As per Lew Wolff's Q & A session last Friday with the A's boosters:
Q: Will you bring in any big bats in the offseason?
A: The answer is yes.
So, first Billy indicates that the A's will be looking for more power for both the long-term and the short term and now Lew Wolff is guaranteeing that moves will be made. I think it's time for a new round of trade/free agent speculation. We covered 3rd base options a few weeks ago, so let's turn to DH/infield/outfield options today.
The easiest way to add offense quickly, especial for this team, is at the 1st base and/or DH spots. The only problem is, there is a bit of logjam at those positions at present and that logjam might be compounded if Chavez is going to be limited to DH/1B duty for the duration of his contract. Cust is the only reliable power source currently on the roster, so he's all-but guaranteed to return to the club next season, but ideally he wouldn't play too often in the field. So it's likely he'll be the team's primary DH next season. That leaves the 1st base spot open, which doesn't account for Barton, who although he had an awful season, is still young and could bounce back with consistent playing time. Nevertheless, let's look at some options for immediate upgrades:
Jason Giambi - If it wasn't for the whole Chavez "positional uncertainty" thing, I would think that Giambi would be a solid addition to the A's on a short-term contract (2009 with option for 2010). The Yankees are most likely going to cut him loose this winter and not offer him arbitration, so he'll only cost money. He can still hit for power, get on-base, play a little 1st base and has emerged as a solid clubhouse vet.
The problem I have with Jason is that he's a much better hitter at Yankee Stadium than anywhere else (.939 OPS vs. .838 OPS) and is a liability with the glove. However, he can still handle righties and lefties equally, and would clearly represent an immediate upgrade over Barton. I think Beane should make a strong play for Jason.
Prince Fielder - Speculation out there (like at mlbtraderumors.com) indicates that the Brewers will make Fielder available this winter and that he'd be an "interesting match" for the A's. I disagree with this. Fielder is a monster with the bat and hasn't even reached his prime, however, he's insisted on going year-to-year in arbitration, which will massively inflate his salary every year, hasn't gotten along swimmingly with either his teammates or ownership, is a liability at 1st with the glove and has trouble hitting lefties. Why not just save the top prospects that would be needed to get Fielder and sign Giambi instead? They're basically the same player, except that Giambi hits lefties better, is more accomplished and at least seems like a better teammate.
Ryan Howard - See above.
Magglio Ordonez - The Tigers will be looking to dump salary this off-season and pick up a few young pitchers along the way. Ordonez is their most marketable, expendable trade chip towards accomplishing that goal. From a pure performance standpoint, Magglio would be the perfect compliment to the A's offense: he hits for both power and average, doesn't strike out much for a slugger and is right-handed. However, Mags is primarily a right-fielder (the A's already have a logjam out there as it is) and his contract is somewhat problematic ($18 million next season, $18 million vesting option for 2010 and $15 million for 2011). He's 34, so his performance is likely to plateau or decline over the course of that commitment. Despite the logjam in the outfield, adding Ordonez (along with Giambi) would make the A's 2009/2010 lineups downright dangerous. If the Tigers were willing to trade Mags for Street, H-Rod and maybe Smith, Beane has got to think about it, especially with, presumably, some payroll flexibility to work with. Mags could also be a good mentor to fellow Venezuelan Carlos Gonzalez as he develops over the next 2-3 seasons.
Aubrey Huff - We covered him briefly in the 3rd base thread. Sure, Huff has had a great 2008 season and only comes with a modest $8 million 2009 salary. However, he's defensively limited to 1st base or even purely DH and isn't known to be a very good character guy. Here again, I see no reason to surrender even one solid prospect for someone like Huff when the A's could get the same type of player in Giambi for money only.
Kevin Millar - Solid character guy with 20-homer pop and a right-handed bat. Would probably come very cheaply (will be a free agent). Not an ideal solution by any means, but an option nonetheless.
Mark Teixera - Not gonna happen. Wolff already ruled out $100+ million contracts.
Manny Ramirez - Ditto Teixera.
Adam Dunn - He will cost roughly 15 times more than Cust for the next several seasons to be the team's DH, but is he really 15 times the Jackster? I don't think so, but you can disagree if you like...plus, he doesn't even like playing baseball.
Pat Burrell - Intriguing bat, although on the wrong side of 30 and limited defensively. I have also heard he prefers staying on the East Coast, which usually indicates that West Coast teams will have to overpay for his services. I'd pass on him...
