Wow...it's truly a wonder what a week or two of "not-awful" baseball will do for my energy level and willingness to share my thoughts with AN. A few weeks ago, even if I had something remotely interesting to say, I'd just say "Eff it, this team is going to suck no matter what I say..." But anyways, here's a few things that have been on my mind:
1. Major League Manager, Minor League Expectations
I've been as hard on Geren (and the decision to hire him/extend him from the front office) as anybody on AN. I still think he's a poor manager/leader, but it's interesting how the team's recent improved play has somewhat lessened my overall dislike of the man. Ever since the organization's priority has changed from "Let's win now with this collection of vets that'll hopefully hit enough to make up for our incredibly inconsistent, young rotation," to a now, "Let's not put such a premium on winning, but rather just give some young guys a shot to prove what they can do," Geren has looked somewhat capable as a manager - his bullpen management in particular the past few games has been pretty good and he even showed some emotion with that blown call on Tuesday night (though he probably should have forced his way out of the game, as a statement to the team).
I think what really exposed Geren as a manager was that he's not cut out to be the manager of a major league team, but he's a pretty good minor league manager. While a major league manager needs experience to know how to handle a million different situations a million different ways, and needs a subtlety to eek out production from aging vets, while also showing a little fire, emotion and even anger around young guys to keep them focused; a minor league manager just fills out the lineup card, makes sure each guy gets his work in and keeps his players upbeat by patting them on the back no matter what the outcome is.
Geren is a perfect minor league manager, no question about it. He even gets paid on a scale as if he's a minor league manager. Now that he's "captaining" a mostly-minor league-level team, he suddenly looks capable...it all makes sense to me! Earlier this season, when he had to deal with actual "expectations", he didn't look too good. But now, he even seems like a - dare I say - decent fit for this team this year and into 2010? Now that the team is back to running with the young guys without a real urgency to win, why not just run Bobby out there again to manage the Oakland Rivercats in 2010? At least he won't hurt anyway's feelings...I just hope that by the time this team has even a chance of reaching the post-season (say, 2011, when Bob's contract ends) this organization will commit to an actual major league manager who can guide this team to sustained victory, not just happy thoughts in the clubhouse.
2. The Cust Conundrum
From the "Scouts’ views on various major league players" section of John Perrotto's "On the Beat" column over at BP:
I'm as big of a fan of Jack Cust as anybody out there. But I have to admit he just hasn't looked the same this season as he did last year and especially how he did in his breathrough 2007 campaign. Maybe it's the whole "strikeout less, make more contact" approach this season that is killing him, or maybe it's a hidden injury. Yet, he's not really striking out all that much less as he has in previous seasons...he's K-ing about 7% less than he did the last two years. At the same time, his average is in freefall, along with his slugging percentage. In all, his OPS has trended down for all three seasons he's been a regular in the big leagues. Do I really think that he's a .731 OPS hitter (2009)? No, I do not. But I also don't believe that he's a .912 OPS hitter (2007) or even an .851 OPS hitter (2008) at this point. Maybe he just can't adjust to what people are throwing him these days. Maybe he's just become a little younger and maybe a little more powerful image of Giambi circa a few weeks ago: a guy that takes his walks and hits a few homers, but someone without any defensive value who cannot make enough consistent contact to justify an everyday job.
I'm thinking about 2010 here. Cust will eligible for arbitration for the second time this off-season, and will likely get a very modest raise to something around $3 million (he made $2.8 million this season). Is Jack worth that much? On a rebuilding team? To THIS rebuilding team? He might be the only true power threat this team has under control at this point, but he might not even get to 20 homers this season...would the 2010 team be better served giving DH at-bats to a collection of young hitters who need the seasoning (Everidge, Barton, Buck - maybe even Wallace and Carter later in the year)? If Chavez can become healthy enough to take semi-consistent at-bats, does the team just go with him as the everyday DH?
And what do you do from there? Do you try to trade Cust, coming down from a career-worst year? Do you non-tender him, see if he'll take a pay-cut and stay with the team? Or am I thinking too much, and will/should the team just re-up him for 3-mill next season? If the team does keep him, I would hope that he is put into the 2-hole in the lineup...with Rajai/Patterson in front of him, you'd get a guy who naturally takes a lot of pitches hitting behind two guys that can basically steal a base at-will...I think that's a better lineup strategy than "Cust is the only guy that can hit 30 homers, so let's just put him in the clean-up spot because we have to."
3. Kennedy for (clubhouse) Prez in 2010!
I'm really enjoying watching Adam Kennedy play this season. I think he's the perfect fit for this team. He's just like a left-handed version of Mark Ellis...can do a little of everything (especially the fundamentals), plays solid defense, is a team-first guy and is even-keeled and seemingly supportive of the young guys. I've already made my plea to have him back next season...but it's been pointed out that he'll probably want some decent coin and a starting gig after the year he's having so far. I might agree with that, I can certainly understand that from Adam's perspective. But if you were the A's front office, what would you think is a fair-value offer for him? He's making $4 million this season (from the contract he signed with the Cards a few years back before they cut him). Would he really take a 50% pay-cut to $2 million on a 1-year deal? Maybe $3 million for a year and on option? With a lot of payroll flexibility next season, can the team even really consider bringing him back?
I think the team could offer him at least a partial guarantee of a starting gig...I do not think Brett Wallace will begin the year as Oakland's starting 3rd baseman. Kennedy could start the year out as the starting 3rd baseman, and then transition to a utility role once Wallace looks truly ready to be an impact hitter in the big leagues. I'm hopeful that some sort of understanding can be made to keep Kennedy around next season.
