I, for one, am not going to sit here and whine about how we're two steps from the cellar of the division. A mid-season re-tooling is exactly the type of "shot-in-the-arm" that this organization needs to get back to it's roots...to it's true "Oaktown Mojo".
Way back in 1997 when I moved to the Bay Area after 15 years in Orange County, one of the first things I realized was that the Oakland Athletics were nothing like the CALIFORNIA Angels or the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles. While the organization was operated along cold, efficient corporate lines, the team on the field and the fans in the stands seemed to constitute a tight-knit, warm family of small town baseball obsessives, based mainly in the East Bay and without significant national media attention.
It was a team made up of frat-boy types in their early-and-mid twenties with a certain zest for life and an underdog mentality. And since I quickly turned into a "frat-boy with a zest for life" myself around this time I felt a bit of a kinship with these guys.
But after the remarkable run of 4-straight playoff apperances that concluded in 2003, this organization started to focus on more "gritty", older veterans that seemed much more guarded, more professional and less fun-loving than the teams that made me an Oakland A fan to begin with. And in a sense, these players seemed to suck the fun out of the Oakland A experience because they thought that they were too focused on "winning at all costs" after toiling for losing teams all their careers. While a few of those veterans were instrumental in getting the A's finally past the first round of the playoffs, it's the young guys that I've been rooting for the hardest all along.
Now, with this team's recent struggles, the opportunity to get that unique, fratboy, underdog mojo back is finally upon us. The first move toward this retrograde motion was made at the beginning of the season with Buck's promotion and was made even more pronounced during the 2007 draft, when Beane and Co. finally went back to their Moneyball roots and used the vast majority of their picks on polished collegiate position players and used the middle rounds to draft solid collegiate pitchers in bunches. The recent trade of Kendall furthers this shift along, and I couldn't be more excited for our prospects going forward- pun intended.
So, whenever you're getting down at losing 11-4, 4-3 and 5-4 games against the Rangers or Twins, just think of this core we'll be building around:
- We've got the Giambi of this Generation (minus the 'Roids and with a whole lot more personality) locked up for the foreseeble future in Swisher.
- The All-American surfer boy type in Travis Buck
- A Flyin' Hawaiin that wears pucca shells along with his gear behind the plate in Kurt Suzuki.
- A bad-ass bulldog with a fireballer mentality (and a K-rate to back it up) in Dallas Braden - see Hudson, Tim circa 2000.
- Two jumpy and exciting lead-off type middle infielders finally showing promise in the minors in Pennington and Sellers
- A legitimate all-around hitting prospect that has, GASP!, above-average career numbers with runners in scoring position in Daric Barton
- A host of legitimate late-inning relievers that can throw heat (M. Mitchell, A. Brown, S. Casilla, Embree?)
- A prototypical slugging "Holy Grail" - type DH picked up for pennies on the dollar in Jack Cust
- A 2007 1st-round draft pick that might be up starting games for the big club this time next season - see Mulder, Mark circa 2001.
- A spacey, but durable and often dominant All-Star ace-starter in Danny Haren - see Zito, Barry circa 2002.
- A stocky, ornery and efficient country boy pitcher maturing before our eyes into a solid #3 starter in Joe Blanton
- A fearless Texan and former Rookie of the Year closer who is probably a better reliever when injured than most other closers are fully healthy in Huston Street
That's a pretty exciting core to have either already on your team and signed and/or under club control for years to come, or well on their way in the minors to contributing to the big club soon.
I foresee this season and 2008 as exciting and moderately contending teams, but ultimately teams in transition (much like a decade ago in '97 and '98)...beyond that you're looking at, on paper, the most talented A's team of the past ten years taking the field in 2009. If everything breaks according to plan, you're looking at a solid rotation of:
1 - Haren
2 - Harden (if option picked up AND healthy)
3 - Blanton
4 - Gaudin
5 - Simmons
A relief corps with a shut-down closer (Street), an assortment of flame throwing set-up men (Casilla, Embree), effective middle relievers (Braden, Mitchell), situational pawns (Marshall) and a change-of-pace longman (Dinardo).
In the field, you're looking at average or above-average defense at virtually every position (depending on who emerges as our center fielder after Kotsay leaves) and a well-balanced lineup with bookended SPEED, middle of the order POWER and decent CONTACT that should look something like this:
1 - Pennington (SS)
2 - Buck (RF)
3 - Barton (1B)
4 - Cust (DH)
5 - Swisher (LF)
6 - Chavez (3B)
7 - Suzuki (C)
8 - Insert Center Fielder Here
9 - Sellers (2B)
That'll be a pretty darn good team all the way around no matter how you slice it and even better if Beane can get creative and acquire a solid center fielder for the future (Jeremy Reed perchance?), re-sign/extended Duchscherer or trade away Harden and replace him with someone maybe a bit less talented but vastly more durable in the rotation...all of which is possible because that team you see above is going to be a pretty inexpensive team to field.
So, if you're going crazy, don't fret. Think back to '97 and '98, enjoy the transition time and prepare for the Return of the Mojo!