Given the recent hue and cry I thought now might be a decent time to introduce my plan for improving the A’s in the near and long term. Please note that I didn’t say “immediate” improvement, ‘cause that’s not how things should play out. I think any significant move to improve the team immediately would be a Fool’s Errand at best and an epic disaster at worst. There will be a bit more suffering before happiness can be achieved but if my plan works the A’s could have a new, long term answer at 3B by July and the fiscal freedom to pursue significant upgrades next offseason.
Oh, and more wins in 2009.
First things first as they say and unfortunately the first thing that must be done is address the Eric Chavez situation. He’s done and he needs to retire. The trouble is Eric doesn’t want to retire because baseball is his career, its how he provides for his family and once he retires there’s no coming back. I don’t care if you’re a multi-millionaire athlete or a construction worker, if you’re a halfway decent man the thought of no longer being able to work and provide for your family is terrifying. The A’s owe Chavez approximately $22.25 million guaranteed over the next 3 seasons and that’s more than enough incentive for a man with a family to try and beat the odds and attempt another comeback.
The A’s, and Beane in particular, need to sit Eric down and reach an accommodation. The A’s know how unlikely it is that Chavez could come back from his latest back injury and they don’t want to continue pouring money into a lost cause. My suggestion would be to keep Chavez on the 60 Day DL, thus freeing up a roster slot for Oakland and guaranteeing that Chavez could earn the remaining $7+ million due him this season. The A’s could then buy out Chavez’s remaining year plus option (total: $12 million + $12.5 million/$3 million buy-out) for $6 million, split into two $3 million payments in 2010 and 2011. The sum of the buy-out, including his 2009 wages, would amount to approximately $13.25 million over 3 years. That should placate Chavez and it frees up $9 million the A’s can spend on roster improvement as early as this winter.
So how do the A’s go about replacing Chavez? It is clear that Jack Hannahan is not the answer, especially in the long term, as perennial fan favorite Bobby Crosby is seeing more playing time at 3B. The best 3B prospect in the system is Jason Christian, who is currently hitting 241/320/356 for Low-A Kane County. (Translation: There’s reason for optimism but he’s still a couple years away.) There are some veteran 3B being shopped that are under contract/team control through 2010 (or longer) by teams eager to get younger, and frankly, better players into the line-up. The two most frequent names are Colorado’s Garrett Atkins and San Diego’s Kevin Kouzmanoff, and let me make my opinion clear by stating those two players suck and it would be a waste of time and effort to acquire either one… and forget about acquiring the young hotness their respective teams are trying to move into their place in the line-up.
My idea is to acquire Pirates prospect Neil Walker, a 23 year old switch hitting 3B currently in his second year of AAA. I’ve already written a rather detailed spiel on why the move could work for the A’s and I have no intention of re-hashing here, but the beauty of the move is the low cost of making the deal. My proposal is a straight up trade of Daric Barton for Walker, as the Pirates are planning to let current 1B Adam LaRoche leave as a free agent next offseason if they don’t trade him in July. The Pirates currently have Andy LaRoche at 3B; he doesn’t even qualify for arbitration until 2011 and is hitting 302/373/423. They also used the 2nd pick in the 2008 draft on college 3B Pedro Alvarez and he’s currently in High-A ball. Simply put, Neil Walker looks to be extremely available because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go in the Pittsburgh organization. My best case scenario for Walker has him turn into an above-average defensive 3B who doesn’t post a high OBP (I’m guessing he sits around .330 in the Show) but hits for a bit of pop. Even if Walker ends up flopping, all it cost the A’s was a player (Barton) who was blocked in Oakland by Giambi and being pushed from behind by River Cat teammate Sean Doolittle and AA Midland’s Chris Carter.
Next is to figure out what the A’s have in Sweeney, Buck and Cunningham. Holliday’s a fixture in LF, Cust is the DH and Giambi can cover 1B. That means Sweeney, Buck and Cunningham are fighting for playing time at two positions: CF and RF. Whoever’s playing best gets the most playing time. Someone goes into a slump then whoever was on the bench gets another chance. The goal is to find at least two big league outfielders by the end of 2009, and to see if this current bunch can provide that kind of production. Brace yourself, ‘cause I’m sure this next part will be difficult for a lot of you… this plan means Rajai Davis needs to be let go. Put Davis on the waiver wire and call up Cunningham, then let whoever is healthiest/most productive win the jobs. I would imagine that Cunningham would play CF over Buck should Sweeney find his way to the bench. This would require some line-up juggling on the part of Geren, then again, it’s not like he ever has the same 9 guys healthy on back-to-back nights anyway!
So my plan to get the A’s to win more games in 2009 is pretty simple: Trade for Walker, find playing time and production from two of Cunningham, Sweeney and Buck, get Duke healthy and into the rotation by July (or maybe Mazzaro is ready by then) and have all the hitters who’ve been struggling to hit as expected (not counting Crosby here… he’s hitting exactly as expected) to start hitting as expected. Pretty simple, really.
What of Holliday and the trade deadline?
I’m typically of the opinion that a non-contending team like the A’s should trade a star like Holliday rather than settle for the draft picks, because repeat after me, there is no guarantee that you’ll land the other team’s 1st round pick as compensation for losing a top tier free agent. I’m not feeling that so much in this case. The market has shifted in the last couple years and teams have started to hold on to their very best prospects at the trade deadline. I can respect that, but there are more than a few teams that could use a Matt Holliday bat to make a run at the 2009 post-season and it just so happens that those teams all have a prospect I’m really interested in. So I’m against trading Holliday for a package of 2-3 mid-grade prospects but would pull the trigger if the return netted the A’s an A-grade youngster.
The teams that would, in my mind, most benefit from landing Holliday include Atlanta, Tampa, the Cubs and maybe the Mets. From Atlanta I’d want Jason Heyward (even I accept that asking for Hanson is a waste of time) Tampa could part with Desmond Jennings, the Cubs would have to split with Vitters and the Mets need to buy Wilmer Flores a plane ticket West. To any other offers from those teams I’d politely say “No thank you” whilst my warm and fuzzy inner voice would be saying “Go fuck yourself!”. The Braves in particular could use Holliday, as the NL East is once again up for grabs. And if they aren’t willing to part with an A-ball outfielder to land thee best available hitter than I guess they just aren’t going to win the division this year. Please understand, this has nothing to do with the what it cost the A’s to acquire Holliday in the first place… it has everything to do with what I think the 2009 trade market can bear. I’m insisting on a single A-ball player from Atlanta, Chicago and New York, while Tampa would have to part with an AA outfielder that profiles best in LF or CF… positions the Rays have covered through 2010 as is.
I would much rather hold on to Holliday all year, butter him up on the idea of staying in Oakland (after he tastes FA, no way does he not try the offseason market) and if worse comes to worse take the draft picks than trade him to someone like the Braves for a package centered around Gorkys Hernandez or crap of his ilk. Go big or go home, which in this case means landing someone like Jason Heyward or settling for a couple draft picks.
In case you hadn’t guessed it, I’m penciling in Matt Holliday as the A’s starting LF in 2010. He’s not going to sign an extension, the A’s are going to have to pony up in the FA market with the Yankees and the other big money teams and bid for his services. I think he lands a contract similar to (but not as long as) the 8 year/$180 million deal Teixeira signed with the Yankees. That’s $22 million annual to sign Holliday, for I’m guessing 6 years guaranteed. The obvious question is: Can the A’s afford to spend that kind of money?
The simple answer is: Yes.
But I’m guessing you’d like to hear a little more detail. I’m more than happy to share my insights on this matter….
The next time I post a diary.