4. Where can this team improve on in the off-season?
I found Billy Beane's Brain's recent diary "Are these the A's of 2010?" simply fascinating. If you look around the diamond, the rotation and in the outfield and in the bullpen, it certainly looks like the team has every position covered going into 2010 with a young, somewhat promising prospect or prospectS, and/or a solid vet. I think it would be nice to sign a veteran pitcher for some depth in the rotation (Hudson or Mulder if healthy would both be intriguing) or maybe Doug Davis or even Carl Pavano for a very low base deal. But beyond that, I just don't see a real obvious place where a free agent or even a trade would work for this team, especially if Chavez can do any sort of sustained baseball activity and/or Cust is retained. For the first time in a long time, it could be a very boring off-season for us A's fans.
4. Get the Draft Picks Signed!
Well, Beane is "optimistic" that the team will sign Grant Green before Tuesday's deadline and Max Stassi is "leaning" towards signing with the A's and foregoing UCLA...but nothing in this business is for sure until the ink is dry on the contract. I'm not necessarily concerned about the negotiations at this point...I think both contracts will get done. However, I'll still let it be known that if these two guys don't get signed for whatever reason (or even just one or the other doesn't), I'll be pretty frustrated. The team didn't have a 2nd rounder this season and had only one pick in the 1st round and hasn't gone overslot in any of their other signings up to this point AND has shed $5+ million from the major league player payroll...I know that the team is theoritically losing money this season, but with all that perceived flexibility, it will be a real blunder in my opinion if Green and/or Stassi don't sign simply over a matter of a few hundred thousand dollars or so.
5. The Shortstop Situation
Cliff Pennington's having a nice little "coming out party" of sorts so far after being gifted the starting shortstop gig a week or so ago...but does anyone think that he'll sustain a .359 BABIP and a 27% line-drive percentage? Based on his extensive minor league history, I don't think so. I do think, however, that his defense has become major league quality...maybe not game-changing, but he's at least an average MLB defender at this point. His quickness is an asset at this point in his career both on the basepaths and in the field. I've been one of the most vehement supporters of trying to trade for JJ Hardy, but even with the latest roster shuffling in Brewtown, I don't think that Hardy will just be given away by Milwaukee. And I don't think that any type of Duke-for-Hardy swap could possibly go down at this point, given the waiver issue. In the off-season things would obviously be easier...but at that point, what would Milwaukee be asking for and what would the A's be ready/willing to give? Hardy, for likely only 1-year, is not worth any of the MAC or Braden or Gio, and I can't really see the Brewers being jazzed by a package fronted by Eveland or Mortensen or even Simmons. And in any case, even if a package could be agreed upon, would Hardy (with his semblance of power and defense be a big-enough upgrade over Pennington to be worth the money and the prospects involved?) I don't know, but it seems like if Pennington can just play good defense and get on-base a bit and steal a few bags, he'll be the A's starting shortstop for the foreseeable future, for better or for worse.
6. The Duke Conundrum
If Duke comes back next Tuesday and then again 5 days after that, and resembles the Duke of old, do the A's pass him through waivers and then just dump him on the team that claims him? Sure, it would save the team some cash over the next month and a half or so, and Duke could go down at any point in the coming weeks, but he's still a pretty solid pitcher when healthy that would be a really nice 6th starter as the innings wind-down for the young guys. And who knows, if this team keeps winning consectuive series', this team might have a shot to finish around .500 when all is said and done. That would be a remarkable feat, considering this rollercoaster season. Duke could be a big part of that charge. He's currently projected to be a Type-B free agent even without pitching a game this season, so the team could play out the string with him, offer him arb in the off-season and get an extra pick next season when he inevtably sings elsewhere (Slusser mentioned today that he's not coming next season). So, at this point, I say keep the Duke...but then I'll probably look like a fool tomorrow when news comes across the wire stating that he "had a setback in his recovery" and will be shut-down indefinitely.
7. The Kilby Killah!
Come September callup time, I'm really hoping that one Brad Thomas Kilby finally gets his chance to make his major league debut. Ever since coming out of San Jose State in the 29th round of the 2005 draft, Kilby has consistently performed at every level. He's got a career K/9 of 10.2 and a career K/BB ratio of 3.09, which is darn good for a funky lefty. He's also got a rubber arm, averaging 50+ appearances and 60+ innings in each season he's thrown at a full-season affiliate and has never suffered a major injury as a pro. He also doesn't have any glaring platoon split. Here's what Sactown manager Tony Defrancesco had to say about Kilby in a recent interview with Scout.com:
OC: One guy who has had a great year for you out of the bullpen is Brad Kilby. What kind of pitcher is he for you?
TD: He’s been awesome. He’s a guy who is not afraid to throw strikes. He can get lefties and righties out. I think that is his big plus. He’s got a good off-speed and he is sneaky fast. He hides the ball well behind his back. There is no doubt that he is another guy who when September comes is going to get some consideration for a call-up.
I hope he gets more than "some consideration for a callup." The organziation left Brad exposed to the Rule V draft last off-season, and no one took him, so maybe there is some "Scouting" concerns about Brad that don't show up in the box score. Even so, I'd hope that with the way he's throwing this season, he gets rewarded with a callup and a 40-man roster spot. If nothing else, he's a guy that can chew middle relief innings fairly effectively without getting lit-up by opposite-side batters (ahem, Casilla). A relieable arm like that is a fairly valuable commodity, especially with a guy that has a full slate of minor league options...so let's get the NorCal native on the 40-man and in the big leagues in September!