It's now quite clear where the A's are.
They have a young, competent pitching staff that will eventually improve, and a completely ineffective lineup filled largely with veterans.
Last year, I did a short series where I looked at some of the worst teams in the game and suggested a series of moves that could instantly make the team a contender.
Given the Athletics' dire straits at this point, I think it's time to do the same with my favorite team.
However, what you're about to read may or may not make the A's competitive next year.
The A's are clearly built around pitching. With Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Josh Outman, Gio Gonzalez, James Simmons, Ben Hornbeck, Joey Devine, Henry Rodriguez, Sam Demel, Michael Madsen, Brad Ziegler, and many other good young pitchers around, the A's already have an average pitching staff despite being one of the youngest and most inexperienced staffs in the game.
The A's may or may not contend in 2010, but it doesn't really matter.
What matters is that they have an excellent group of hitters on the team in 2011 and beyond, so when the rotation of Gonzalez, Anderson, Braden, Cahill, and Outman (or whatever combination of exemplary young pitchers it is) hits their prime, the A's have a talented offense to back them up and form a championship contender.
The A's have a number of pieces already who can help. Recently-acquired Scott Hairston is a good all-around center fielder. Minor league masher Chris Carter could be a 30-HR guy in a couple of years.
Tommy Everidge is an excellent platoon weapon at the infield corners. Adrian Cardenas' high-average, decent-power bat and good glove draw Adrian Gonzalez comparisons.
The A's certainly could have a contender in 2011 and beyond without doing anything at all.
So why am I writing this article?
Right now, the A's have a number of veterans, many of whom have contracts that end after 2009. While some of these players are good now (and some have struggled), none are likely to be part of the next A's championship contender.
So here is what I think Oakland should do before the July 31 trading deadline. I'll run through some moves and then present the final roster of the hopeful August 1st A's at the end.
Move No. 1: Trade Russ Springer.
The A's should give Springer another week to get his ERA below 5 and then send him to a team that needs relief help.
Springer's 40, and as I mentioned in this article, his fastball and cutter, which combine to make up about 90 percent of his pitch selection, are rapidly shedding effectiveness. He certainly won't be on the A's in 2011.
Trade him to the Marlins, who just picked up Brendan Donnelly (how's that for desperate), for a C-grade or even D-grade prospect. If you can get Low-A closer Pete Andrelczyk for Springer, that's fine.
Move No. 2: Call up Brad Kilby to replace Springer.
This is pretty obvious. The A's need a second lefty, and Kilby and Jay Marshall both deserve to be in the majors. Marshall is a sidearm specialist, whereas Kilby is effective against both lefties and righties, so I'd rather have Kilby up.
Kilby is precisely the sort of player who needs big-league playing time in a year like this. He's not a slam-dunk prospect like, say, Henry Rodriguez, but he's certainly done enough to be some sort of prospect.
The one good thing about being out of contention is that you can evaluate medium-grade prospects like Kilby to see if they can cut it in the majors or not.
Keeping a 40-year-old retread like Springer on the roster erases that chance...not to mention that Kilby gives the bullpen more lefty-righty balance and is probably a better pitcher than Springer right now.
Replacing Springer with Kilby makes the team better right now and in the future, and you get another minor leaguer in the deal. It's a real no-brainer move.
Move No. 3: Trade Matt Holliday for a shortstop or third baseman.
Look, we probably won't get that much for Matt Holliday. Rather than getting an underwhelming prospect haul, we should focus on getting one good player at a position of organizational need. Two of the positions most in need of upgrades are short and third.
What we need to do is focus on finding a talented guy at short or third who is blocked or has fallen out of favor with his organization.
I know this is going to be an unpopular idea, but I think we should trade Matt Holliday to our biggest rival, the Angels.
In return, I think we should ask for Brandon Wood or Sean Rodriguez.
Both are infielders who are good defensively (Wood at SS/3B, Rodriguez at 2B/3B/OF; he's a below-average but playable SS) and have shown a ton of power in their careers. Neither is likely to get a starting gig with LA.
If you can get both of them, great. But I'd settle for one.
We could also trade for former A's prospect Jesus Guzman (and maybe lefty Jesse English) and send Holliday to the Giants.
We could even send Holliday back to Colorado for Eric Young Jr., Sam Deduno, Ryan Harvey, Juan Nicasio, and Kurt Yacko.
Colorado would likely give up more than most teams, knowing how well Holliday hits at Coors Field.
We would get Young, who the Rockies underrate but could be a very effective leadoff man, Deduno, a good Double-A fastball-curve guy, Harvey, who has ridiculous power but has never harnessed it, and two Low-A pitchers who weren't highly regarded entering the year but are pitching well.
But the idea is that you get a good infielder, whether it be Wood, Rodriguez, Guzman, or Young Jr.
