Oakland Athletics: Trade for Playoff Push or Clean House to Rebuild?
It's definitely an unpopular scenario to suggest cleaning house, and not a scenario I am putting out there quite yet.
The Oakland A's are in that limbo-stage of the season though. At times they have looked like a team that can contend for the division title and make a push deep into the playoffs. Their pitching, aside from the Yankees series, has looked championship-caliber most of the season.
At times the team has just looked lost though; unable to hit, unable to field, unable to do the small things necessary to win consistently.
CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler quoted an anonymous scout regarding the A's today via his twitter account:
"They can't hit, can't field and can't play the game right."
I can't say that I either agree nor disagree completely with this scout's statement.
At times the A's seem just one bat away from being a legitimate force in the AL West. I previously wrote that the A's just need to score four runs a game, and they'd be dominant. The league average is currently 4.17 runs per game.
Josh Willingham and David DeJesus have both started hitting. Their contributions have the potential to be a huge boost to the A's as they try to fight back from three and a half games out of first place.
Unfortunately though, Daric Barton and Kevin Kouzmanoff are still not hitting.
The first step is to find enough offense to support their pitching and get the club back over .500. Once the A's have accomplished this all-too-familiar level of mediocrity, they can start to focus on overtaking teams in the division and moving back toward postseason contention.
With the season hanging right at the tipping point of contention and rebuilding though, let's take a look at each position and see where they currently stand.
Catcher: Kurt Suzuki
There's not a whole lot of analysis that needs to go into this slide.
Kurt Suzuki is not going anywhere.
There are plenty of teams that would be interested if the Athletics were to make him available, but the A's don't have a catcher in the minors ready to come up and take over the every day starting job.
Landon Powell is an adequate backup, and has some pop in his bat, but he is not an every day Major League catcher.
Besides, Suzuki is one of the leaders of the clubhouse, and also the leader of the A's prized rotation.
Regardless of which direction the A's wind up going, Suzuki will be a part of the team for all of 2011 and likely well beyond.
Winning season or not, I am keeping Kurt Suzuki on this team. No need for further discussion.
First Base: Daric Barton
First base is a position that deserves a lot of attention.
The A's very publicly committed to Daric Barton in the offseason. Barton is eligible for arbitration after this season though, and the A's have failed to lock him up to a long term extension.
Given his down season, the A's are risking very little in letting him reach arbitration. Should they choose to retain his services next season, he won't be receiving any substantial raises unless he turns his season around quickly.
Perhaps this is a no-lose situation for the A's if they haven't lost any confidence his abilities.
The fans clearly have lost faith in Barton though.
The only alternative at the moment is Conor Jackson, who has recently cooled down from his hot (relatively speaking) start to the season.
The A's could look to move Chris Carter back to first base when he returns from injury with Sacramento and give him a shot at the position if he starts hitting.
Michael Spina is tearing up Double-A pitching, but having not spent any time at Triple-A, he is a long shot to see any time in Oakland this season. In fact, I'd be willing to wager he doesn't make it past Sacramento in 2011.
Another option would be to explore a trade for a first baseman. There are a number of first basemen that could become available soon, which the A's may need to start strongly considering. If the A's wind up with a rental player, Barton could reclaim the position in 2012.
At this point Barton would have little value in a trade, so the most likely scenario for him would be to finish out the season with the A's and await a non-tender decision in the offseason.
Let's hope for a resurgence with two-thirds of the season remaining.
If I were Billy Beane, I'd be on the phone to any team with a potentially available first baseman with some power. If Barton can go to Sacramento (and I don't know if he has minor league options remaining or not) and turn things around, then I'd keep him in the organization, if not then the job goes to Chris Carter in 2012.
Second Base: Mark Ellis
Mark Ellis is playing better lately.
The A's are definitely happy to see his bat show signs of life. His defense has been solid, as always, and he is the veteran leader of this clubhouse.
Ellis is the only remaining link to the dominant A's teams of the early 2000s.
He's also in the final year of his contract though, and Jemile Weeks is knocking at the door (more like pounding at it).
As much as I'd like to see Mark Ellis play out his final season in Oakland, this is a position where the A's definitely have options, and Ellis would be valuable to a contender down the stretch.
I hope that contender he plays for is the A's, but if not, there is no need to trade for an upgrade; Jemile Weeks can step in and provide A's fans with a reason to come out to the park.
(Adrian Cardenas was also brought through the season as a second baseman until this season, and he is also killing Triple-A pitching in Sacramento this season.)
I still feel Ellis is valuable to this team, so I am leaning towards saying he stays regardless of the direction the A's head. I wish he was a viable option at third base though so we could get Weeks up from Sacramento and into the lineup to learn from Ellis.
Third Base: Kevin Kouzmanoff
I didn't understand why the A's tried so hard in the offseason to replace Kouzmanoff. I fully understand now though!
