Ideas are flowing fast and furious on how the A's might address what has emerged as a serious weakness: An outfield with much quantity, little quality, and no power at the corners. The idea of enticing Carl Crawford with gobs of cash has been floated, as has the possibility of trading for a power-hitter non grata such as Matt Kemp -- an idea I like but also recognize will not come cheaply in terms of talent, just as Crawford and even Jayson Werth, will not come cheaply in terms of, well, money.
First of all, I want to say that I'm not ok with either Conor Jackson or Ryan Sweeney going forward -- I see both as very good "place-holders" but not as the right pieces for the 2011-12 A's teams if they are going to go to the next level and contend.
Jackson's ".820-.840 OPS years" were 2007 and 2008 and since then he has been seriously ill and then hamstrung -- literally -- by injuries, and has gone from being a 15 HR guy to lately being more of a 1-2 HR guy. I see Jackson as a mediocre defensive player who is likeliest to play 100 games, not 150, and to slug around .420 with 10-12 HRs, not .460 with 18-20 HRs, and if I am going to put a meh defensive player out there I want him to really slug, not to kinda slug. (Funny note: I wrote this on Friday just before seeing that Jackson had gone on the DL yet again. Oy.)
Similarly, I think Ryan Sweeney is a really valuable RFer if he's playing "gold glove level" defense and hitting .320. But with his "single digit HR power," Sweeney profiles as a .290 hitter coming off knee surgery at the age of 25 and that's not what I feel the A's will need in RF. Without a lot of power on the infield, I think the A's flat out need a couple legitimate bats -- bats who belong in the 3-4-5 spots, bats with slugging attached -- even if Oakland has to give up a little defense to get there.
So I'm looking at the A's needing two more bats and also needing two COFers -- how convenient. Chris Carter may be one, we'll see. I'm still very optimistic, but that's only one if it's even one. Free agents and established sluggers are expensive, yet the A's need to find two guys to play LF and RF who can flat out hit. Here's one way to go...
When the A's acquired "soon to be major league ready" OFer Michael Taylor they were on the right track. They just may or may not have identified the right guy. Prospects have high flameout rates and if you want one "Michael Taylor" to pan out you might need to get two. I'd like to see the A's stockpile slugging COFers, targeting guys who are stuck in their current organization and who, because they're "major league ready" but not "major league tested," are available for less than you'd have to give up to acquire an established hitter.
One possibility is Todd Frazier (Reds). Frazier is 24, has been a good hitting prospect for years, but has still never cracked the Reds major league lineup. He has been a man without a position, most recently moving from 3B to LF, and at this point his biggest value to Cincinnati may be as a trade chip. He's also having a down year in AAA (.252/.323/438), which might lower his trade value nicely -- yet few doubt he can hit and even this year, despite concerns about his defense, John Sickels gave Frazier a robust B+ grade.
Another possibility is Allen Craig (Cardinals), winner of Sickels' 2010 "This Guy Can F***ing Hit" award. Having turned 26 last month, Craig has repeatedly stalled in St. Louis, but not for a lack of hitting. After batting .322/.374/.547 in 2009, Craig has hit .322/389/558 in AAA this year. (Note: Gaudy as they are, these stats should be viewed in the context that Craig is old for his league.) Craig has also recently moved from 3B to RF.
I would be happy to see the A's trade for not one but both of these guys, even if that means that in theory Frazier, Craig, Carter, and Taylor are competing for 2 COF spots in spring training of 2011. All four of these guys are at an age where if they can hit big league pitching they can be put in a big league lineup now, and the best two should be ready for prime time -- while two others can be at the ready at AAA until they force their way up.
The A's problem is not that they have good sluggers blocking other good sluggers. The A's problem is that they have so little to choose from that they have too many eggs (hopes) in too few baskets (players). True, any of these guys can be expected to struggle at the outset of 2011, but once you have the team that will grow up together and thrive together your rebuild is done -- now you just hope the adjustment comes sooner rather than later, knowing that someone will probably hit the ground running, someone else will probably get it going midway through 2011, and a couple might need more time or might flameout altogether. That still gives you the chance for a very good 2011 team and a great one going forward.
Plus, the asking price for Frazier and Craig should be low compared to the asking price for similar but younger prospects or proven big league sluggers. This frees the A's up to spend their free agent money where I think it belongs: Starting pitching.
Sign Brandon Webb, or Jorge De La Rosa, or Ted Lilly, and you have the depth to compete, as well as the depth to trade a pitcher if that's what you need to do in order to get real hitters for the middle of your order. I'm not worried about starting Vin Mazzaro in AAA. As an added benefit, but not as any sort of manipulative gimmick, you slow his service clock -- but what you really do is allow yourself not to miss a beat when your first injury hits. That's huge. Mazzaro would also become a reasonable trade chip if you had the chance to acquire Matt Kemp or similar "young slugger of your dreams."
So my questions to you, AN, are: How do you like the idea of trying to acquire one, or even both, of these "veteran minor league" sluggers rather than giving up better players/prospects to get an already proven slugger, and what do you think, realistically, the asking price would be for these two? I'm betting the A's could nab both these guys and still not mortgage pieces of the future that are wholly integral. And with the best 2 of those 4 flanking Crisp/Davis in the COF come April 2011, backed by the depth of two others pushing in AAA, I think now you're looking at a team that can contend sooner rather than later and is poised to compete for a long time.
Unless they all stink, of course.