mulder, Haren, Harden and Blanton, they still have a very talented group of young pitchers. The young staff includes Gio Gonzalez, Sean Gallagher, Dana Eveland and Dallas Braden. The staff's ace Justin Duchscherer is still only 31 years old.
Can the A's repeat the success they had with the "Big Three"?
Sure, but that will solely depend on how their offense performs. If Eric Chavez, Jason Giambi, Matt Holliday and Jack Cust rip 30 homers each, then the A's have a good chance at winning the division crown.
But, if the offense doesn't perform as it should, the young starters could begin to feel the pressures of Major League Baseball. The A's young staff will need to feel comfortable while on the mound this season if the A's are to succeed.
Below are my current grades for the A's. Please feel comfortable to comment on them.
Oakland's offense features four players that are capable of hitting 30 homers each this season. Eric Chavez, Jack Cust, Jason Giambi and Matt Holliday are the heart of the lineup. Young hitters like Ryan Sweeney and Kurt Suzuki are capable of hitting .300, and Bobby Crosby will produce much more than he did last year. Overall, the A's offensive grade is a "B+". They won't steal much, but look for the long-balls all season long.
Oakland's defense features Eric Chavez, winner of six-consecutive Gold Gloves, and Mark Ellis who is absolutely amazing. Matt Holliday is a solid defender, Ryan Sweeney is amazing, but Jack Cust is a below-average defender at best. Cust and Giambi aren't known for their defensive skills like they are for their offensive power. The A's receive a grade of "B" because their defense is usually very solid.
Although the young guys are unproven, the A's have a great deal of talent. The A's ace Justin Duchscherer is a very solid starter, while Gio Gonzalez and Dana Eveland have a lot of potential. The bullpen is simply great. It was very strong last year and is stacked with great talent. Brad Ziegler, Joey Devine, Russ Springer, Jerry Blevins will provide great relief for the A's.
Heading into spring training, I'd give the A's a grade of "B". The A's have a lot of potential and talent, but their starting rotation is a big question mark. The offense is vastly improved, and features great hitters that should provide leadership for the young team. Jason Giambi and Matt Holliday will take most of the pressure off the young guys and will hopefully carry the team into postseason.