Despite a continuation of the team's season-long losing ways, the past few days have seen some renewed hope around these parts. Personally, I'm getting really excited for the near-term future for the first time since the first series of this season. Even so, I think there are still several things that I've been concerned about/thinking about as this organization runs full steam ahead towards preparing for the 2010 season:
1) Wallace at 3rd: The scouts really seem mixed on Wallace's "defensive ceiling" so to speak. The consensus seems to be that he has almost non-existent range, but good enough natural instincts, footwork and arm strength to field whatever is hit to his general vicinity. In order to maximize his value to the team, I think he should remain at 3rd in the minors for the rest of this season and break into the majors next season at 3rd as well. It would be great if the team could target a shortstop in free agency or in the trade market who has great range to compensate for Brett's defensive shortcomings. Jack Wilson, while a well-below average offensive player, remains a stalwart on defense with great range and should be available on the free agent market this winter for a modest price. The A's could also target JJ Hardy or Reid Brignac in trade talks in the coming months, both of whom come with solid defensive reputations.
2) Dearth of Pitching Depth: I'm as big of a fan of the young A's starting rotation as anybody, and the front four (Braden, Anderson, Cahill, Mazzaro) seem poised to stay together for years and anchor this team's staff well into next decade. However, beyond that front four, there seems to be a real drop-off in terms of MLB-ready/effective pitching in the upper levels of the system. The combination of the young guys' inconsistencies, the total enigma/occasional piñata known as Gio Gonzalez and the long-term injury to Josh Outman leaves me less than convinced that this team can compete over a full season. Without a reliable 5th starter and some AAA depth, the A's rotation is one injury away from being totally overexposed. Guys like Dana Eveland, James Simmons, Graham Godfrey and recently-acquired Clayton Mortenson might be able to fill-in a bit over the next year or so, but all have significant issues to work on and are hardly sure-things. With some money to (presumably) spend this winter, I would hope the team looks into signing a veteran starter to help protect against injuries and bridge the gap until/if Josh Outman can return to the rotation. Tim Hudson, Doug Davis, Brad Penny and Randy Wolf could all be decent options on 1-year deals. Depending on how he rehabs and returns to the team in the next month or so, the team could also offer arbitration to Justin Duchscherer and hope he accepts...but that could be a risky proposition though, considering that Duke makes nearly $4 million this season.
3) Kennedy back next year...and O-Cab too?: It's great to hear that Adam Kennedy "Absolutely loves it," in Oakland and wants to return next season. AK's been a nice bright spot for this team so far this season and he seems like a solid-clubhouse guy and veteran presence. He can a do a little bit of everything on the field and has shown his versatility by seamlessly transitioning to 3rd base. I think he'd be a nice 1-year bench buy for 2010, provided he doesn't want much more than $1.5 million for 2010. He can back-up 2nd and 3rd, he stays relatively healthy and should be an improvement over the AAAA fodder like Petit and Pennington. I know O-Cab has been a general disappointment to A's fans this season, but he's recently picked-up his play both offensively and defensively and still offers a somewhat diverse package of skills for a middle infielder. He also has indicated that he feels comfortable with the A's and living in the Bay Area. Seeing as how the A's can't even offer him arbitration if they wanted to, it makes a bit of weird sense that he could return to the A's next season in a bench role for a lot less than the $4 million he's making this season - provided he isn't traded in the interim. So long as they're both projected as bench players going into 2010 and make a combined salary of less than $3-4 million next season, I don't think it's the worst idea to try to bring both AK and O-Cab back next season. Together they can back-up pretty much every infield position capably, one bats lefty, one bats righty, they can both hit the gaps and turn on a pitch occasionally and can steal some bases every once in awhile. With the way the A's infield has been decimated by injuries in the past few seasons, it may be worth having these guys around next season just for insurance.
4) Versatality the new Moneyball?: The recent decision to recall Eric Patterson instead of Travis Buck to replace Matt Holliday's vacant roster spot seemed to me the most recent example of the renewed emphasis on versatility being placed by the A's organization. As Kevin Goldstein pointed out in his recent Monday Ten Pack:
One of my favorite scout quotes in recent years concerned Patterson, when an evaluator, comparing him to his brother Corey, said of Eric, "Half the athlete, and twice the ballplayer." Acquired from the Cubs last year in the Rich Harden deal, Patterson has been playing multiple positions for the RiverCats and hitting in every one of them, as a 7-for-13 weekend that included two doubles, a triple, and a home run upped his season line to .318/.387/.517 with 33 stolen bases in 39 attempts. The A's have dreams on him turning into a Chone Figgins type who can provide roster flexibility while producing in multiple positions.
The team also went out and got a near-Figgins clone in Corey Wimberly late in the Spring in a deal with the Rockies. Patterson and Wimberly both seem like players the team would have never targeted a few years back. In addition to getting these two "super-utlity types", the team has also been experimenting down in Midland with various defensive alignments. Adrian Cardenas has played a little shortstop and a lot of 3rd base and 2nd base, while Josh Donaldson has played mostly catcher, but also a bit of 3rd and 1st - not to mention Sean Doolittle's ability to play the corner outfield spots and 1st base. It's very exciting to me that within a couple of years the big league team could be featuring a super-versatile, athletic team with multiple guys that can play multiple positions capably and produce at each position - rather than being a hobbled, limited and unexciting group that we've become accustomed to.
5) Moving Hairston?: I'm not a big fan of Scott Hairston. To me, he seems like a more-expensive, older version of Aaron Cunningham. A little power, a lot of strikeouts, not a ton of walks, decent batting average and a fair defender. At first, I liked the deal to get him, since it seemed like a fair trade and definitely improved the struggling offense. But now I'm starting to second-guess the deal (especially since we know that Sean Gallagher is part of the trade) and because it seems like the team is overloaded with younger, cheaper outfielders. I'm interested to see if Beane is listening to offers on Hairston, who's relativelty affordable and can provide a little pop for the stretch run for a team like the Tigers or the Giants. Moving both Holliday and Hairston in a week's time might seem hasty by normal standards, but this is Beane we're talking about...with Patterson up with the big club and the team wanting to see what it might have in Buck at some point, I wouldn't rule out a Hairston trade.
6) Rally 'Round the (Bear) Flag?: I consider myself a general Citizen of California ahead of being a "Norcal-er" or "SoCal-er". I have lived in both the Bay Area and L.A. for about the same amount of time and have an equal amount of connections to both areas of the state. Part of the reason I first got really into the A's a few years back was because of how many California-natives they had in their organization - including Billy Beane himself, Eric Chavez, Barry Zito, Mark Kotsay, Eric Byrnes, Jason Kendall, Bobby Crosby, Jason Giambi, not to mention the elder generation of Rickey, McGwire and Eckersley. Not that being Californian should be a pre-requisite for being an Oakland A or even an Oakland A's fan, however, I'm really excited that the organization seems to be bringing in a significant number of local Bay Area and California kids into the organization - either intentionally or simply by coincidence. Guys like Brett Wallace, Tyson Ross, Dallas Braden and (possibly) Max Stassi provide the fan with an added connection to the players on the field...the added significance of "rooting for the local boy(s)." In no way am I advocating the A's target players exclusively because of where they were born or raised, but I'm just commenting that it brings an added bit of enjoyment for me to see talented players from Northern California produce for the A's.