Kevin Kouzmanoff is not the answer at the hot corner for the Oakland A's. Andy LaRoche is a tolerable alternative until a permanent replacement can be found.
Perhaps Scott Sizemore is the answer at third. Perhaps Adrian Cardenas can come up from Sacramento and have an impact on the A's lineup.
I'm done with Kouzmanoff though.
I still believe he can be a serviceable Major Leaguer, but not in Oakland. He needs a change of scenery and the A's need to move on.
Kouzmanoff may still have value to a team such as the Rockies, who were rumored to have interest in him during the offseason.
If the A's can find a taker, they should do so, regardless of the return.
If Kouzmanoff can be included as a toss-in player in a trade to land a third baseman, then even better.
My well-documented vote has long been for a trade for David Wright. Wright's back injury scares me though, and I would now wait until the offseason to give him time to prove he is fully healthy and the back is not an issue before I would trade for him.
Do you really have to ask?
An upgrade at third is necessary if this team is going to compete in 2011. Kouzmanoff is clearly not in the team's plans for 2012 or beyond, so cutting ties with him as soon as possible is probably best for everyone involved, including Kouzmanoff himself.
Shortstop: Cliff Pennington
Cliff Pennington is a little bit of an enigma to me.
I really want more from my shortstop than he provides, but I find a hard time finding a better replacement.
He makes more errors than I care for, but most of those errors come because of his above average range. It's hard for me to be upset about an error that most other shortstops would never have even been in a position to attempt a play.
He's surprisingly one of the team's better hitters this year as well.
Pennington is just keeping the position warm for Grant Green in 2013, but I think I'd still prefer he be moved to a utility role.
There really aren't any minor league options that I would call up to fill the position.
Mark Ellis was a shortstop before he was converted to second base. Though he has never played the position in the Majors, I wouldn't be opposed to seeing if he could fill the role this season to allow us to bring Jemile Weeks up.
Can Pennington play third base? If so, find a new shortstop and move him over about 20 feet to the hot corner.
Otherwise, I would look into a trade, perhaps for Marco Scutaro, who the Red Sox are rumored to be interested in trading.
Despite being one of the more consistent players on the field, Pennington is not a player that fits into the A's future plans beyond being a space holder. He has never really been viewed as the solution to a problem, such as Barton and Kouzmanoff were.
I wouldn't spend a ton of money or prospects on trading for Jose Reyes, but a player such as Scutaro would serve his purpose more productively over the next year and a half than Pennington.
I'd keep Pennington on the team though, just to be clear.
Left Field: Josh Willingham
Josh Willingham is another player I suddenly find myself conflicted over.
He's the team's most productive player, there's no questioning that right now.
He publicly stated he was open to signing an extension with Oakland following his trade from the Washington Nationals last offseason.
The A's have a plethora of outfielders that can take over if he is traded or leaves via free agency: Conor Jackson (also a free agent this offseason), Ryan Sweeney, Chris Carter, Michael Taylor, Jai Miller and even perhaps Jermaine Mitchell.
Given his recent production though, I'd be inclined to explore an extension with Willingham at the expense of one of those aforementioned players next season.
I can see Chris Carter being moved back to first base or taking over the DH role, so it's not really blocking a position there. Michael Taylor is a right fielder, Jai Miller a center fielder and Jermaine Mitchell is currently in Double-A and still at least a season away.
The odd-man-out would be Ryan Sweeney, who could fit in center field, or remain the fourth outfielder.
If the A's fall out of contention though, Josh Willingham is probably the most valuable trade chip we have right now. He would bring back more in a trade than what we gave up to get him.
Tough call here. I guess at times like this I am glad I am not the general manager, otherwise people like me would be second guessing.....well me, I guess.
I'd explore an extension with Willingham now. If he signs it and we fall out of the race, we just made him that much more valuable of a trade commodity. If we stay in contention, we keep him and always have the option of either hanging on to him for next season, or trading him in the offseason.
If he is unwilling to sign an extension, then I suppose I would be stuck waiting until the team's position is clear. If we fall out of contention, he's on the next plane to Philadelphia, New York, St, Louis, or whoever the highest bidder winds up being.
Center Field: Coco Crisp
Yes, I personally looked for a picture of Coco Crisp with the afro.
I'm not going to hide my personal feelings here, I like Crisp, I would be upset with the A's if they traded him.
Crisp brings energy to the team. Although they are entirely different players, something about him reminds me of Nick Swisher when he was still in green and gold.
He also happens to be the A's most consistent hitter, and arguably the team's best overall player.
Crisp would be valuable to any team looking for a center fielder or a leadoff hitter. It's easy to see where the A's could make a case for moving him if they fall out of contention.
