Well, now that JJ Hardy is all-but-certainly not becoming an Oakland Athletic anytime soon and Billy Beane has all-but-dismissed any intention of signing veteran free agents this winter, it seems like I can now officially move past my admittedly half-baked, crackpot off-season plan and re-evaluate my hopes/thoughts concering these Oakland A's as they prepare for the 2010 season.
At this point, it certainly looks like the organization is not motivated at all to contend next season, and I guess that's a realization that's better accepted now than sometime later in the off-season/beginning of Spring after a winter of nervous/excited rosterbating and rumor-mongering. With that in mind, I'm starting to "come around" on a few ideas that I've seen posted here at AN or other sites in regards to our Green and Gold of 2010 and beyond:
3rd Base: Most observers are taking Beane's comments about trying to trade for "young players at positions of need" to imply that he'll be actively looking to trade for a young, major league ready third baseman or shortstop. After hearing this "analysis" I personally began scouring team and prospect pages for 0-3 year MLB 3rd baseman and high-minors 3rd base/shorstop prospects. I came up with the usual suspects: Alex Gordon, Andy LaRoche, Vitters, Gamel, DeJesus, Brignac, etcetera...
Any of those players are probably possible, but the cost may be prohibitive and I interpreted Beane's comments differently...I implied that Beane will be looking at players at any level of pro-ball that could potentially fill big league vacancies in the next several years, so I think it's just as likely that Beane trades for Brent Morel and calls it a day than he scrambles to acquire a somewhat MLB-ready young player just to fill a vacany for this coming year.
With that being said, I'm starting to think that it's likely that Beane just doesn't add anyone to the immediate 3rd-base mix, especially if he can't pull off a reasonable trade for a player he actually likes and/or he believes that Wallace could step in at some point in 2010 and be a credible 3rd baseman. He might turn to free agency later on in the winter, like he said, but by that time you've got to think that DeRosa, Figgins and Beltre (the actual desirable 3rd base options) will be off the board or engaged in discussions/bidding wars with teams with more desire and/or resources to sign them: i.e., the Phillies, Cardinals, Mariners...I guess there's always the Kennedy option, but even though I advocated for him before, there's little sense going after him if the organization is just not committed to winning at all.
I guess what I'm getting at here is...what if Beane just wants to go all-in-house for his vacancies and really just save every penny he can and evaluate the entirety of his current 40-man roster to be sure of what he has so that he can make the best trades and most informed decisions possible in preperation for the coming years that'll actually matter (2011-)? Without an MLB-ready third baseman, what will the 2010 A's do to man the hot corner, until Wallace is ready- if 3rd base is even an option for him? He's an idea I've been mulling over that could, in theory, provide a short-term - "evaluate and see what the hell happens" type of arrangement:
Platoon Eric Patterson and Tommy Everidge at 3rd. Ya, I can hear a bunch of "hurumphs" and "WTF's" even as I write this. Admittedly, it's an uninspired plan. Neither Everidge or Patterson are proven 3rd baseman or really glove-men of any note...however, they do have ever-so-recent and brief experience at the hot corner in the minors. According to minorleaguesplits.com, both guys proved they were not complete disasters in the field, altough in extremely small sample sizes and only according to the TotalZone system. However, both guys are getting old and really have nothing to prove at AAA and are currently on the 40-man roster. Since Patterson will never supplant Ellis, Weeks or Cardenas at 2nd or anyone in the outfield, and Everidge will never supplant Barton, Wallace, Doolittle, Cater, etcetera at 1st or DH, why shouldn't the A's just see if it's at all possible if they could serve some very specific utility for 2010 or even see if they could boost their profile(s) and trade value(s) for a later trade - especially when this team has nothing else to lose?
I have no idea how many runs these two would give away with their gloves, but I could actually see their platoon arrangement working out alright on offense. Patterson is a career .880 OPS hitter against righties in the minors - EVeridge is a career .954 OPS hitter against lefties in his career. It's a pretty natural platoon arrangement and would be an interesting use of roster spots, as you'd get an added speed weapon into the lineup against the majority of starting pitchers, while reserving a power right-handed bench bat for later in games and against the minority lefty-starter. It would also get the starting pitchers acquainted with "fall down range" type of 3rd baseman, which should smooth the transiton to Brett Wallace, should the chips fall that way!
Aroldis Chapman: I'm starting to really come around on NSJ's idea about going for broke to sign Aroldis Chapman. I know there are all sorts of risk in signing this guy, but the upside is just tremendous and he might only need a bit of minor league seasoning before being able to contribute in the majors. A future rotation involving Anderson, Ynoa and Chapman would be downright devastating and since the A's have tons of money coming off the books in the next year and really harbor no pretensions about competing in 2010, I think spending on Chapman would be an interesting and potentially really rewarding investment.
