For the Oakland Athletics, the 2011 baseball campaign is creeping to a halt.
Having had a tumultuous and exciting six months of baseball that included benchings and a firing, injuries and trades and, oh yeah, a movie release based on the team’s general manager (which opens nationwide today), the A’s are ready to put the season behind them as quickly as possible.
Yes, like most teams, the A’s have encountered some peaks through the course of the year; but the valleys have been absolutely abysmal—the nadir being a 10-game losing streak that they never fully recovered from.
Much of the blame can be and was attributed to the slothfully slow start offensively by the team as a whole. Although several players did warm up a bit midseason, by then the A’s had lost two of their starting pitchers for the season, and were in a tailspin that was difficult to overcome in a competitive AL West division.
With that in mind, the A’s head into the offseason with numerous players eligible for free agency and salary arbitration. This September has allowed Oakland to examine their 40-man roster and not only take a deeper look at those youngsters who have bright futures with the team, but also determine which veterans should be traded and which ones should be kept on next season.
Here are five players who the A’s need to re-sign this offseason.
The lanky right-hander won the fifth spot in the rotation in spring training, and he has been all that the Athletics hoped for and more this season. To go with his 3.26 ERA, Brandon McCarthy currently leads A’s starters with a 1.14 WHIP and four complete games, ranking in the top 15 in the American League in both categories. Additionally, he ranks second in the league in K/BB, with a 4.68 ratio. Pretty impressive given he missed all of June with a stress reaction in his shoulder. Unfortunately he only has nine wins to date, but that is mostly due to his lack of run support.
McCarthy is an unrestricted free agent next year, having signed a 1-year, $1 million contract for this season.
Given the instability of an Oakland rotation that has been mired by injuries to five different starting pitchers, McCarthy’s solid performance should win him interest from the A’s.
He is still relatively young at 28, but brings experience that the A’s have missed with the losses of Dallas Braden and Rich Harden at various points in the season. He is eligible for arbitration for the fourth time, which may not cost the A’s too much. But with the uncertain health of Brett Anderson and Braden, the A’s would be wise to practice a new form of McCarthyism and sign him to a longer-term deal.
Regarding Cliff Pennington, much of what you see is what you get.
The 27-year-old shortstop has put up fairly consistent numbers since coming up with the A’s in 2008. His stats from 2010 were quite adequate for his first full season as the starter: a .250 batting average, .319 on-base percentage and .368 slugging percentage. So far, this season has been almost identical: .264/.319/.369.
He has shown improvement at the plate, establishing new career-highs in hits and RBI. However, there are concerns that this has been a slow year for Pennington. Last season saw him swipe 29 bases in 34 attempts. This year, he has 23 total attempts—successful on only 14.
What gives? Perhaps there is a nagging undisclosed injury that has dragged him down.
Whatever has curbed Pennington on the bases may also have affected him in the field. Though lauded for his cannon of an arm, he has committed 22 errors so far in 2011—similar to his 25 from a year ago. If the A’s are to move forward with Pennington in their long-term future, his commitment to improving his defense will be the focal point.
Pennington earned $420,000 this season, but he is not arbitration-eligible. Oakland does adore the kid, so perhaps the A’s should sign him to a two-year deal, long enough to transition phenom Grant Green from their farm system.
This year, left-hander Gio Gonzalez has blossomed into the starter that everyone envisioned he’d be. His maturation culminated in his selection to the All-Star Game as the A’s lone representative.
The last couple of seasons have been remarkably similar for Gonzalez. His 2010 numbers included a 15-9 record with a 3.23 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 171 strikeouts in 200.2 innings. So far this season he has a 15-12 record, 3.25 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 186 strikeouts and 194 innings pitched, with one more start scheduled.
With the struggles of ace Trevor Cahill this year, Gonzalez has been a consistent force for the Oakland rotation. Though he has improved for the most part, he still struggles with his control, leading the AL in bases on balls after issuing the second-most last year. However, given the injuries of several A’s starting pitchers, Gonzalez looks to be the strength of the rotation.
Another bargain at $420,000 this season, Gonzalez is an unrestricted free agent in 2012. He is eligible for arbitration for the first time, and, with the type of year he has had, would likely get over $3 million. The A’s would like to make him a long-term offer and Gonzalez would like Oakland to provide one.
A long-term contract should definitely be extended to him this winter.
It’s no secret that the A’s offense stumbled out of the gates in 2011. Under the guide of then-manager Bob Geren, Hideki Matsui was platooned at the designated hitter position, sitting him often against left-handers. He started off slowly, whiffing his way to a .222 batting average through the first two months of the season, sinking as low as .209 on June 7.
However, once Bob Melvin took over, Matsui has been become one of the most important players on the A’s roster this year. He was plugged in as the everyday DH and No. 3 hitter in the lineup. And since the All-Star break, Matsui is batting .298 with a respectable .796 OPS. Overall he ranks first on the A’s with 28 doubles, second in RBI, extra-base hits and on-base percentage and third in hits.
As usual, Matsui has been a calm and collected veteran who has displayed his professionalism throughout all the ups and downs of his season. He has been an exemplary team player, even playing several games in left field.
Through the trying times in 2011, Matsui has been a solid force, diving in clutch runs and being a composed influence in the clubhouse. He earned $4.25 million this season on a 1-year contract.
The A’s should extend him an offer in the offseason, as he would be the best option at DH. With his presence in the middle of the lineup, he can only improve the offense next year.
Where would the Oakland A’s be this year without Josh Willingham? The answer is kind of scary. Willingham himself was a big reason that the A’s started so slowly on offense, as he had a .240 batting average to go with 58 strikeouts through May. To make matters worse, he spent a stint on the disabled list in June, due to an Achilles injury.
However, since the All-Star break, Willingham has been lights-out, thumping 16 home runs to go with a 49 RBI, 38 runs scored and a ridiculous .903 OPS. For the season, he leads the team in home runs, RBI, extra-base hits, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
Without Willingham, the A’s would be nowhere. They need him. They need him bad.
Much of his slow start could be blamed on his move from the National League. But once he got warm, Willingham has willed the Athletics’ offense back to respectability.
He made $6 million in 2011, and he will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. The A’s desperately want to keep him on, as he has done wonders both on and off the field. Willingham will turn 33 this winter, but still has a few years left at a high level. Oakland should extend him a 2-year deal with an option, worth about $20 million.
They need him.