Between 1988 and 1990, the A's were the most dominant team in baseball. Although they only won the World Series in 1989, those three years were Oakland's years. With an outfield of Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, and Jose Canseco, an infield of Carney Lansford, Walt Weiss, Tony Phillips, and Mark McGwire, Terry Steinbach behind the plate, and Dave Parker DHing, they had a fearsome lineup. Their starting rotation of Dave Stewart, Mike Moore, Bob Welch, Curt Young, and Storm Davis was likewise dangerous. Their bullpen, of course, boasted Dennis Eckersley, but also featured key setup artists like Gene Nelson.
The A's haven't been dominant like that since. Not even in the best of the Giambi/Tejada/Hudson/Zito/etc. years. But it's important to recognize that they weren't a dream team. They weren't the LeBron/Wade/Bosh of 1980s baseball. They weren't even the Yankees of 1980s baseball. While they had one of the greatest players of all time in Rickey Henderson, and another guy who would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he hadn't started juicing in Mark McGwire, they were largely filled out with journeymen, role-players, and a few promising youngsters. That infield wasn't exactly A-Rod/Jeter/Cano/Teixeira. Their big power hitters--McGwire, Canseco, and Parker--tended to have HR totals in the 40s. Good power hitters, but even in this Year of the Pitcher, there will be 2010 players who surpass those numbers. And Terry Steinbach was not Joe Mauer.
They were not a roster stuffed with legends. But they were a roster of good baseball players. So I got to wondering what it might cost to rebuild another team like that--and how many, if any, current A's would have a place on it. In selecting an A's roster, I cheated a bit, selecting the players I felt made up the best 25. As Sandy Alderson knew, you don't hang on to Stan Javier when you can have Willie McGee. You don't keep Lance Blankenship in favor of Mike Bordick.
In selecting current players to fill the roles of 1988-1990 A's, I focused on statistical parity and tried to get it as close as possible. I also made an effort to not just select the best players at each position, and to avoid, it possible, players that would be difficult or impossible to get. Here's my starting lineup:
LF Carl Crawford - Currently with Tampa Bay, I realize he's not likely to be an easy pickup. But he's my Rickey replacement. With a .322/.380/.519 line, 31 steals, and 11 homers, his 2010 reads like one of Rickey's lesser seasons. Crawford makes $10 million.
3B Alberto Callaspo - My Carney Lansford replacement. Nobody notices Callaspo because he plays on the Royals, who nobody notices because they have a losing record. But Kansas City has a pretty good lineup, and Callaspo is a pretty good offensive third baseman. He has a .277/.310/.419 line, 8 homers, and 41 RBIs. He would probably not be a particularly tough get from the Royals. Callaspo makes $460,000.
1B Adam Dunn - With 22 homers and 59 RBIs, the Nationals' Adam Dunn makes a good makeshift McGwire. His contract is costly at $11 million, but you get what you pay for.
RF Corey Hart - With 22 homers, 66 RBIs, a .293/.354/.576 line, and a $4.8 million contract, Milwaukee's Corey Hart is our 2010 Jose Canseco.
CF Hunter Pence - Houston's Pence is exactly the kind of solid, middle-of-the-order, dependable-but-not-incredible producer that Dave Henderson was for the late-80s A's. His contract costs $3.5 million. (If you're counting, we're already almost at $30 million.)
DH Chris Young - Dave Parker was a lot like Dave Henderson but with power, which is why my 2010 analog for Parker is Chris Young, currently the centerfielder for the Diamondbacks. He currently has 15 homers and 61 RBIs, as well as a contract for $5.6 million.
C Kurt Suzuki/C A.J. Pierzynski - I'm fine with keeping Kurt in the Terry Steinbach role, but I don't really know how much he's going to cost. He becomes a free agent soon, doesn't he? So I modeled my cost figure off of A.J. Pierzynski, who produces similarly. $6 million. (Alternatively, a team could just call up Josh Donaldson and pay him league minimum. The catcher position is seventh in the order.)
2B Adam Rosales - I'm a Rosales booster, and I think he's more than capable of filling in for Tony Phillips--and he'll do it for $410,000.
