Following yesterday's article in the Contra Costa Times where Beane acknowledged that the A's were in need of power, both for the long term and even for next season, it seems like a perfect time to speculate on some solutions to this power outage.
Situation Report: The A's rank dead last in most batting categories this season: batting average (almost 20 points lower than the 2nd lowest team), are tied for 13th in OBP and are alone in dead-last in slugging percentage, a FULL 20 points lower than the 2nd lowest team. The team OPS is a woeful .682 (the team is the only AL club to NOT crack the .700 barrier). It stands to reason that the A's could use an upgrade at every position on the diamond, but that's not realistic.
Kurt Suzuki, with a solid-for-his-position .740 OPS, is likely part of the A's corps going forward and is likely to improve with experience, so he doesn't really need a replacement. The outfield, as explained on Sunday, is chock-full of all sorts of players with strengths and weaknesses. Jack Cust is the only relatively reliable power source out there, so you can pencil him in for one corner spot. Buck has shown the ability to hit for an OPS of .850 at the major league level, so I think he deserves one more shot as an everyday player at major league level, while Sweeney, Cargon and Cunningham all offer pretty high-upside as well as solid defense. At this point, the outfield rotation is packed and it would be somewhat useless to add to that logjam.
That leaves the infield and DH spots, both of which have been by far the weak links of the A's offense this season. Ellis is an up-and-down offensive player, but he likely won't be back next year (unless he accepts arbitration). Crosby is a black-hole offensively, but probably won't be going anywhere due to his salary. Barton and Hannahan, the primary corner infield guys, have hit virtually all year at a sub-.700 OPS. That's simply unacceptable at those positions. Obviously, the biggest areas where the team needs help are 3B, 1B, 2B and DH, in that level of importance.
Let's start today with third base, with 1st, 2nd and DH to follow next week.
Third Base: Hannahan's a decent defensive 3rd baseman that could maybe be an asset if he played in only 20-30 games a season. Not an everyday player. Chavez will likely never return to the hot corner for the A's and even if he did, it won't be until well into next season, since he won't be allowed to even pick up a baseball for the next 5 months. Jeff Baisley had a nice year at AAA, but is already 25 and hasn't shown impact talent at any level. It's clear the A's need a new everyday third baseman for now and the future. We've covered some trade targets at the hot corner before. Let's run through the likely targets:
- Kevin Kouzmanoff: Padres likely to deal him, since his value is high and top prospect Chase Headley's natural position is 3rd base. Decent defensive 3rd baseman, with average power but atrocious plate discipline (20/118 BB-K). He's under club control for the next 4 seasons. Probably could be had for a package containing one of Eveland/Smith/Braden/Mazzaro and/or one of Murton/Buck.
- Adrian Beltre: Likely to be traded by Mariners as they look to get younger, rebuild the roster, cut costs and give Matt Tuisasasopo a chance at the big league level. Beltre is only under contract for next season at a robust $12 million. He brings Gold Glove Caliber defense at 3rd and a fairly consistent above-average righty-bat with good power. He stays healthy and usually plays 150+ games a season. Definite short-term, relatively low-risk acquisition that would improve both the offense and defense of the team. Mariners might be reluctant to send him to a division rival and with other suitors in pursuit (Giants, Twins) they could force the A's to overpay for him.
- Chad Tracy: With Mark Reynolds emerging as the everyday 3rd baseman for the Snakes, Tracy is most likely expendable. He's had injury problems the past couple seasons, but before that, he stayed healthy and was a solid .280+ hitter with 25+ homer pop. I have no idea what kind of defender at 3rd he is. He's signed for $4.75 million in '09 with a $7 million club option for 2010. Byrnes and Beane seem to work well together, so a deal could probably be constructed, maybe based around Street?
- Garrett Atkins/Ian Stewart: Expendable to the Rockies with the emergence of Ian Stewart and the contract of Todd Helton. Atkins is kind of a one-and-a-half trick pony: he crushes lefties and only hits at home in the light Denver air (below .660 career OPS on the road). Bottom line, he's not a very useful player for anyone besides the Rockies. He'd be an option ONLY if the price was only his salary. Ian Stewart on the other hand is an absolute stud. He's very nearly as untouchable as they get, yet, somehow I could see the Rockies at least discussing a deal that would send Vince Mazzaro (due to his groundballing tendancies) and Ziggy (ditto) to Colorado for him.
- Melvin Mora/Aubrey Huff: Inexplicably, both of these guys cleared waivers earlier this summer, even though Mora has had a strong season (.282/.342/.493) 23 homers, 97 RBIs and Huff is having a MONSTER year: .316/.373/.582, 31 homers, 102 RBIs! Both also have modest commitments for next season (Mora @ $9 million with 2010 club option and Huff at $9 million for '09 only). Mora is the much better fit at 3rd but Huff can play a little bit of 3rd, some 1st and DH. The Orioles are in full-scale rebuilding mode. Both of these guys can be had. I'd imagine the birds would ask for young pitching/shortstop in return. Would some combination of Braden + Pennington or Petit for Mora make sense?