Milton Bradley - Ha!
Juan Rivera - Would help against lefties, but with a roster chock-full of corner outfielders already, would he really be worth that much?
Billy Bulter/Ryan Shealy- The Royals will be taking bids on pretty much everyone on their roster this winter and Butler and Shealy will likely be available. Both guys have had up-and-down, brief major league careers after being seen as top prospects. Both are limited to 1B/DH, with Shealy the better fielder of the two. I wouldn't think that it would take a whole heck of a lot to get either of these guys and either one could provide modest right-handed power for a cheap salary for a few seasons.
Ryan Garko - Another name floated by Nico in recent days. A straight Street-for-Garko swap would probably work for both teams, although Garko's coming off a down year and is defensively limited to only 1st base, which hurts his value to the team long-term. He is also more of a platoon player as he a very good hitter against lefties but more of an average hitter against righties, which limits his overall utility.
The A's face an interesting situation with Mark Ellis this winter. Before getting injured and shut down for the season, Mark was set up to be a fairly valuable commodity on the free agent market as the 2nd best 2nd baseman available. His injury status has likely cost him at least a few million dollars. At this point, I think it would be prudent both for Mark and the A's to work something out for next season, as he can re-establish his value going into the 2009 free agent market and help the young A's with his quiet leadership and defense. That the A's immediate internal 2B options (Pennington and Patterson) haven't really impressed and look more like bench players going forward, while the team's top 2nd base prospects (Cardenas and Weeks) are at least a year away, should serve to reinforce this line of thinking. Nevertheless...
Dan Uggla - Dan's been the subject of trade threads all his own. He's a pretty poor defender at 2nd, but if he could play adequate defense at 1st or 3rd he could be an intriguing option. Strikes out a ton, but good power. Under club control for 3 more seasons. However, it might take a boatload of good prospects to get him.
Orlando Hudson - The best all-around 2nd baseman on the market. Switch-hitter, doesn't strike much, gets on-base. But will be looking for both big money and big years, both of which don't jive much with the current state of the A's...
I don't know what Bobby Crosby is complaining about. He's accumulated the most at-bats of any Athletic this season and has played in the most games since his rookie year. It's his own fault that he's been abysmal offensively and has forced the A's to look into other options (Pennington) at this point in the season at the expense of his own playing time. It's clear at this point that even when fully healthy Crosby isn't very good. Unfortunately, the A's are on the hook for Crosby's $5 million+ salary for 2009. He's basically untradeable at this point, but if the A's are serious about contending in 2009, they will find a way to cut him loose. I would like to see the team give him the Kotsay treatment: offer to pay most, if not all, of his 2009 salary in a trade offer. Crosby's fairly horrible offensively, but he plays adequate defense and for a million bucks, I could see a desperate National League team pick him up. That could free up the shortstop position for a big time acquisition:
JJ Hardy - I'm a big fan of Hardy and with the emergence of stud shortstop prospect Alcides Escobar, he might be available for the right price. JJ is no great shakes with the glove, lacking range, but he makes all the routine plays and isn't a liability by any means. Most of his value comes from his bat, where he has consistently gotten better and better every year in the majors. He's having a career year this season, so his price might be inflated, and yet he's still only 26 years old and under club control for two more seasons, so it's highly likely that he either sustains his current level of production (.820+ OPS/25+ homers) or even slightly improves on it as he progresses through his prime years. Defensively adequate shortstops who can hit for power and average are gold mines, and this is why I think Beane will pursue him.
I could envision a deal with the Brewers would definitely begin with Street. They would also probably want a young, MLB-ready starter and at least a solid prospect. So, in all, I could see a deal look like Hardy for Street, Greg Smith (would be pretty good in the NL and is a good hitter for a pitcher) and H-Rod or Andrew Bailey. That's a good little haul for Milwaukee, but Hardy's a very valuable commodity and since the A's system is very weak on pure shortstop prospects, I could see Beane look to extend Hardy for several years after acquiring him.
(Of course, Milwaukee, on the verge of heading to the playoffs for the first time in decades, might want to keep it's current corps intact, refusing to deal Hardy. JJ is also long-time family pals with Robin Yount, which might present some difficulties for a potential trade deal. In that case, I'd go for a straight Street-for-Alcides Escobar trade. Alcides won't help next season, but he can start the year in AAA and take over shortstop in 2010 when Bobby leaves. He broke out with the bat this season in Double-A and has always been seen as a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop).
