2011 - It's Almost Wait-Til-Next-Year Time

I'm not giving up on this season just yet, but if we don't have a stellar July (and if the Rangers and the Angels don't cool off significantly--like losing-record-in-July significantly), it will be time to close the book. The following post was originally going to be a response to one of Nico's comments over at Taj's Take, but it got long. So here it is.

and can see that there is a solid nucleus in “Anderson/Cahill/Gio” and “Suzuki/Barton/Sweeney” that wouldn’t take tooooo much to turn into a contender.

The problem is that the additions NEED to be sluggers, because 1B and one COF spot are filled with good players who don’t slug. And you have to have slugging to win, period.

So adding Conor Jackson seems like a negative, even though he’s done a fine job. Add Carter and one other slugger to the nucleus noted above plus Kouz, and you have a pretty solid team. But Carter’s still a question mark (I’m not even going to discuss Taylor until he shows some semblance of hitting), and that other player currently doesn’t exist — and has to play LF, 2B, CF, or SS.

What to do? Maybe the A’s can use “exciting” prospects (e.g., Ynoa, Green, Mazzaro, H. Rodriguez) to pry a legitimate player from an organization needing to rebuild, e.g., Andrew McCutchen or Shin Soo Choo. Basically, the A’s need to make one steal.

That's what Nico said. Here's where my mind went in response.

[First, let me pose this question: how much money would the A's need to spend on a better training/medical staff? I'm starting to see a pretty uniform consensus on AN that the A's training staff is to blame for the interminable DL stays, as well as the frequency of the trips to the DL.]

We'll never probably have a huge offense. Pitching is the key. As has been noted by many on AN, what we need to have (and what has given SD an edge in their division) is consistent, reliable pitching. Anderson/Cahill/Gio is an exciting nucleus for a rotation, but Billy Beane needs to figure out how to make a deal for a solid veteran that doesn't turn into Sheets or Duke, and Curt Young needs to work some serious magic on Vin Mazzaro. We need a rotation of pitchers who win more than they lose, and keep their ERAs and WHIPs respectable, top to bottom.

That said, sluggers are important too. Expanding your offensive nucleus a little bit, if we assume that a new A's offense is built around Suzuki/Barton/Sweeney/Kouzmanoff, where do we go from there in terms of slashing? Do we say no to the kind of intangible momentum that a Rajai Davis can bring to a potential rally--not to mention his 26 steals, his 33 runs scored (tied with Barton for most on the team despite 58 fewer PAs), and the fact that in category after category (hits, doubles, triples, total bases, even RBIs and BA and slugging) he ranks just behind Zook/Barton/Sweeney/Kouz, and in some cases even with them or above them.

Do we stick with Hot Streaking Pennington and trust that Cold Streaking Pennington won't be too much of a problem, all the while recognizing that both of them are friends with Bad Defense Pennington (most errors on the team.) What about Adam Rosales, the super-sub and potential starting position player with more homers (five) than anyone else on the team other than Kouz and Zook? Rosales has hit his five dingers in only 203 PAs, averaging about 40 PAs (or eight to nine games if he was in a starting role) per HR. Kouz has hit eight in 300 PAs, and Zook has hit eight in 205 PAs. For those of you doing the math, that puts Kouz and Rosales at about the same homer-hitting pace, while Suzuki is outstripping both of them handily with a homer about every 25 PAs (five to six games.) For a team that needs sluggers, Rosales isn't seeing much time at the plate. (And before someone mentions that averages hide streaks, Rosales hit two in April, two in May, and one in June.)

Do we really let go of Conor Jackson so easily? I realize the sample size is small, but he's produced quite well for us since joining the team, and I was surprised to find that although his season stats with Arizona were disappointing, he is hitting a very solid .306 with RISP for the season. That's better than anyone else on the team except Suzuki. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that we don't have many clutch hitters.

Do we exercise Ellis' option to give Cardenas more time to develop? Would we exercise it anyway, even if Cardenas was ready? Do we hold on to Coco Crisp long term? He's a pretty good hitter and outfielder. Who do we call up from the farm? Who do we try to trade for? And who do we trade away?

Do we cut loose guys like Travis Buck, Jack Cust, Gabe Gross, and Landon Powell? And what do we expect to get for them?

I guess what I'm saying is, as important as figuring out how to rebuild is figuring out how to maximize what we already have. If our pitching nucleus is Cahill, Anderson, and Gio, do we think Mazzaro can turn into a legitimate solid fourth or fifth man? Is there another fourth or fifth man ready for 2011 somewhere in the farm, or is there some decent veteran we should trade for? How do we fill out that rotation in such a way that the back end isn't a total crapshoot?

