I've already talked a lot about how the A's have gone for almost exclusively pitching and defense this year. For years the Angels have regularly outperformed their projected record. There have been a lot of theories why they've done so, many of them centering around the Angels small ball way of playing offense. But others have said it's simply because their starting pitching and bullpen have been superior for many years.
I'm more in the camp that the Angels pitching has simply been superior for years. And last year, their offense was better than expected for a few reasons, one of the major ones being the emergence of Kendry Morales as an offensive force.
The A's I think are trying to follow that blueprint by beefing up on great starting pitching. The Ben Sheets signing makes a ton of sense (hell, it isn't OUR money, right?) if Sheets is anywhere near the pitcher he has been throughout his career. The A's rotation suddenly looks like this:
And a fifth starter battle between Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro (and Josh Outman once he's finally recovered from surgery). Now it can definitely be argued that the two top pitchers in the rotation have an "uncertain" status in the rotation. Both of them have pretty spotty injury histories and might not last long. But if the rotation can hold it together, I would be confident that this rotation, pitching at the Coliseum for half of the 162 games, is right up there with the best in baseball. Course, as always with the A's, that's one giant IF out there. You add in the fact that the bullpen was one of the best in 2009 and will likely get stronger if Joey Devine is healthy, then the A's have a great foundation. Add in the other fact that the A's defense behind these pitchers could possibly be the best in baseball, well then 2010 suddenly became a lot more interesting.
I still think that there are far too many issues to consider the A's true AL West contenders this season (mainly the lack of any kind of power in the lineup). The Ben Sheets deal strikes me as a signing to try and boost the team immediately, but more than that, to have some leverage come July 31, 2010.
I will say that while I love the gamble on a guy who could be considered one of the top pitchers in baseball if healthy, that I was kind of looking forward to seeing the A's go with the true youth movement and not just try and fill holes with guys who will essentially be one year fill ins. I realize that the market the A's exist in is a fluid one and they have to try to be competitive as possible while simultaneously building from within. And if they're going to be successful at attracting anything, it would be pitchers considering how pitcher friendly their home ballpark is. But I was getting to the point where I was excited about going with what the roster looked like rather than bringing in hired guns like Ben Sheets and possibly Johnny Damon, if you believe the rumors (does anyone else remember how poorly Damon performed in his last year with the A's?).
Then again, what will probably happen will Sheets will get hurt in spring training and we'll be back to what we thought we'd have any way. What? Are you calling me pessimistic? I've just been paying attention to the A's fortunes over the past four years.
Jeff Sullivan, who is now writing for SBNation.com's baseball page regularly, thinks that it could make the A's playoff contenders. What do you think? Should we just go back to the stock answer for the A's? There's still too many ifs.