Oakland Athletics' Recent Struggles Mean Some Veterans Might Be on Borrowed Time

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Oakland Athletics' Recent Struggles Mean Some Veterans Might Be on Borrowed Time
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

When I first arrived at the Oakland Coliseum for Tuesday's game against the visiting Cincinnati Reds, the sky was mostly blue as the sun was successfully holding streaks of gloom at bay.

By the time the Athletics had finished batting practice about an hour later, the clouds had inflicted heavy casualties on the other side and were threatening to win the battle in a romp.

That seems like a pretty good metaphor for the tack Oakland's 2010 season is on at the moment.

What started off in azure warmth is beginning to go cold and gray.

The Elephants have lost five of six games and eight of the last 10. They've fallen four games under .500 (ties a season-high) and dropped 8.5 games off the pace set by the first-place Texas Rangers (sets a season-high).

After finishing May at the top of the American League West, a June swoon—the club is 6-14 in the month—has been the anchor on the contention ship.

Only the Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates have been worse for the last 22 days. That's not the company you want to be keeping when rubbing Major League elbows.

Of course, all is not lost...yet.

You don't need a calculator to figure out that, at 34-38, los Atleticos still have 90 games left on the docket.

Translation: forget about the All-Star break, we're not even at the mathematical halfway point so there's plenty of ball to be played.

The team could just as easily snap back to its April/May form as it could fall off the same cliff that's swallowed the Seattle Mariners.

Regardless, the slide comes at a particularly inopportune time because of the Green and Gold's history of having its hand forced by the small-market albatross circling above the Coliseum.

For the last three years, the franchise has wisely used the July 31 trade deadline as a chance to flip veteran commodities for younger ones.

And it's done so at the slightest hint of non-contention.

In 2009, general manager/Moneyball mad scientist Billy Beane sent outfielder Matt Holliday and shortstop Orlando Cabrera packing.

Bob Geren's bunch was 15 games under .500 and 17 games out of first when it pulled the July 24 trigger on Holliday; things had not improved noticeably when Cabrera hit the road a week later.

In 2008, pitchers Joe Blanton and Rich Harden were the veteran centerpieces moved for prospects. Harden took his exit on July 8 with the A's eight games over .500 and sitting in second place, only five games out of the catbird seat.

Blanton walked out the door nine days later with the fellas in roughly the same spot.

In 2007, it was mercurial outfielder Milton Bradley and stoic catcher Jason Kendall on the move. Bradley said goodbye on June 29 with Oakland one game in the black and holding on to third place, 9.5 games out of first.

When Kendall took his leave 17 days later, the wheels were starting to come off as indicated by a 44-49 record and 12-game deficit.

All of the above begs the question, how much longer will seasoned vets like Kevin Kouzmanoff and Ben Sheets be with the franchise given the recent downturn?

The third baseman absolutely must be on some contender's wish-list given the dearth of offensive might available at the hot corner.

For those of you who don't get out to the West Coast much, Kouz has been utterly scalding in June.

Pick your favorite nugget—he's raking at .418 with a 1.097 OPS and he's launched five of his eight bombs this month.

Perhaps most impressively, he's only suffered three hitless games and those came in starts made by Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Ryan Dempster.

Toss in the 28-year-old's quality leather, his $3.1 million contract (expensive by Oaktown's standards, but reasonable by most), and his departure seems like a matter of "when" as opposed to "if."

By contrast, the big right-hander is a tougher sell.

Unfortunately for the A's brass, it's probably a more important one to make given his $10 million salary. If Kouzmanoff's number is big in Oakland's relative world, then that sucker is positively Zito-esque, which makes the fact that baseball's Big Ben has yet to rediscover his pre-injury rhythm doubly troublesome.

The 31-year-old's 6.29 K/9 is the lowest it's been since his rookie campaign in 2001 and his 1.34 HR/9 is the highest since that same year. Meanwhile, his 3.81 BB/9, 4.95 ERA, and 1.47 WHIP are all career-highs.

In other words, the Athletics won't exactly be selling high unless things change.

That's not meant as an indictment of the Olympic gold medalist.

His body of work is incomplete and, frankly, it's a tremendous accomplishment just taking the pearl every fifth day.

Remember, my man is trying to rebound from a serious elbow injury that caused him to spend an entire year gathering dust on the shelf. He literally didn't throw a professional pitch in '09 after a stellar '08 effort was cut short by the torn flexor tendon.

And there's always that pedigree.

Hopefully, Ben Sheets can turn it around and rattle off a string of quality outings.

But, if he doesn't take the team with him, those blue skies of April and May won't be the only fading memory around the Oakland Coliseum.

If history is any guide.

 

**www.pva.org**

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