Matt Holliday Trade Exposes Weak Oakland Athletics' Outfield

Ray YockeContributor IJuly 30, 2009

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 28:  Matt Holliday #5 of the Oakland Athletics bats against the Colorado Rockies at the Oakland Coliseum on June 28, 2009 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Oakland A’s have drawn strong reviews for their recent Matt Holliday trade, acquiring a top-level prospect to fill their black hole at third base.

However, while the deal addressed Oakland’s most glaring weakness, it also exposed another trouble area...the outfield. Now that Holliday is gone, the five outfielders currently on the A’s roster have combined for 33 home runs this season, one fewer than Albert Pujols.

As a result, the A’s are experiencing a serious numbers crunch: the team is carrying four backup-level outfielders, with only two bench spots available.

Here are the offending parties, who collectively would represent a solid Triple-A outfield:

Eric Patterson

Following the Holliday trade, Patterson was promoted from Triple-A Sacramento because of his production in the minors this year, despite a proven lack of success in big leagues.

Meanwhile, despite Travis Buck’s solid Triple-A numbers and successful 2007 season in Oakland, the team seems determined to keep him in Sacramento long enough to run for governor.

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Not helping matters is that fact that Rich Harden, the man traded for Patterson, has just begun one of his otherworldly tears (0.95 ERA, 21 K’s in 19 IP after the All-Star break), while chasing a playoff spot with the Chicago Cubs.

Rajai Davis

Strictly a speed threat, Davis is effective as a pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement. However, he’s an automatic out with a bat in his hands, not unlike the kid in P.E. who made all 12 outfielders creep-up until they were even with the pitcher’s mound.

Worse yet, Davis is a speed-only guy who can't bunt, the baseball equivalent of a Porsche with no stick shift. Given his inability to hit or bunt, Davis would be better off abandoning his bat altogether, playing handball at the plate, and trying to outrun any throw to first.

Davis is essentially a luxury item, the kind of player a good team can afford to carry on their roster. And a quick glance at the standings reminds us that the A’s are not a good team. But given that speed is Davis’ one true asset, Al Davis might just steal him away and take him off the A’s hands.

Jack Cust

Cust’s reputation is that he’s good for one-of-three outcomes every time he steps to the plate: a home run, a walk, or a strikeout. And while he now represents Oakland’s sole power threat, Cust has mostly produced the latter this season.

Cust’s all-or-nothing approach has endeared him to Oakland fans, but there’s a reason the A’s were able to pluck him off baseball’s scrap heap two years ago. The anti-Rajai, Cust’s offensive ability is matched only by his inadequacies on defense and the basepaths.

Ryan Sweeney

Sweeney is the one A’s player whose offensive game is even simpler than Cust’s. Whenever Sweeney steps to the plate, you can expect one of two outcomes: a single or an out. While Sweeney’s batting average is adequate, his on-base and slugging percentages would make Bill James weep like a newborn.

With Sweeney struggling all season, Gio Gonzalez going nuclear in more than half his starts, and Fautino de los Santos just now returning from Tommy John surgery, A’s fans are wishing the team had a do-over on the Nick Swisher trade.

Scott Hairston

Hairston represents a low-risk gamble for the A’s, who gave up minor league rotation filler for a player who’s shown brief glimpses of major league potential. Anyone who can hit at Petco Park has a chance to be legit, but the A’s are living on a prayer in the hopes that he’ll stick in the majors.

Hairston represents Beane’s latest attempt to catch lightning in a bottle, hoping that his hot start to the season will carry on indefinitely (think Jack Cust), rather than fizzle out as soon as he dons the green and gold (think Jose Guillen).

Under Beane, the A’s have traditionally looked outside the organization for outfielders: Terrence Long, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, David Justice, Guillen, Bobby Kielty, Mark Kotsay, Payton, and Milton Bradley all arrived via trade. Over the last decade, Eric Byrnes and Nick Swisher represent the only outfielders of any significance the A's have developed.

Thankfully, the A’s minor league system remains on a collision course with the big league club, wiping out the current roster one area at a time. Last year’s starting rotation was completely wiped out by a deluge of young starters, and now the infielders are next up for extinction.

But with so many infield prospects in the A’s system, some (Carter and Weeks) may be forced into the outfield in order to avoid a logjam. Within two years, the A’s starting lineup may be built around a pitcher, catcher, and seven infielders.

It sounds like a risky strategy, but it would be uniquely prepared to move everyone closer the next time they face an automatic out.

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