- Andy Marte/Wes Hodges: The Indians are looking for bullpen help and will likely move Peralta to 3rd due to defensive concerns. Marte was once a top prospect but has bombed in the majors so far. He had a solid minor track record, is still young (24) and might be a low-risk, high-reward type acquisition. Hodges was one of the top 3rd base prospects in the minors coming into this season. He had a solid but unspectacular season as a 23-year old in Double-A this year: .290/.354/.466 with 18 homers, 29 doubles and could be ready for the majors mid-season 2009. He could be a major piece in a Street-to-Cleveland deal.
- Mat Gamel: Maybe the top 3rd base prospect in the minors this season as he tore up Double-A, got a brief promotion at AAA and then a cup of coffee with the Brewers major league team (the Cunningham treatment, if you will). He's definitely got power (20 homers, .923 OPS combined in the minors) but questions persist about his ability to stay at 3rd long term. As a premium prospect, he might necessitate a package including a major league-ready starter like Smith or Duke along with Street.
- Alex Gordon/Mark Teahen: The Royals recently announced that pretty much everyone not named Greinke would be available this off-season in trade talks. Gordon was a hotshot collegiate product that tore it up at Nebraska, got picked 2nd overall in the 2005 draft, spent one year at Double-A pounding the ball and then has been in the majors ever since. He's struggled since coming up to the majors, both at the plate and with injuries. At age 24 with tons of potential, he'd be like Marte: a low-risk, high-reward type pickup, provided the asking price isn't outrageous. Teahen, the former A's farmhand, has alternated good and bad seasons at the plate with the Royals and has also bounced around a bit on the field. Perhaps a return to the friendly Bay Area confines could awaken his bat once more?
- Allen Craig: Cal Berkeley product Craig has had several strong seasons in the Cardinals organization, concluding his latest age 23/24 Double-A season where he hit .304/.373/.494 with 22 homers and 85 RBIs. Scouts seem unconvinced that he can stay at 3rd base long term, however. Still, the Cards have the depth at 3rd (Glaus with the big club, Brett Wallace tearing up the minors) that they would probably part with Craig for a live bullpen arm - Casilla, Street?
- Neil Walker: discussed here.
- Daniel Murphy: Just randomly ran across this guy on the Mets site. He's a 2006 13th round draft pick that had a really nice 2008 season in Double-A as a 23-year old: .308/.374/.496 with 13 homers and 67 RBIs. Doesn't strike out much: 39/47 K-BB. With the Mets' bullpen woes, he could be part of a Street-to-NYC trade?
- Joe Crede: The guy, like Chavez, will probably always have back problems. However, he's a decent hitter and decent fielder that may come relatively cheaply on the free agent market, unless other teams get desperate. Brings righty-power.
- Rich Aurilia: Would be a very slight upgrade on Hannahan offensively but a downgrade defensively. Is contact-oriented, but without a lot punch. Would probably come cheap.
- Casey Blake/Nomar: Both Dodgers vets will be free agents this winter. Blake is having a nice walk year, but at this point I see them both re-signing with the Dodgers. If they don't, they will likely be leaning towards one last high-dollar contract and neither of them really offer all that much upside or immediate offensive punch to really warrant anything longer or larger than a 1-year, 8-9 million dollar deal.
My very preliminary analysis is that the free agent market for 3rd baseman is barren. Unless Crede takes an incentive-laden 1-year deal, I don't think Beane will make a free agent signing to address the hole at 3rd. As far as trades go, either Beltre/Mora would be nice pickups for next season only if they could be had for non-premium prospects (Braden/Pennington/Petit/H-Rod/Double-A relievers) or just salary relief. Both guys provide average-to-above average defense and solid-right-handed power without huge strikeout numbers. Either of them could be slotted in front or behind Cust/Chavez (DH/1B) and provide the A's with a halfway decent middle-of-the-order and they're relatively affordable.
As far as shooting for the hot prospects, the only guy I could see Beane whipping out the top dogs for is Ian Stewart. The guy is a total stud. But it would take a lot to grab him. I mentioned a package of Vince Mazzaro and Ziggy. As much as it would hurt to lose Ziggy, that might be an interesting win-win for both teams...
As for the lesser prospects, if any of them could be had for something not terribly valuable, then I'd be all for giving them a shot. Problem is, half of them have bombed at the major league level already and the other half might not have what it takes to stay at 3rd long-term.
Regardless, there will be plenty of ways to address the gaping hole at 3rd off-season. I'll be really pissed if something isn't done and at least someone with at least average power and average defensively ability at 3rd is not added to the roster before next Spring Training.