A healthy Harden gives the A’s as true an ace as any other team can boast, while Joe Blanton settles in as a worthy #2. I have always felt that Justin Duchscherer had what it took to be a #3 starter, but whether rehab and rust leave him as a #3 or #4 in 2008, the combination of Duke and Gaudin give the A’s a solid middle of the rotation, while the depth of Meyer, Eveland, Saarloos, and Braden not only give the A’s choices for a #5 starter, they also offer decent depth to give Duke and Gaudin some innings-breathers if need be.
Meanwhile, a solid bullpen of Street, Embree, Brown, Devine, Foulke, and Casilla provide both quality and the depth to shorten games for the rotation, which should be position to win most of the games it can get Oakland through 6 innings with the lead.
The lineup, hardly a murderer’s row, still improves upon its 2007 performance with Kendall’s ABs taken by Suzuki, Kotsay’s by Denorfia, with Buck and Barton slated for a full season of plate appearances, and with a crippled Chavez replaced by either a healthier Chavez or at least a full season of Hannahan.
And so here the A’s are in July, 2008, 90 games into a season they were supposed to write off, except this year it’s Kelvim Escobar’s turn to go down and not Harden’s, it’s 2005 all over again and the A’s find themselves actually within striking distance of contention. Maybe they are still just that one key player – the Jermaine Dye or Ray Durham of years past – away from being able to fight for the AL West crown not in 2011, not in 2010, not in 2009, but in 2008.
The strange thing is, the A’s could easily make that trade. Pan over to the minors, where Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Fautino De Los Santos, Arnold Leon, Henry Rodriguez, and James Simmons are all stacked behind Gio Gonzalez, elbowing their way for attention and promotion. What if Billy Beane is such a mad genius that he dealt his ace, and then Swisher, in order to over-rebuild, so that if his replacement-ace was healthy and enough else broke right, he could switch hats in just six months and become a buyer, dealing two excellent young pitching prospects for a “right now impact player” – and still be left with plenty of legitimate young pitching talent to reload the rotation in 2009-11?
I know, I know – remember, this is “parallel universe” fantasy. Everybody knows that the notion of getting two socks back from the dryer is completely ridiculous.