Jai Miller is performing at Sacramento and could step into the position. Ryan Sweeney is the team's previous center fielder and is capable of filling the void. David DeJesus has experience in center field and could also bat leadoff.
While it would seem that Crisp is expendable given the players I just mentioned being capable of taking over for him in center, I think Crisp is the player I would most likely look to extend beyond this season.
Michael Choice is our center fielder of the future and is arguably just two seasons away from playing in Oakland.
Jai Miller likely has more value to the A's in a trade than he does on the Major League roster for two seasons, so I don't see him taking over in center field next season.
Crisp had positive comments about Choice during spring training, and reportedly spent some time helping mentor the youngster.
I like his hustle, I like the personality he brings to the team and I think his presence in the lineup is one of the few positives so far this season.
While he would have value as a trade chip, I'm keeping Coco in Oakland. I'd look to sign him to a two-year extension in the offseason with an option for a third year.
Regardless of whether the A's contend for the post season or look to rebuild with an eye towards next year, Crisp is a presence I would keep in the clubhouse.
Right Field: David DeJesus
Up until a week ago I would have voted to trade this guy to a National League team looking for a leadoff hitter.
DeJesus has found a home in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, and Geren better leave him there if he wants to get the A's back in the AL West race.
That actually pretty much sums up my stance on David DeJesus. If the A's are in contention, I want him in the lineup, in right field and batting second.
If the A's fall out of contention though, I want this guy shipped out of town for the best return possible and Ryan Sweeney or Michael Taylor taking the bulk of the playing time to get experience for 2012.
DeJesus was one of the hottest names at the trade deadline last season before he got injured. If he heats up again he could bring a nice return to the A's.
I'd give up that return in exchange for the draft picks though if the A's climbed back into the race.
He's been one of the few positives the past couple weeks, so right now he looks like part of the solution and not the problem.
DeJesus is a victim of "wait-and-see." I like his style of play, but I don't think he is in the A's plans for 2012.
Since he is just here for this one season, I'd only keep him around for a playoff push. As soon as the A's are six or seven games under .500, I'd start looking for a team to make a trade with.
He'd be a good fit for a contender, and the A's could use the roster spot to get some experience for a player that will be with the team next season.
I'm keeping him around though if the A's fight back above .500.
Designated Hitter: Hideki Matsui
So far Matsui falls into the category of aging stars that haven't panned out. He has company though with Mike Piazza, Mike Sweeney and Jason Giambi.
I've heard way too much in A's coverage and on talk-radio about his notoriously slow starts, and how "the monster comes out in the summer."
Matsui recently commented that he can't break out of his slump when he is not getting playing time. He makes a good point, so I'd like to see him get a solid 10-15 days of regular playing time.
That would be my evaluation period though to see if he can break this most recent slow-start, or if age has caught up to him and perhaps it is time to cut our losses and grant him his release to move in another direction.
Adrian Cardenas could come up and fill the DH role. Conor Jackson could take the bulk of the at-bats. Josh Willingham could be moved to DH to allow for the A's to bring in another outfielder in a trade such as the Mets' Carlos Beltran.
Actually, Carlos Beltran could become the DH.
Chris Carter is also an option if he returns from the DL and starts hitting.
I don't like that Oakland is getting the reputation as a place where aging stars go to die (end their careers).
I'd give Matsui two weeks to show some signs that he is turning it around and can produce in the second half. If he doesn't break out of his slump, I would release him.
Unfortunately, I don't believe he has any trade value at this point. He could potentially be a left handed pinch hitter for a NL team, but he doesn't look like a regular every day player anymore.
I honestly don't see much of a need to address the bench players.
Conor Jackson is an adequate backup at first base and the outfield.
Ryan Sweeney may still have a future as a starter in the A's outfield, and he has been one of the team's most consistent hitters.
Andy LaRoche has proven valuable as a super-sub and as the starting third baseman at times, although the A's will have a decision to make when Adam Rosales is activated from the DL.
That decision will likely come down to whether to keep Andy LaRoche or Kevin Kouzmanoff on the roster.
Landon Powell has done a respectable job in his appearances as the backup catcher as well.
I'd leave the bench mostly untouched. When Rosales is activated, I think I would either trade or release Kevin Kouzmanoff in favor of keeping Andy LaRoche on the roster.
Starting Rotation: Cahill, Anderson, Gonzalez, McCarthy, Ross, Outman, Moscoso
Yep, I just named seven starters. Had I mentioned Dallas Braden, I could have made it eight, but I ran out of characters in the title spot.
The A's rotation is solid. Unless one of the names above are used in a trade to land a slugger, I don't want the A's touching the rotation at all!
My 2012 rotation would be Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Tyson Ross and Josh Outman.
As much as I like Brandon McCarthy, and I do think he would be valuable to the A's if they decided to keep him around, I think he probably moves on after this season.
