I know I that I should have woken-up yesterday morning livid at Bob Geren and livid at this team for being completely miserable at baseball. I know that I should have spent all of yesterday conjuring-up trade rumors where this team is completely dismantled, piece-by-piece and elegantly replaced by young guys who "play hard and play the right way" and are spearheaded by a fiery, well-respected and feared manager. I know that I should have blasphemed Billy Beane for being too busy watching the World Cup to realize that his team was slowly, painfully fading into complete non-relevance.
I know all of these things because I've felt like doing them countless times over the past four years. But this morning, I got to thinking. What choice do I, or any A's fan or even the organization itself, have but to grudgingly accept what we've got here? And besides that...is what we've got here really all that bad after all?
I've come to accept that Billy Beane will not "fire" Bob Geren - per se. That's just not going to happen. The best we can hope for is that he and the organization "mutually" decide to "pursue other opportunities" after Geren's contract ends after this season. Even that is a long shot...but either way, we better used to seeing Geren through the end of 2010.
As far as the player side goes...I guess I'm a little pissed that this team now is finding ways to loose instead of the other way around. But in my assessment, while the team performance has been wholly underwhelming, I've been encouraged with many individual performances, particularly involving the "core" players. Think about it:
The starting pitching has been inconsistent and banged-up, but that list includes a pretty good core of four starters that should be together for at least 3 or 4 more years and, for the most part, still has some projectability left. Cahill in particular has been a revelation this season. If he keeps this steady rise act up all year, by next season you're looking at a really nice 1-2 in him and Anderson. Braden's perfect game will probably be THE highlight of this season and while he'll never be an ace and will probably break down at some point due to his myriad of health issues, he's a great leader for this team and solid back-end starter. Despite the recent bullpen struggles, I still have faith in Andrew Bailey regaining some of his past form as a very good relief pitcher to anchor the pen and in Billy Beane (gasp!) to assemble a group that can consistently get outs late in the game.
Suzuki, despite his injury setback and recent slump, has done his usual act while healthy. Side note - his ridiculous play to nab Ichiro at 3rd in Seattle might be the DEFENSIVE highlight of the year. And earlier in the year he was hitting with more power that he ever has...it's not hard to imagine him ending the year with something like 15 homers and a .770-.780OPS. As long as he gets regular rest in the future, he should be able to keep that up for a few years and he should be signed long-term. Barton's walking 14.4% of the time! Damn! The ISO needs to improve, granted, but I think it will. He's also playing solid defense and is under club control for another 4 years after 2010.
Sweeney's a tough nut to crack. His defense and "not horrible" offense make him a valuable player over the long-haul, but he is not a number 3 hitter and I think it's safe to say that he will never hit for power. Even so...it seems like the organization is committed to him in RF and I guess there are a lot worse options out there.
Even the "role players" have impressed me this season. Conor Jackson was a good pickup in my opinion, Cliff Pennington, besides his mammoth recent slump, is still playing good defense and could end up with a line of like .250/.330/.370 with 12-15 steals which is certainly not horrible for a defense-first SS. Kouzmanoff is performing exactly like I thought he would at this point in the year...which is actually a pleasant surprise given his switching leagues and all and the previous such experiments involving NL players for this club. He's also under control for 2 more years after this one. Rosales is a fun guy to watch and root for and is pretty useful due to his actual - not PAtterson-ish or Fox-like - defensive versatility. Coco's been great when healthy and Raj's speed hasn't left him, at least.
So...my gripe(s) really aren't with the individual players or the construction of the roster. I agree with Beane in that:
"We haven't played poorly," he said. "We just haven't played well enough to win. We've played some very close games. We've basically lost one- and two-run games the last week, unfortunately."
And I agree with Wolff that this team is good enough, as-is, to "compete" in this division. Maybe not to win it, but to at least get to .500 and be respectable.
I guess my gripe right now is two fold:
1) Mentality: I really can't tolerate any more of the "let's give Geren and this whole team a pass this season" because they're dealing with injuries for the umpteenth time this year and they're all "so young". Maybe that was truly the case in 2007 when Harden and Chavez and Crosby and Kotsay and pretty much the entire core of the team was pretty much unavailable and/or ineffective during a year in which the team was actually expected to win the division. But this ain't 2007...this team isn't expected to run away with the division. They should be expected to play relatively competitive baseball. And they really haven't been all that hampered by injuries, in comparison to previous years. Sure, Anderson's been gone and so has Duke, but Duke's injury was expected and Sheets has actually stayed healthy, so that's kind of net loss of 1.5 instead of two, in my opinion.
