Due to the uncertainty of the Athletics' ballpark situation, it appears as if Billy Beane and the A's won't be able to re-sign any of their free agents, or pick anybody new out of the free agent crop this year.
Beane and Athletics owner Lew Wolff have publicly stated that until Major League Baseball gives them an answer, all spending will be on hold. At the rate Bud Selig is going (it's been two and a half years since he established a committee to make the decision), it doesn't appear we'll have our answer anytime soon.
This might actually be the best thing that could happen to the A's 2012 season, which, to the untrained eye, looks like it's going to be a disaster. If, as expected, the A's part ways with the likes of Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui, Oakland will be without it's starting three outfielders and designated hitter.
The only remaining outfielders on the roster will be Michael Taylor, Cedric Hunter (recently claimed off waivers from San Diego), Jai Miller and Ryan Sweeney.
Sound familiar? In 2002, the A's parted ways with the likes of Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen. Beane replaced the home runs and RBI produced by Giambi and the stolen bases and batting average Damon provided with some no-name minor leaguers who could get on base.
It actually worked, and the A's won the division. This might be exactly what Beane has lined up for 2012.
The most likely replacement for Willingham in left field is Chris Carter. Carter has struggled so far in his September call-ups, but has shown flashes of power that, given the right opportunity, could begin to flourish in 2012.
Also, Carter's career .379 OBP is higher than Josh Willingham's .361. Michael Taylor had a good year last year in AAA and showed what he could do at the end of the season in Oakland. He has a .371 career OBP and seems like the leading candidate to replace David DeJesus and hs .361 OBP in right field.
Center field seems to be the most up in the air. The candidates include minor league journeyman Jai Miller, Ryan Sweeney and Cedric Hunter.
Miller hit 32 home runs last year in the minors and had an on base percentage of .368. What scares me about him is that he has been in the minors for eight seasons and has never found success until 2011.
If 2011 was not a fluke, and Miller he can perform highly again in 2012, he is almost undoubtedly the candidate to replace Coco Crisp. If Miller struggles like he did in the first seven years of his career, Beane and Manager Bob Melvin will look to Ryan Sweeney and Cedric Hunter.
Sweeney will be entering is fifth year in Oakland. In his tenure, he has shown us his great glove and ability to hit a lot of singles, but only has 14 career home runs. His OBP is a mediocre .342 (which is still better than Coco's .330).
Cedric Hunter was recently claimed ff waivers from San Diego. He is the youngest of the group, at only 23 years of age. He was called up late last season and went 1-for-4. His career minor league OBP is .347 and has hit as many as 11 home runs and stolen 17 bases. Other outfield options include Michael Choice and Grant Green, who are both probably a season or two away from being big-league ready.
The A's seem to be set at catcher, third base, shortstop and second base, but have huge questions at first and designated hitter. There are plenty of options, but none of them great. Daric Barton, Brandon Allen, Kila Ka'aihue, Chris Carter and Sean Doolittle are all currently on the 40-man roster and are all capable of playing first base.
Barton seems to be the best option for now. In 2010, he led the majors in walks, got on base 39.3 percent of his plate appearances, and put up career highs in home runs and batting average. He is also a very good defensive first baseman. In 2011, he got off to a slow start and was sent to AAA. If he can do in 2012 what he did in 2010, he will be the A's best option at first base. If he struggles, however, the A's will likely turn to Brandon Allen.
Brandon Allen struggled to find a regular starting job in Arizona before he was flipped to Oakland at the trade deadline last season. Allen got off to a great start with the A's, showing off his power and surprising speed.
Eventually, the strikeouts began to pile up, and Allen saw his average drop to just above the Mendoza line. In 41 games with Oakland, Allen ht .205 with six homers and 55 strikeouts. His on-base percentage was a somber .259. Allen is a solid defensive first baseman, but not as good as Barton.
The A's other option at first is recently acquired Kila Ka'aihue. Ka'aihue has potential to be the next Jason Giambi. Coming up in the same system as highly touted first base prospects like Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer, Ka'aihue never had a chance to find a permanent place in the Royals lineup.
In 2008, he hit .314 with 37 homers between AA and AAA. His career minor league OBP is an impressive .390. Similar in size, stature, handedness and even jersey number to Giambi, if he can come close to what he did in the minor leagues, he could be the A's starting first baseman of the future.
The last first baseman on the roster is Sean Doolittle. Doolittle was once considered the first baseman of the future, but an injury set him back in 2010 and 2011. If he proves he is fully healthy, he will likely start the season in Sacramento, but could see some MLB time if he is needed.
If it were up to me, the A's 2012 lineup would look something like this:
2B Jemile Weeks
1B Daric Barton
DH Brandon Allen
LF Chris Carter
C Kurt Suzuki
RF Michael Taylor
SS Cliff Pennington
CF Ryan Sweeney
3B Scott Sizemore
4th OF- Jai Miller
5th OF- Cedric Hunter/low-key FA signing
Utility IF- Eric Sogard/Adrian Cardenas
1B/DH - Kila Ka'aihue
This may not be the best looking lineup you've ever seen—in fact, it might be one of the worst. But, the A's aren't going to have many opportunities to bring in any better bats.
If the pitching stays healthy all season, and Brett Anderson returns as scheduled, the A's might just be able to do what they did in 2002. They could shock the baseball world, and win with a bunch of no-names who can get on base.
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