Tyson Ross and Josh Outman are just cheaper than he is, and sadly that will probably factor into the A's ownership decision when they decide whether or not to offer McCarthy a contract extension.
This brings us to an interesting point though, the pitching depth could allow the A's to make a trade or two.
Brandon McCarthy is likely not being traded due to his scapula injury. Tyson Ross' injury though would not diminish his trade value at all. If he returns from the disabled list and pitches well, he could build enough value to be the centerpiece of a trade for a slugger.
If Josh Outman continues to pitch well, he could also find himself showcased for a trade in favor of keeping Ross in the A's organization.
Guillermo Moscoso could also attract attention as a back of the rotation type pitcher.
A lot will be determined by how the A's play, as has been the case with just about every position.
The A's will only make a trade to move one of their starters during the season if it means bringing in a bat to help them contend. If they fall out of the race, they will keep their starters and perhaps make a move during the offseason.
At some point Rich Harden will be in the mix to help the A's rotation/bullpen also.
Obviously since I want the A's to contend this season, I need to be realistic (as do all A's fans) and accept that this likely means trading one of our starters in a deal for a bat.
I'm sticking with the notion that Cahill, Anderson and Gonzalez are untouchable. Since Braden is injured and can't be moved while injured, he is also staying. McCarthy is also likely here for all of 2011, again something I am totally fine with.
Tyson Ross, Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso are my potential trade chips.
Bullpen: Bailey, Balfour, Breslow, Devine, Fuentes, Wuertz, Ziegler
The bullpen finally looks like the one that was envisioned in spring training.
The A's have a few options here as well if they decide to make a trade. Assuming that Jerry Blevins stays in the A's organization, the A's will have another left handed pitcher that they can call on if there is an injury to either Craig Breslow or Brian Fuentes.
Left handed relievers are also a valuable commodity in baseball though, especially relievers with closing experience.
Brian Fuentes has been awful in non-save situations, but he has actually been quite good in save opportunities. Something that could boost his trade value if the A's need to deal him for roster reasons, or for clubhouse chemistry reasons.
As Rich Harden nears a return the bullpen will get a little more crowded, causing another roster spot to need to be freed up.
Fautino De Los Santos, Trystan Magnuson and Bobby Cramer also all could be called upon to help in the bullpen, or included as trade chips at some point this season.
The bullpen has the makings to be the best in baseball. I'd leave it alone until a move becomes necessary due to overcrowding (if Harden comes back healthy), or if an impact trade can be made by including any reliever not named Joey Devine or Andrew Bailey.
Despite what most A's fans want, I think we are stuck with this coaching staff for the remainder of 2011.
Bob Geren is a lame duck manager though, and typically the whole coaching staff goes if the manager goes.
I would like to think that we will have a new manager leading us in 2012, but I would trade that if it meant that Bob Geren turned things around and coached the A's to a playoff berth this season.
The mismanagement of the bullpen and the inexplicable days off following a hot game by a position player need to stop though.
Contrary to Billy Beane's noted beliefs, the manager does make a difference in the win-loss record.
If Geren is relieved of his position at the end of the season, the only members of the coaching staff I would want back are Rick Rodriguez and Ron Romanick.
Alright Bob, you've likely got until the end of the season to make believers out of the A's faithful, so go prove us wrong!
Okay, here's a bit of a wild one for you. Let Bob Geren finish out the season. Anything short of a trip to the ALCS though is cause for his firing.
In the offseason, woo another current lame duck manager and bring him BACK to the Bay Area, along with his hitting coach, and I'm sure we can find a spot for his pitching coach as well.
That's right, I'm talking about bringing Tony LaRussa back to the Oakland A's, along with Mark McGwire as the hitting coach and Dave Duncan to assist in the bullpen along with Ron Romanick and Rick Rodriguez. Maybe Duncan could be the bench coach?
Okay, so that won't happen, but I can dream, can't I?
Like all A's fans, I want the A's to win this year!
With that in mind, I am keeping Kurt Suzuki, Mark Ellis, Cliff Pennington (in a utility role), Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus and the entire bench and pitching staff.
Coco Crisp is getting an extension, and I'm exploring that option with Josh Willingham too.
I am seeing upgrades at first base, third base, shortstop and designated hitter. I think we'd be lucky to get an upgrade at just one of these positions with the others turning their season around and keeping hold of their spots though.
Bob Geren and the coaching staff are on the clock though, and they have some steep expectations to live up to if they want to erase the past four seasons of underachievement.
If not, I'm looking to Oakland's storied past and doing everything I can to bring Tony LaRussa back to the place he took the A's to three consecutive World Series in 1988-1990 and also where he keeps his offseason home.
Did we accomplish anything at all here?
No, it will all still be decided by the games that are played, but we did all learn one thing:
I have way too much free time on my hands!