After years of being a seller, A’s GM Billy Beane spent the winter of 2008-09 in the uncharacteristic role of buyer, adding OF Matt Holliday (via trade) and 1B/DH Jason Giambi (via free agency).
At this time last winter I wrote the moves “(had) placed the organization in a position where it can either compete for the division title or, if the team is non-competitive in mid-summer, flip soon-to-be-free-agent Holliday for prospects at the trade deadline.”
Well, for the third consecutive season the team was not competitive and, as predicted, Holliday was shipped off to the St Louis Cardinals in exchange for 3B Brett Wallace, OF Shane Peterson and RHP Clayton Mortensen…Wallace was later flipped to the Toronto Blue Jays for OF Michael Taylor (who had been acquired by the Jays in the Roy Halladay deal).
This offseason was back to business as usual for Beane, who spent the winter trolling for low-cost, high-upside players who he may be able to flip for prospects at mid-season.
He managed to land one in RHP Ben Sheets. Now, when the team has yet another disappointing season, the former Brewers ace will be shipped elsewhere — assuming he remains healthy throughout the first half of the year.
Key Additions: OF Coco Crisp, 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, P Ben Sheets
Key Subtractions: P Santiago Casilla, SS Bobby Crosby, OF Aaron Cunningham, OF Scott Hairston, 2B Adam Kennedy
Key Performers, 2010: P Ben Sheets
Former Milwaukee ace Ben Sheets (86-83, 3.72 in his career) appears to be healthy and he will assume the mantle as staff ace. Southpaws Dallas Braden (8-9, 3.89) and Brett Anderson (11-11, 4.06) will slot behind Sheets to give the A’s a decent top of the rotation, if healthy.
After that, the complexion of the rotation is anyone’s guess. Veteran righty Justin Duchscherer will be in the rotation and should be productive—again, if healthy.
RHP Trevor Cahill (10-13, 4.63) has the inside track on the spot at the back end of the rotation, at least to start the season, but RHP Vin Mazzaro and / or LHP Gio Gonzalez could sneak in if Cahill struggles.
The bullpen is clearly the A’s strength heading into the 2010 season.
AL Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey (6-3, 1.84, 0.876 WHIP, 26 saves) returns as the closer. While he is a bit dinged up as we gear up for the start of the season, he will be healthy soon enough.
He is backed up by a bevy of highly effective relievers, notably RHPs Michael Wuertz (2.63 ERA) and Brad Ziegler (3.07 ERA) and lefty Craig Breslow (3.36 ERA), all of whom were outstanding in 2009.
And then there is last spring’s closer-in-waiting, RHP Joey Devine.
He compiled a 0.59 ERA in 2008, but missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’ll make a deep bullpen even deeper and will likely assume the closer's role if Bailey has problems.
Opposing teams don’t want to trail the A’s after six innings, because they’ll be looking at a steep uphill climb against this relief corps.
Speedster Rajai Davis (.305, 41 SB in 390 AB) will play left field and bat leadoff. CoCo Crisp (.228) will play center field and bat second, at least until Taylor is ready to take his place in the major league outfield. Catcher Kurt Suzuki (.274, 15 HR, 88 RBI) and DH Jack Cust (.240, 25 HR, 70 RBI) make up a relatively pedestrian 3-4 combination.
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff (.255, 18 HR, 88 RBI) will provide Cust a modest level of protection in the lineup, but after that there isn’t much "protection" for anyone as the lineup essentially consists of a bunch of line drive / gap hitters, such as RF Ryan Sweeney (.293, 6 HR 53 RBI), 2B Mark Ellis (.263, 10 HR 61 RBI), 1B Daric Barton, (.269, 3 HR, 24 RBI) and SS Cliff Pennington (.279, 4 HR, 21 RBI).
This was a league-average offense WITH Holliday, SS Orlando Cabrera, 2B Adam Kennedy, et al, so it will almost certainly be well below average in 2010.
The 2010 season projects to be a pretty dismal one in Oakland. The key themes to this season will be centered on development and growth rather than wins and losses. It seems to be a case of taking a step (or two) backwards in order to take two or three steps forward over the next few years.
The young pitchers will have their share of bumps as they continue to develop their craft at the big league level. The lineup will be sub-par, while the bullpen should be excellent.
Sheets, Braden, Anderson and the bullpen will pitch well enough to avoid a 100-loss season, but not by very much.
SOX1Forecast: 68-94, 4th place.
Oakland Athletics — Top Five Prospects
1. OF Michael Taylor
2. 1B Chris Carter
3. SS Grant Green
4. 2B Jemile Weeks
5. P Henry Rodriguez