Tuesday Tidbits with Taj

I haven't contributed to the site in awhile for a variety of reasons, but I feel that with the flurry of (mostly) encouraging moves being made in the past few weeks, I'd like to chime-in with a few of my opinions on the upcoming 2010 season.

D-day for Geren?: I actually found this Ratto opinion piece regarding Bob Geren to pose an interesting question. that Geren has a fairly stable roster going into Spring Training, should the expectations on him as a manager change and should he be held accountable and should he be on the "hot seat" going into 2010? I personally think he should...but to a point. Of course the big caveat with the A's will be team health. Even so, it appears that this may be the deepest team that Geren has yet managed. It may not be deep in impact-talent per-se, but it's deep in somewhat functional regulars that should be able to cover for each other relatively capably (at least on the defensive side of things) during cases of injury or bumps and bruises.

At the very least, this team should be held accountable for playing fundamentally sound baseball and being put into positions to consistently win the games that they should win. Team defense should be strong, and if it isn't for any prolonged period of time while the regulars are mostly healthy, then that is definitely something for which Geren and the rest of the coaching staff should be held accountable.

It's no secret that Geren has a special relationship with Beane and that he has a lot longer of a leash than most managers...but I think this is the year that Geren needs to show not only his bosses, but also the fans, that he can run a tight ship, develop a few young guys into impact players, play fundamentally sound baseball and while not necessarily leading the team to the playoffs (or else) he should at least be able to maximize the talent and depth he will have on his roster to slighty exceed the projection systems and finish above-.500 for the year.

Platoons Early in the Year?: I'm generally not big on long-term platoon situations, especially for younger players, but as far as exploiting some platoon advantage using known quantities, I'm for it. Especially when a team is likely to need runs as much as the A's will likely need them this coming season. I'm hoping that Gabe Gross is only used against right-handed pitchers (likewise Eric Chavez, if healthy). I'm also hoping that Jake Fox can make the team out of Spring Training, as he'd be a nice right-handed platoon option against tough lefties and can functionally handle left field and 1st base or DH in those situations.

I'm not sure how much of a statistical difference platooning will do for the A's overall runs scored, but early in the season I think it may be a good way of getting a bit of an offensive boost out of this current roster, until Carter/Taylor/Cardenas arrive and start playing every day.

Along these same lines...I think a modicum of platooning will also work to spread the work around, keep the roster involved and keep legs fresh. Landon Powell's potent lefty bat should come into play at least once a week, for instance.

6-man Bullpen, 5-man Bench?: I know the conventional wisdom would dictate that the A's carry 7 bullpen pitchers to open the year, and only carry a 4-man bench. The argument would be that all of the A's young pitchers need more bullpen "backup" to avoid overuse. While I'm not here to challenge that notion, I'm starting to think the A's could get-by with a 6-man bullpen. If healthy, the A's starting rotation would not be all that young. Sheets and Duke, while fragile pitchers, are known to be extremely efficient hurlers and should be able to regularly pitch into and past the 6th inning...if healthy of course. Brett Anderson, while still young, certainly got more efficient as the year wore on in 2009 and should have no difficulty regularly giving the team 6 innings of quality work. Dallas Braden is kind of a bulldog on the mound who won't waste a ton of pitchers, either, and who has no problem letting the defense do his work for him in the name of efficiency. In fact, the only projected member of the rotation that might have a problem consistently pitching deep into games is Gio.

I could see the A's open the year with a bullpen consiting of:

CL - Bailey

SU - Wuertz

SU - Devine

SU - Ziegler

MR - Breslow

MR - Blevins

The only question mark, durability-wise, in that whole group is Devine, but he seems to be fine heading into Spring Training . If A's starters can make it into the 6th or 7th regulalry, then the four right-handers above can split-up late-inning duties regularly, giving a guy a day off, and then a day-on and vice-versa. "Everyday" Breslow can handle some setup duties and middle-relief duty, while Blevins (who has the best lefty/lefty splits among bullpen hopefuls - .580OPS against, 5.4 K/BB ratio) can handle LOOGY duties as well as some middle relief innings.

That would allow the team to carry a 5-man bench of position players, which I think would be advantageous in exploiting the platoon advantages mentioned above, as well as guarding against injuries. In that case, I'd most like to see this bench:

C2 - Powell

OF - Gross

INF - Chavez

INF - Rosales

INF/OF - Fox

I think this bench would effectively cover every position on the diamond, considering the ability of every outfielder on the roster to capably handle centerfield. It would also open-up some opportunities for Chavez and Fox to add a bit of thump to the lineup in certain situations and also allow Rosales to cover for Ellis and Pennington regulalry. Again, I'm not sure if this arrangement would make a whole lot of difference...but for a team that will likely need offense in the worst way, it's worth considering sacrificing a bullpen arm for another useful bat off the bench.

Barton/Sweeney as Keys to the Offense?: On the position-player side of things, the roster as currently constructed offers a fairly predictable set of performances. Rajai and Crisp will both hit around .270/.280 with good defense, maybe a .400 slugging and double-digit steal totals. Kouzmanoff will offer little OBP, but about 20 homers and 80 RBIS. Pennington...a decent glove, a .330OBP, a few steals and not much else. Ellis, maybe a .330 OBP, good defense, maybe 10 steals and 10 homers. Suzuki still has some breakout potential, but I think it's safe to say he'll OPS in the .740-.760 range with 12-15 homers. Cust will have a .350+OBP, strike-out 200 times, and hit 25+ homers.

The two guys that are the "wild cards" in my opinion are Barton and Sweeney. While the rest of the projected lineup are either limited in upside due to talent (Pennington) or set in their ways (Cust, Kouz, Ellis), Barton and Sweeney are young enough and talented enough to make some significant improvements in their offensive output starting in 2010. If, and this is a pretty big if, the two guys could combine for 30 Homers, and individually hit near. 280 with a near-.800 OPS, then the projected lineup would look a lot more threatening and would likely score a fair amount of runs. Both guys had very encouraging second-halves in 2009, so carrying that momentum over into 2010 isn't totally out of the question. A lengthly lineup with a sprinkling of power in the middle, speed at the top and bottom and a bunch of good-contact, moderate-power in the 3 and 6/7/8 positions would be fairly effective, in my opinion.

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