I know the corpse is still warm, but I can't help thinking about 2007--maybe just because it takes the sting out of the four-game losing streak that ended 2006. Here's how it looks from my computer:
The good news
- Several players are still on the upswing and should improve simply by growing a year older and more experienced: Danny Haren, Joe Blanton, Nick Swisher, and Huston Street are all key players who figure to be better in 2007 than they were in 2006, simply due to their level of talent and expected natural improvement. Add Chad Gaudin and Dan Johnson as possible additions to this list.
- Several players should improve upon their 2006 performance simply by virtue of better health: Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Esteban Loaiza, and Rich Harden are all key players who can expect to be healthier in 2007 than they were in 2006.
- As good as Barry Zito is, if healthy Rich Harden is better, and so the rotation could easily be better in 2007 than it was in 2006. If Crosby comes close to reaching his potential next season, he, combined with a healthy Bradley, Thomas, Chavez, and Swisher could easily give the A's a better middle of the lineup than they had in 2006.
The A's have several players who are key to the A's chances to repeat as division champions in 2007, but whose futures with the A's are uncertain because they are either free agents or are arbitration eligible: Frank Thomas, Milton Bradley, and Justin Duchscherer were three of the most crucial elements to the A's success in 2006. What do they all have in common? Their health is a total question mark. How much do the A's invest in them for 2007, or for the long-term deals they may require in order to be locked up for 2007? Decisions about these three players may be Billy Beane's defining calls for the 2007-2009 era. I can't see the A's being as good as the Angels without all three of them, but I also can't see spending substantial money on them only to watch them wither away for half a season on the "not available list". This is where I appreciate the fact that Beane is less more detached than I am when it comes to personnel decisions.
The bottom line
From the standpoint of TV revenue, playoff ticket revenue, and additional 2007 season ticket revenue, making it to the ALCS can only help the A's financially, and so the A's should be in a relatively good place in regards to payroll flexibility. The Angels may be great next year, the Rangers or Mariners could get over the hump next year, but no matter how you slice it, the A's should, on paper, coming into spring training, be competitive for a playoff berth in 2007; it would not surprise me if the Wild Card came out of the West next year, giving half the teams a shot at the crapshoot known as the playoffs. There are no guarantees, but plenty of reasons to be optimistic that we could be tense, maybe heartbroken--or perhaps thrilled--this time next year.
I can't wait.