In the bullpen...Devine should have never been penciled-in for the season anyways given his arm issues, so the group that's back there now is pretty much what was envisioned at the beginning of the year. I suspect that Wuertz and Bailey are still working off the rust of short Spring Trainings but will come back fairly strong by the end of the season. Ziggy's slowly become a ROOGY and is no longer an elite reliever, but he's still very useful. Breslow's been great and consistent (pretty much the only one back there that has) and Blevins has had his moments, as has Ross.
With the exception of Ellis's annual hamstring-imposed sabbatical and Suzuki's brief respite, the entire infield has remained healthy this season. I guess Crisp has been missed in the outfield, but Rajai's a good defender in center and brings a lot of the same skills to the table, Sweeney's stayed on the field and left-field hasn't really been a victim of injury either...unless you consider poor roster management and suckitude an injury (Fox and Patterson - which is debatable at this point).
My point is...this team has not been totally decimated by injuries as in years past. They've had their fair share of injuries to some key players but so have the Rangers and so have the Angels and they are both doing fine. This team is good enough to win as many games as they lose...they just aren't getting the job done when given the opportunity to do so.
Maybe it's too much to ask for a new manager or an influx of talent from the minors or a trade or two for some difference-makers...but I don't think it's too much to ask for a change of mentality. I know that publicly the organization will keep a steady hand, back-up the players and manager and insist that everything will even-out in the end. But behind closed doors, I hope this is the message that Bob Geren will give to his players tonight:
"Listen guys, I had a long talk with Billy yesterday. He understands that we've dealt with some injuries this year, but he's clearly not happy with the way we've been playing recently. He and Mr. Wolff believe we're good enough to win with what we've got - and so am I - and we are all committed to you guys for this season. But it's also been made clear to me that underachieving and/or a lack of fundamental play will not be tolerated. I'll take my share of the blame for some of my decision-making, but I'm counting on you guys to do what's needed to win the close ballgames we've been losing recently. Stay focused defensively and on the mound. Take the extra base when needed and move runners over. Get the guy in from third with less than two outs. It's been made clear to me that we're not going to be receiving any help from the farm or from outside the organization any time soon, and a number of guys on the DL have encountered setbacks so the situation is: we've got to find ways to win with what we've got, right here and right now and not wait around for the time when 'we're healthy', because that time is not going to come. Billy will find us what we need if we give him the confidence to make a deal...but if we don't, I've been given no assurances about any of our futures with this organization beyond this season."
I think something like that would do...basically, I want this team to move from the "Development/coddling" cycle to the "win at all costs" cycle. The young guys don't need to be guided through their first go-round in the majors anymore...they need to learn consistency, and the vets need to make sure they are doing what's necessary to win ballgames.
2) Injuries: This is insane. I can't complain enough about these injuries. Devine is probably done for the year...which will give him two complete seasons on the DL. Outman is probably done too, giving him 1.5 total DL years. Buck's oblique has healed, but his legs are plagued by some sort of strength-sapping painful illness that cannot be diagnosed by weeks of tests. On the farm...James Simmons still hasn't received any sort of correct diagnosis on his shoulder issues, Sean Doolittle's knee remains all sorts of screwed, Dusty Coleman has been shelved for the year because his previous wrist surgery didn't take, Jemile Weeks' rehab is going "slowly" and any number of other guys are sidelined with minor injuries. Jeezus man...can any team really expect to compete in any market when like 10 of their top 30 prospects/players are missing year after year, often consecutively, with all sorts of mysterious injuries? I'm done with this aspect of this organization...I'll keep rooting for the team on the field, but slowly but surely I am loosing confidence in the front office and upper management of the franchise. A MAJOR overhaul is needed.
So anyways...there's my take. I think that aspects of this season have been successful...and I think that this team's "core" is worth banking on and building around for at least a few years. But the lack of urgency to win now with the current team, lack of accountability and total lack of proper health management is all concerning...to say the absolute least.