SS Cliff Pennington - Weiss might have had a slightly better glove, but other than that, I think Pennington can do a fine job of being a better-hitting Weiss. He costs $405,000.
Ike Davis - With 13 homers, 43 RBI, and a .255/.331/.448 line, Ike Davis seems like a good Ken Phelps to me. He costs $400,000.
Blake DeWitt - My modern-day Mike Bordick carries a $410,000 contract.
Rajai Davis - 2010's answer to Willie McGee costs $1,350,000.
Mike Fontenot - Willie Randolph doesn't play baseball anymore, but his modern-day avatar is this million-dollar man.
Alex Avila - Remember Ron Hassey? Say hello to Alex Avila and his $404,900 contract.
My starting rotation:
Brett Anderson - We're already paying for him. I call him our Dave Stewart. $3.125 million.
Fausto Carmona - This is our Mike Moore. He costs $3.75 million.
Trevor Cahill - Our Bob Welch costs $410,000.
Dallas Braden - Our Curt Young costs $420,000.
Gio Gonzalez - Our Storm Davis costs $405,000.
In total, this team costs $56,144,900. I think it could win some games. Now let's look at the issues of free agency and trading. How many of these contracts expire at the end of the season? The ones that do would be, theoretically, easier pickups for a team with an unlimited checkbook, because you can always just offer more than anyon else. But it does increase our cost figure. The ones that don't expire at the end of the season might be tougher because you have to figure out how to make the trade happen, but the cost doesn't increase. So here we go:
Carl Crawford: His $10 million contract was for one season. His contracts have increased every year, by $500,000, by $1.2 million, by $3 million, and then this year by $1.75 million. I think his year-to-year increase will drop again, making him available for something like $11.25 million. However, you have to add on what I'll call the Coli Bonus, the extra money required to convince someone to play in the Coliseum. I'll call it roughly $2 million. So we get Carl Crawford for $13.5 million.
Alberto Callaspo: His $460,000 contract expires at the end of the season. I say we could get him for $500,000.
Adam Dunn: Two years left on his contract, so a trade would be necessary. Do you think Daric Barton, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Craig Breslow, Brad Ziegler, and Mark Ellis could buy us his $11 million contract?
Corey Hart: His $4.8 million contract expires. His contract increased by about $1.5 million from 2009 to 2010. Add on the Coli Bonus and I'd say we could get him for $7 million.
Hunter Pence: His $3.5 million contract is expiring. I figure we get him for $5 million.
Chris Young: Young has $22.6 million and three years left on a backloaded contract after this season. He will cost, on average, $7.53 million per year. How likely is it that we could get Young for Conor Jackson, Ryan Sweeney, Jack Cust, and Gabe Gross?
Kurt Suzuki: I'm sticking with my $6 million estimate.
Adam Rosales: After his contract expires, we re-sign him for $415,000.
Cliff Pennington: After his contract expires, we re-sign him for $410,000.
Ike Davis: The Mets will re-sign him for cheap, something like $415,000, but he shouldn't be tough to trade for. Some young player, maybe Donaldson since the Mets aren't having great luck with catchers this year.
Blake DeWitt: DeWitt expires after this year, but I think we could still get him for $600,000. (62.5)
Rajai Davis: Rajai's contract expires, but we should be able to get him back for $2 million.
Mike Fontenot: His contract expires. I say we can get him for $2 million.
Alex Avila: Signable or tradeable for $410,000.
Brett Anderson: $3.125 million.
Fausto Carmona: One more year on his contract worth $7 million.
Trevor Cahill: We'll get him back for $420,000.
Dallas Braden: We'll get him back for $430,000.
Gio Gonzalez: We'll get him back for $420,000.
Vin Mazzaro: We'll keep him for $410,000.
Brandon League: Gettable for $1.5 million.
Jon Meloan: We keep him for $410,000.
Joey Devine: We'll keep him for $600,000 after this non-season.
Josh Outman: We'll keep him for $410,000.
Andrew Bailey: We keep him for $500,000.
So there you have that. Of course that's all totally conjectural. Still, I feel comfortable saying we could build that team via signings and trades for $72-$75 million.