Rafael Furcal- Nico's been advocating for the A's to go after Furcal for some time now. I really have no major objections with him as a player. If fully healthy, he'd be an upgrade for virtually every team in major league baseball at the shortstop position. I'm a little concerned with his injury history, but he seems to be recovered from his early season back problems. He showed very surprising big-time power numbers earlier this season in a small sample size, but I think he's more of a slashing lead-off hitter in the Chone Figgins-mold, so he wouldn't exactly fill the role of "middle-of-the-order run producer" that we all can probably agree is the team's biggest need, however, like I said before, he's still a very worthy target. Other concerns include the fact that Furcal is already 30 (whereas Hardy, for example, is only 26) and will likely be looking only for a short-term, high-dollar deal in order to maximize his value and delve back into free agency next season. Also, many other teams will likely be vying for Furcal's service, as he is likely the best option on the free agent market at his position; so it's likely his price tag may exceed what Oakland is willing to offer.
I think it's reasonable to believe that the A's will seek to add two major bats this off-season to address both on-base issues and power issues - one via free agency and the other via trade. I think it's fairly obvious that my preferred free agent target is Jason Giambi, especially if there is any chance that Eric Chavez returns to play 3rd base next season. Giambi isn't much of a 1st baseman, is aging and has been somewhat buoyed-up by the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium. However, even in neutral stadiums Jason has been a good hitter this season (.852 OPS, 16 homers) and isn't a liability against left-handed pitchers. He was always a pretty good clubhouse guy and would be good for the young hitters, including Barton. At this point in his career, he would probably take a fair value, 1 or 2 year deal and he has stated his preference to return to the West Coast to play out his career. As far as logjam issues, I envision Giambi getting most of his at-bats at 1st, with some starts at DH against tough lefties, but with Cust getting most of the at-bats and Giambi getting plenty of rest. (He hasn't yet surpassed 450 at-bats this season, and was still incredibly productive).
As far as trade targets, I would love to get Hardy, both because he'd be an immediate major upgrade over Crosby and is young enough to be a building block for the next A's playoff run. However, it would take a lot to get him, and even though the A's and Brewers match up well on the surface and the Brewers have a very talented prospect just about ready to take over for Hardy, a potential playoff run could put JJ off-limits. I'd still make a strong offer for him.
If Hardy isn't available, my next favorite target would be Ordonez. Sure, he would only add to the outfield cluster f***, is old and is expensive, but he's a helluva proven hitter and is pretty much the antithesis of most of the current hitters on the A's, which is a good thing! He also seems like a decent veteran guy (albeit with some quirks) and would especially be good for Cargon. The A's can definitely afford his salary over the next few seasons, especially if they jettison Street and/or Duchscherer to acquire him and/or let Embree/Crosby/Ellis go.
All in all, the 2009 A's lineup might look like something this, with the different possibilities highlighted:
1. Sweeney/Buck - RF
2. Cunningham - LF/ Ellis - 2B
3. Cust - DH
4. Hardy - SS/Mags - LF
5. Giambi - 1B
6. Suzuki - C
7. Cargon - CF
8. Baisley - 3B/Barton - 3B
9. Crosby - SS/Pennington - 2B
Some speed and contact skills at the top of the lineup, followed by Cust who may be just a touch better making contact after his winter eye exercises and after being protected by a couple legit hitters. Then, either way between Mags/Hardy and Giambi backing them up, you have a legitimate middle of the lineup with power from sides of the plate.
Ellis, if healthy and amenable to a one-year deal, would be a nice addition to the lineup and would help cover some of Giambi's defensive deficiencies. Third base might still be a problem in this scenario, however, I think Baisley could be a .750/.760 OPS player with consistent playing time and I would honestly like to see Barton get more time at the hot corner occasionally to add utility to his game and allow him to work out his offensive issues. This scenario also leaves open the possibility that Chavez, after taking nearly an entire year off from baseball activity, could return to 3rd base for the A's in the middle of 2009 and provide the equivalent of a mid-season trade. Before you all say "there's no way Chavez plays 3rd ever again and you can't plan that way," just understand that I'm only suggesting something that may happen. The A's offense, in my scheme, would still be fine without Chavez, IMHO, but it still leaves open that possibility.
So what do you all think?