Sunday, Random Sunday/Playoff Game Thread: Thinking Outside of the Box

Hmmmm.... Watching these playoff threads, and games, has got me wishing there was a lot more Green and Gold (and sometimes Black) on the field.

Congratulations to Nick Swisher on advancing to the ALCS. The rest of those guys can bite me. Well, except for Curtis Granderson, cause he looks a lot like Burton Guster and Burton Guster is one half of my favorite TV duo.

Yesterday, I was all ready to say congratulations to the Rangers for moving on to the first ALCS in franchise history. Instead, I am just relegated to watching them try to close out the Rays today (10:07 AM in the Right Time Zone, TV: TBS, Radio: KNBR 1050). I will forever love Ron Washington and he deserves the champagne shower.

Also today, we have another old favorite taking on the Cross Bay Rivals in Atlanta (1:37 in the Right Time Zone, TV: TBS, Radio: KNBR 680 if you can stomach it). I usually have no rooting interest in games not involving the A's, but this one is hard. I'd love for my Uncle Larry to celebrate a trophy winning season by his beloved Giants, but I can't root against Huddy. Oh, the guilt!

Later we have the Reds trying to fend off elimination, at home, against the Phillies (4:07 in the Right Time Zone, on TNT, though it could be TBS now that Yankees finished the Twins). I'll be honest, I hate the Reds and want them to lose. Not just because of 1990, but because of all the praise lauded on the "Big Red Machine." There were two supposed apex predators in the baseball world in the early 70's. They only met head to head once. Much like the Orca is less feared than the White Shark, the Swinging A's get less respect than the Big Red Machine. Just like the Orca hunts (and eats) White Sharks, the A's won 3 World Series', including the only head to head match up of the two dominant clubs of the early 70's. All of Cincinnati should bow to G and G (and sometimes B) forever and always.

Speaking of the G and G (and sometimes B), there have been a lot of posts lately about how to make next year a "Year of the Ring" kind of year. There have been some good ideas put forth (and here)... but I got some random thoughts, too.

Really, the A's need to upgrade, at multiple positions, if they are going to do what Jake Taylor once suggested a fictional Indians team needed to do. I think we all, mostly, agree on that. How we get there... Well, it is fun to argue!

Some thoughts below the fold...

The one thing we all should have taken from Moneyball is not OBP, OPS, or any other similar stat. It wasn't how to scout or draft. It wasn't even how to exploit inefficient markets. It was much more basic. I'd say it this way, "To be better, one must be different. To be different and better, one must think better and differently."

The A's have chances to upgrade in several spots. I think mostly those spots are COF, 2B and 3B. They could also probably use an innings eater type at the back of the rotation. The approach the A's take to filling these spots is anybody's guess, but I imagine it will be some combination of buying low on "bounce back" players (formerly known in the MSM as "change of scenery" guys) and paying market value for guys coming off good years. While many are hankering for a free agent signing of the marquee variety, I would be just as content with trades for younger players who fit the bill.

A potential future:

2B- Why does everyone keep assuming the choices are Mark Ellis and his late season surge v. Orlando Hudson or trade for Dan Uggla. Did we all forget that Ellis was a Short Stop when Beane plucked him away from the Royals in the Johnny Damon/Cory Lidle/Ben Grieve fleecing?

I once thought Kelly Johnson might be a guy to check in on. Then WaddellCanseo argued that Johnson has a concrete glove, which is mostly true. I still think Kelly Johnson is  a guy to check in on... but his teammate, Stephen Drew, is probably a better option. And the Dbacks tried to trade him once already. 4 seasons and 10.1 WAR as a Short Stop ain't bad, considering he earned more WAR season over season each of the last 3. If we just assume that Drew would have had the same UZR at 2B (which is probably underestimating his ability as SS is much harder than 2B) and adjust the positional portion of the RAR formula, Drew would have been a 4.4 WAR player, or one full win better than Ellis. Add to that the fact Ellis is entering the decline phase of his career. Drew on the upswing, and moving to 2B, is a better option than Ellis and for similar money. Plus Drew could be signed to a 3 year extension, buying out his final 2 arbitration years and first FA season.

To paraphrase Bill Walsh, "It is better to let a player go a year too early than a year too late."

But, the Diamondbacks won't just give Drew up. The A's would have to send multiple significant prospects in order to get him. Or be willing to eat a bad contract...

3B- From the same linked article above, if you want me to take Mark Reynolds as a rebound candidate, you better give me Drew. Enjoy Kouz. I'll throw in Mazzaro or Mortensen, your pick, and a couple low level prospects. Sure, Reynolds sucks with a glove on his hand. But he can hit line drives that take off in Oakland and land in Benicia. On a regular basis, too.

Sometimes you have to bet on a bounce back year, like say 2010's Aubrey Huff. Reynolds would definitely fall into that category.

"Wait," some might say. "Arizona is a hitter's paradise and these guys numbers are inflated as a result."

Using baseball-reference's BPF (Batting Park Factor), in 2010, Fenway Park, Dolphin's Stadium, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium, Coors Field, US Cellular Field, and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington were all better places to hit than Chase Field and it's 104 BPF. Meanwhile, Oakland was neutral. Exactly 100 on the BPF scale. I wouldn't expect Reynolds to go from a 40 HR type guy to a 15 HR type guy.

These two players combined could reasonably be expected to bring a net gain of 3 WAR. Or, more than the difference between the A's and Rangers in 2010.

OF- Color me crazy if you must, but Crush Carter shall be in Left and he will do fine. Coco in Center will suffice. I don't expect Werth in Right. I am not excited about Sweeney there either. I'd prefer a 3 headed monster of an outfield featuring Crisp, Crush, and Matt Kemp (provided Ned Coletti will give him up and all). The A's could have Rajai or Swingles as the defensive replacement, but not both.Why not both? Because Adam Rosales and Jeff Larish could provide adequate back up potential in the outfield, and infield.

I can't imagine that Matt Kemp will require a huge package to pry away from the Dodgers. Honestly, if he does after the season he just had then the Dodgers can keep him. But if Kemp came to the Bay Area, Coco, Rajai and Swooney all become expendable to some degree. From my perspective, those are the kind of moves Billy Beane should, and will, be looking to make. Gambles that can pay off in a big way and create roster flexibility.

We know Rajai's ceiling is about 3 WAR, but that we should expect more like 1. We know Sweeney is a defense heavy 4 WAR at peak, but we should expect a defense heavy 2 WAR. We know that Matt Kemp is an offense heavy, but defensively positive, 5 WAR at best and we should expect better than Rajai's ceiling. Roll those dice.

All of this speculation has me wanting to throw out a disclaimer: I don't expect these exact moves above to happen. Building a competitive team is a lot like solving a Rubik's Cube. There are many ways to spin the squares in order to get things to line up. I think these kind of moves are far more likely, and potentially much smarter, than throwing boatloads of money at Adrian Beltre, Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford.

Add a Rule 5 Innings eater, or corner outfielder with POP and there can be a subtle roster reboot that will make the A's a better team next year and beyond. A big free agent acquisition would be great, but the A's are more than one declining player away from being dominant and I want dominant.

In closing, I'd just say... watch for things flying under the radar, they are the likely path to a 2011 champagne bath.

Enjoy the action today. Go Phillies!

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