As the A's prepare for the 2010 season, they have an outside chance at competing for the playoffs.
A lot will have to go right for that goal to be attained, however.
It's likely that stars such as Brett Anderson, Andrew Bailey, and Michael Wuertz will perform well next year. Other players, such as Kurt Suzuki, Dallas Braden, Ryan Sweeney, and Brad Ziegler should be expected to turn in above-average performances.
It would be foolish to expect a whole lot of contribution from some of the other players on the roster (say, Aaron Miles).
However, there are some players who are tougher to project, because they have performed well at times and poorly at others. For different reasons, they could be anything from above-average to horrible this year.
The A's will need strong seasons from these five players if they are to contend. Let's examine who they are and why they're on this list.
Pennington is a longtime minor-leaguer who excels at walking and stealing bases. However, he did little else of note in the minors, struggling to hit above .265 and showing very little power.
The switch-hitting shortstop played extremely well in Oakland down the stretch last year, hitting .279/.342/.418 in 60 games.
So is he the punchless minor-leaguer or the above-average MLB shortstop?
My guess is that he's somewhere in between, is roughly average offensively and defensively for his position, and would help the A's to have a quality shortstop for the next few years.
That said, just because I think he'll be okay doesn't mean I'm right...
2009 saw Ellis, a good player for many years, slide to below-acceptable offensive levels (.263/.305/.403) and only average defense (2.4 UZR/150).
He'll need to return to either 2007's offense (.276/.336/.441) or 2008's defense (23.7 UZR/150) to become a quality second baseman again. If he could do both somehow, he'd be an All-Star level player.
He'll be 33 in June, though, and I'm not particularly optimistic about Ellis rebounding on either front.
Like Ellis, Crisp is a formerly valuable player who dropped off in 2009, and he also missed most of the year with an injury. .228/.336/.378 isn't a quality line unless you're a catcher.
He also needs to prove he's over 2008's defensive woes (-15.2 UZR/150). He rebounded in 2009 (19.6 UZR/150), but 49 games aren't much of a sample size.
Crisp's offensive downturn looks largely BABIP-driven, and 2008 may have been a defensive fluke, so I'm pretty optimistic he bounces back to at least be an average outfielder. He could also bring back some value in a midseason trade.
I wasn't thrilled about the A's re-signing Cust, who has declined offensively every year since 2007. He's no longer a 30 home run threat, and he couldn't even manage a .450 SLG in any month in 2009. He's not good enough to deserve a DH job anymore, and he certainly doesn't bring any defensive value.
That said, he posted a .399 OBP in the second half, so maybe he's still got enough value to be an average player. He does have the dreaded "old-player skill set" at age 31, however, which has derailed Travis Hafner at a similar age.
A Cust rebound (to 2008 levels) may be possible, but I wouldn't be shocked if that SLG just keeps trending down.
Duchscherer's situation is unique among the five players on this list, and not just because he's a pitcher.
He missed all of 2009 with injuries and depression, so it's tough to know what to expect from him after a full year away.
A longtime reliever, Duchscherer shocked people by posting a whopping 2.54 ERA in his first full year as a starter in 2008, further clouding his 2010 outlook. Going into 2009, the hot question was whether his 2008 was for real. Now we have to consider that, and in addition, what the year off will do to his "real" level of performance.
Duchscherer and his five-pitch arsenal don't scream "ace" and his fastball rarely touches even 88 mph, but it worked in 2008. We'll find out more about the 32-year-old righty in 2010. I think he'll be about a 3.50-4.00 ERA pitcher