On the offense, if we have an infield of Kouz (power, average, slugging), Rosales (defense, moderate power), Ellis (defense, average, hitting with RISP), and Barton (average, OBP), is that such a bad idea? If we have an outfield of Davis (speed, average, slugging, but streaky), Sweeney (average), and Crisp (speed, average, OBP, slugging, smidge of power), is that such a bad idea? If we have that infield and that outfield at the same time, is that a bad idea? Or will a healthy Suzuki (power, average, hitting with RISP) and some DH (Carter or some other player received in a trade), in conjunction with consistent production from Kouz (now acclimated to the AL) and Rosales (with more playing time), provide the little bit of power that we've lacked? If we could do that, there's only a minimal need for any offensive-minded wheeling and dealing. Even the bench may not need that much work outside of the organization. Back up Suzuki with Donaldson; back up the infield by trading for someone more consistent than Pennington at the plate and in the infield; back up the outfield with Conor Jackson; call up Corey Wimberley as a utility super-sub.

I've said nothing about the bullpen. I maintain that an offense producing 4 runs per game (the A's are producing 3.91 on the year, 3.95 in June, and were averaging 4.79 the first 14 games this month) is an offense that is putting you in the position to win some games. And I also maintain that a starting rotation with an ERA of 3.92 is pretty respectable. It's even more respectable when you limit it to the nucleus of Gio, Cahill, and Anderson: 3.39 (it's still 3.56 when you add in a likely/possible fourth/fifth starter for next year, Vin Mazzaro.) As we all know, the bullpen has been an embarrassment. So what do we do here?

Unless we're talking about some very serious cannibalization, we keep Bailey, because a 1.86 ERA with 13 saves is solid. So is a WHIP under 1. And at least one of his three blown saves was a situation in which almost nobody could have pulled out a save. We keep Breslow: he boasts a 2.76 ERA, he's working almost an inning every two games, he's got a WHIP just under 1, he throws just over one K per inning, opposing hitters are batting .159 against him, by far the lowest in that category on the team, and he's only getting better. Ziggy is just good enough to keep and just not-good enough to not be very valuable in a trade, so I think we should hold on to him for use against heavily right-handed lineups, or as a spot reliever against righties. Jerry Blevins, with a 2.70 ERA in June, is back to even better form than he was in during April, and I think he's been one of the few bright spots in the pen of late, and in every outing in which he completed more than 2/3 of an inning, he's held opponents scoreless. Tyson Ross also seems to be evening out, with a 3.375 ERA since June 2, and without an outing against Minnesota in which the only batter he faced homered and a tough two-run inning in San Francisco, he'd be scoreless for seven innings in that stretch. Henry Rodriguez and Brad Kilby could also be good next year, and Outman and Devine are supposed to come back sometime this season. So can we have a bullpen consisting of Bailey, Breslow, Zig, Blevins, Ross, Devine, Outman, and Kilby or Rodriguez?

To summarize, this is the roster I'm proposing for 2011:

C - Kurt Suzuki, Josh Donaldson
1B - Daric Barton
2B - Mark Ellis
3B - Kevin Kouzmanoff
IF/OF - Adam Rosales, Corey Wimberley (Rosales has played every IF position this year, as well as OF; Wimberley has played a decent amount at every IF position but 1B, as well as OF, while in the minors; Rosales would start at SS, but with Rosales and Wimberley in this kind of role, any of the other three infielders could take a day off or get injured and the quality of the infield, both in the field and at the plate, wouldn't be compromised; meanwhile, both of them also provide extra customization for the outfield in a pinch late in the game)
OF - Coco Crisp, Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis, Conor Jackson
DH - a big power bat to be traded for (this is Nico's "one steal" that the A's need to make)
Rotation - Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, a solid veteran to be traded for, and Vin Mazzaro.
Bullpen - Tyson Ross, Brad Kilby or Henry Rodriguez, Brad Ziegler, Jerry Blevins, Craig Breslow, Joey Devine, Josh Outman, and Andrew Bailey.

This roster requires callups of Josh Donaldson, Corey Wimberley, and either Brad Kilby or Henry Rodriguez. Unforeseeable spring training injuries would probably necessitate a couple more. But by and large, it gives guys like Cardenas, Carter, Carson, Taylor, and Tolleson another season to mature into real big leaguers, while presenting a pretty solid pitching staff and offensive attack. This roster also requires two trades: a big power-hitting DH (I've heard Corey Hart's name mentioned, but I think we might even be able to aim higher) and a good veteran starting pitcher (not even a potential ace or anchor, just a solid veteran who can be counted on to win more games than he loses.)

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