Cliff Pennington: I'm also, ever so slightly, starting to come around on Cliff Pennington as a potential decent big league player. I've been really low on Pennington for some time now. I've long thought that his lack of power would be exploited in the big leagues - pitchers would just pound the strikezone with him and fielders would just play shallow to take away his bloop and gap hits - while his defense has never impressed me whenever I've seen him play. However, I'm thinking that it's possible that Cliff really did make some permament, positive adjustments to his game after being called up to the big leagues late this season.
It seems like Cliff was more aggressive at the plate in 2009 than he was before, even in the minors. He seemed to swing more often and not just wait for the walk, which to me is a good sign, especially since he seemed to show restraint on pitches outside the strikezone while swinging at more pitches in the strikezone (when compared to his 2008 cup of coffee). I think this added aggressiveness led to Cliff's career high 7 homers (when you combine his 2009 AAA numbers with this MLB numbers). Also of note is that Cliff has seemingly fully recovered from the leg issues that bothered him much of 2007 and 2008 and likely contrbiuted to his low offensive output in those seasons. If Cliff is better able to build a base at the plate with which to drive the ball now that his legs are at full strength, then he might be able to consistently hit for slightly more power in the years to come than he has shown thus far in pro career. Granted, he'll likely never hit over 10 homers or even approach a .418 slugging percentage ever again, but when the guy is projected to slug less than .350 next season, every little bit of punch that could get him closer to .400 will make him an incremantally more valuable player.
As for defense...I guess you could just call Pennington "uneven". He seemed fine for awhile, but he eventually broke down and just seemed a little ragged and sloppy by the end of the season. I guess you can't blame him too much for that, since he played about 30 more games in 2009 than he had ever done before in his career, so he probably just wore down. Besides the sloppyish play, Pennington did somewhat impress me with his instincts and definitely his arm strength. I'm encouraged that his tools and instincts are good for the position...he'll just need to continue to slow the game down a bit, trust his instincts and arm to make up for a lack of range and just make the plays he can get-to consistently and cleanly.
To me, all of that above is a recipe for a league-average shortstop who has a good batting eye, can run a little bit, hit for just enough power to keep the defense honest and can hold down the position adequately for a year or two. For $400K, that isn't the worst situation for the team to be in...
And since no off-season post is complete without some rosterbation:
This is how I see the team being assembled should Beane just go totally in-house for virtually every spot:
2. Duke (still think it makes the most sense for the team & for him to re-sign)
24. Gregorio Petit
With a lienup like this against righties:
1. Rajai (CF)
2. Patterson (3B)
3. Sweeney (RF)
4. Hairston (LF)
5. Cust (DH)
6. Suzuki (C)
7. Barton (1B)
8. Ellis (2b)
9. Pennington (SS)
Speedy, but virutally devoid of power...seems like the A's from the 2nd half of 2009...
1. Rajai (CF)
2. Ellis (2B)
3. Hairson (LF)
4. Everidge (3B)
5. Cust (DH)
6. Suzuki (C)
7. Barton (1b)
8. Sweeney (RF)
9. Pennington (SS)
A bit of platoon-packed punch in the 2-4 spots...a tad more power, but not much more.
Basically, what I'm seeing with a team like this is one similar to the A's of the 2nd half of 2009: the team could again lead the league in stolen bases and doubles and could score runs on occasion, but probably won't have a lot of big innings. The pitching would be very solid start to finish and the defense would be mostly solid...above-average at all outfield spots, the right side of the infield and behind the plate - but with something to be desired on the left side of the infield (what else is new).
The team listed above is not a great team, or even a good team, by any means...however, it's a team that will give a ton of opportunity to players currently on the 40-man roster and will definitely feature a solid pitching staff and an athletic/mobile offense that should be fairly exciting to watch. The arrangement above should also assure that the AAA and AA levels of the farm system are stockpiled with players that could be impact talents sooner rather than later, but aren't prematurely rushed to the majors (Wallace, Carter) while establishing a depth of players at those levels who could easily make their way(s) up the big leagues should the need/opportunity arise at some point in 2010 (Mazzaro, Simmons, Godfrey, Kilby, Gray, Demel, Storey, Mortensen, Brown, Doolittle, Cardenas).
While this type of "sit on your hands, play the hand you've got and wait for the young hitters to arrive" isn't an ideal strategy to me, I could see how it makes some sense...