Move No. 4: Designate Bobby Crosby and Nomar Garciaparra for assignment.
I don't know if any team is crazy enough to want these two, but I'm not assuming that any will be. They're sunk costs, and there's no reason to keep them on the roster: they have no future in an A's uniform in 2010, let alone later.
Move No. 5: Call up Tommy Everidge, Eric Patterson, and the infielder from the Holliday trade.
Now the infield begins to take shape. You get Everidge, Patterson, and the infielder from the Holliday trade (let's assume it's Brandon Wood).
Everidge fills the Nomar role of starting at 1B, 3B, or DH against lefties. He's a big offensive upgrade, he's cheaper, and while he isn't good on defense, he's as good as Nomar.
Patterson is a lefty bat who can play 2B, 3B, and the outfield. He offers a good blend of contact, power, and speed, although he isn't a good defender.
Wood gives the A's an immediate shortstop solution, and is a plus offensively and defensively at the position.
So now, if we keep Suzuki and Powell behind the plate (which we should), and we keep Hairston, Sweeney, and Davis in the outfield, we now have eight position players.
Cust, Cabrera, Giambi, Ellis, and Kennedy still need to go.
Let me explain why.
I think I'll find little argument on Cabrera and Giambi. Neither one is playing well offensively or defensively this year.
Trading Kennedy is a simple matter of selling high on a veteran: do you really think he's going to keep hitting .300? He's highly unlikely to be a big part of the Anderson/Cahill/Mazzaro/Gonzalez, etc. A's of 2011 and beyond, so trading him now opens up space for Patterson (who is a comparable player in terms of overall value) and brings you a prospect or two.
I love Jack Cust, but he's got the dreaded "old-player skills," and he's changed his approach to a free-swinging style this year. With that style, he's not a productive player.
His skillset could fall of at any minute, and I have no guarantee that he'll ever go back to his old approach and start walking more. It's best to trade Cust now, because his value could tank by next year, although, to be fair, it could also go up again if he goes back to his old approach.
Ellis is still good defensively, but he's another player in decline, and thinking he'll be a productive player in 2011, at age 34, is unrealistic. As with Cust, the A's need to get off the ship before it sinks completely. Ellis is still worth something, and it's important that the A's leverage that value immediately.
Move No. 6: Trade Giambi, Cabrera, Cust, Kennedy, and Ellis for prospects. Look for at least one big-league-ready hitter and get some low-minors talent.
If we were to send Cust to Cleveland for Andy Marte or to San Francisco for Jesus Guzman, we'd get a good defensive third baseman who's tearing up Triple-A. For the sake of this article, let's say we get Marte.
Then Giambi, Cabrera, Kennedy, and Ellis are traded to get us some low-minors talent, as our High-A affiliate hasn't done well at all this year and we don't have much offense in Low-A. We should focus on guys who are very young and could help the team transition out of the hopeful 2011-2014 heyday and continue the dynasty.
To fill out the roster...
Move No. 7: Call up Cliff Pennington, Daric Barton, Travis Buck, Aaron Cunningham, and Andy Marte from Triple-A.
Here's what we have now:
Catcher: Landon Powell and Kurt Suzuki (preferably platooning)
First base: Daric Barton and Tommy Everidge platooning (Everidge is a lefty-masher, Barton is a righty-masher, and both have big platoon splits)
Second base: Eric Patterson and Cliff Pennington platooning (again with the platoon splits. Pennington is a plus defender, so the defense from 2B would be roughly average)
Shortstop: Brandon Wood
Third base: Andy Marte
Left field: Travis Buck
Center field: Scott Hairston
Right field: Aaron Cunningham
Backup OFs: Ryan Sweeney and Rajai Davis
It's time to figure out if Barton, Everidge, Patterson, Pennington, Wood, Marte, Buck, and Cunningham are big leaguers. All have proven themselves at every level of the minors.
Some inevitably will succeed; others inevitably will fail.
A nice side effect of promoting everyone is that it gives the lower hitting prospects tearing up Double-A (Chris Carter, Corey Wimberly, Adrian Cardenas, Matt Sulentic, Josh Donaldson, etc.) the opportunity to move up to Triple-A and get a month or two of experience there.
If any of the new major leaguers struggle to close 2009, the organization then has some other Triple-A-tested alternatives ready to challenge them in the spring.
The A's also save money in my arrangement, so they can afford to make a bigger free-agent splash in the offseason than they would otherwise. Thus, if we want to compete in 2010 and make a run at some free agents, we can do that.
The A's overhauled the pitching staff to break in the young players to begin 2009. It's now time to shed the veteran hitters by either selling high or recognizing sunk costs.
The players I'm saying to call up are the future.
The future should start now.