Sometime in the spring of 2007, I was sitting in an AP English Language classroom as a high school senior. Since I had already gotten into college, I wasn't really 100 percent engaged anymore, and the works of Henry James and Joan Didion did little to motivate me. I was pretty much going through the motions.
Still, one assignment that we got piqued me interest. It was simply: "Write a persuasive essay of three pages on anything you want."
My essay, entitled "The Myth of Quadruple-A and the Minor League Sluggers," was closer to 10 pages. It argued that the "Quad-A" designation was arbitrary, and that teams could save a lot of money without losing any performance by giving Quad-A guys, particularly hitters, a chance.
My essay centered around the examples of Scott McClain, Jon Knott and Jack Cust. Cust was my favorite, a longtime minor leaguer who had managed a nice .260/.357/.521 line in a brief 2003 stint with the Orioles.
In particular, Cust's 2006 numbers at Triple-A Portland were incredible. He hit .293/.467/.549 with 30 homers and a whopping 143 walks.
I thought Cust could be a .260/.400/.500 hitter if given a major league chance. Each day he was in Portland in late 2006 and early 2007, I kept watch on him, wondering how well he'd have to do for an offense-starved Padres team to give the guy a look. Had I been writing here at the time, I probably would've written more pro-Cust articles than Steven Resnick writes anti-Bob Geren articles.
Imagine my joy, then, when I found out that my favorite team, the A's, traded for Cust in May 2007 with plans to have him DH.
Cust went out and hit .256/.408/.504 the rest of the way. I had been validated.
Given all this backstory with the guy, it's weird for me to be sitting here just two-and-a-half years after the A's acquired Cust and writing an article on why non-tendering him was the right move.
That's not to say I don't think Cust, who hit .240/.356/.417 in 2009, isn't still a nice player. After an ill-fated experiment that had him swinging more early in the year, he returned to his 2008 level of production, which is in the .800-.850 OPS range.
Still, there's no way Cust should be in Oakland in 2010. That has less to do with him than it has to do with other players in the organization.
It's no secret that Cust is a poor defender, best suited to DH. However, the A's have a number of players in Triple-A and the majors who are also suspect defensively. Jake Fox, Tommy Everidge, Brett Wallace and Chris Carter all struggle in the field. And with Daric Barton looking like he'll be the starting first baseman in 2010, more than spot-work at that position isn't an option for Fox, Everidge, Wallace or Carter.
Luckily, all four have experience at third base, and Carter and Fox have played some corner outfield, so it's possible to have several of those players (if they all make the team) on the field at the same time. However, the DH spot needed to open up if the A's are to have a decent defense. Having, say, Wallace and Everidge platooning at third, Fox in left, and Carter in right would be a disaster.
The A's are building to contend in 2011, when Cust would be 32, and his skillset doesn't tend to age well. It was best to let him go and see if these other, younger players can replace his production and improve to the point where the A's can have a strong heart of the order in coming years. Wallace and Carter, especially, will be key to that.
It would be stupid to write an article about the A's non-tendering someone without at least mentioning the cost issue. Not only are the other players looking to DH younger, but they are also much cheaper, and allow the A's to look for another infielder or veteran pitcher in free agency.
It was a nice run, Jack, and I'll miss you. Best of luck wherever you go. But non-tendering you was the right decision.