Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Friday, February 29, 2008

Oakland Athletics 2008 Preview: Planting a Field of Beane Sprouts

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

When a team has been a pennant contender for eight straight years, is expected to be one again, and collapses so badly that the GM decides to tear the team apart and completely rebuild, you have a pretty good definition of a year that sucked. Injuries to Rich Harden (surprise!) Eric Chavez, Huston Street, Justin Duchscherer, Bobby Crosby (double surprise!) , Mark Kotsay (triple surprise!) and many, many more kept the Capital Corridor route busy all season long. On the bright side, the members of the next good A's team broke in impressively (Travis Buck, Daric Barton, Kurt Suzuki). Over the winter GM Billy (Author of Moneyball) Billy Beane traded away his best hitter and his best starter for a truckload of excellent prospects.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

Antivirus Company Field crushed offense in 2007, making the A's offense look much worse than it actually was. The Athletics finished fourth in the league in runs scored on the road, but overall finished eleventh in runs as they scored only 4.09 runs at home. Jack Cust responded to his first real opportunity by hitting 25 homers and drawing 105 walks, then was named in the Mitchell report (for those who care about that). Rookie Travis Buck missed half the season with an injury but hit .288-.377-.474 as a 23 year old who skipped AAA.

CF Chris Denorfia
1B Daric Barton
RF Travis Buck
DH Jack Cust
3B Eric Chavez
2B Mark Ellis
LF Carlos Gonzalez
SS Bobby Crosby
C Kurt Suzuki

Oakland fan is despairing over the rebuilding A's lineup, but this actually isn't all that bad. Buck has breakout potential written all over him (not literally) . Barton's power potential has been a subject of debate but at worst he's a hitter in the Mark Grace mold. Gonzalez may start the season at Sacramento (a good thing for me) but probably won't take long to displace Emil Brown. He's another potential star.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

While the park made the offense look worse than it actually was, the inverse was true of the pitchers. The A's allowed 4.32 runs per home game but that jumped to 5.04 on the road. Dan Haren had a fine year and made himself worth a bundle of prospects, but Rich Harden broke down immediately and left a huge void in the rotation. The bullpen lost closer Huston Street and backup closer Justin Duchscherer leaving the likes of Jay Marshall (6.43 ERA), Kiko Calero (5.75) and Colby Lewis (6.45) to take their lumps.

SP Joe Blanton
SP Rich Harden (in their dreams)
SP Chad Guadin
SP Justin Duchscherer
SP Lenny DiNardo

CL Huston Street
RP Alan Embree
RP Santiago Casilla

The most interesting questions on this staff are (1) how long before Blanton, Street, and Embree are traded and (2) how many good prospects will Beane get back for them? If Harden shows that he can actually pitch more than four games a year he may go too while he might actually have some value. Look for Gio Gonzalez, James Simmons, Greg Smith, and Andrew Bailey in the rotation by August, and Fautino De Los Santos and Jerry Blevins to quickly reach the bullpen.

Witnesses for the defense

Despite all the juggling caused by the injuries, the 2007 Athletics were above average in both fielding percentage and defensive efficiency. Ellis is a Gold Glove candidate at second; Chavez still has the skills to be one at third, if healthy. The rest of defense is solid, unless Emil Brown, whose defensive style could be described as rodeo clown, wins the job in left. Under the Beane administration, the A's have gone from thinking that defense is a distant second to offense (the Jeremy Giambi in centerfield years) to realizing that defense is critical to success.

Farm aid

The story of 2008 for the Athletics will be the development of a huge group of talented young players. Besides all of the young players already mentioned, the A's will be watching the development of pitchers Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Dan Meyer, and Henry Rodriguez, first basemen Chris Carter and Sean Doolittle, and outfielders Aaron Cunningham, Corty Brown, Jermaine Mitchell, and Javier Herrera. This group is 2-3 years away but is very talented. The A's won't be out of contention for long.

Watch out for that tree!

Eric Chavez is only 30, but players with back trouble get old fast. He could also be moved if he looks healthy and Beane can find a team willing to take his contract.

I can make a hat, or a broach...

This team isn't as bad as a lot of people are making it out to be. That's not to say that they are contenders, far from it. However, there is a lot of talent here already and more is coming up fast. The AL West is currently fairly weak; only the Angels can be mentioned with the elite AL teams. It's not likely but the Athletics could break .500 this year and could even finish ahead of the Mariners with some luck.

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  • I made the mistake of indulging in a glass of water while reading this post. The rodeo clown comment damned near killed my monitor, along with whatever paper is on my desk. Well played, sir!

    By Blogger Bob, at 10:17 AM  

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