Like most of you, I have been following the A's off-field machinations with just as much fervor the last few years as I have with their on-field exploits. I'm not sure if everyone has come to the same conclusion as I have about the future of the club - vis-a-vis new ballpark and T-rights, etcetera - but it certainly seems to me like MLB is going to do everything possible to avoid altering the T-rights status quo, angering the Giants, publicly pitting franchises against each other, etcetera, etcetera; translation: I really don't think the A's to San Jose move is ever going to happen.
It looks like Howard Terminal in Oakland is in play as far as sites go, and if recent reports are any indication, MLB is trying a lot harder to engage the city of Oakland and the other parties involved to get that site to a "viable" stage than they are in angling for a T-rights alteration. For me, this all ends in this eventuality: San Jose will die on the vine, the A's will stay in Oakland (or move out of the area altogether) and the team will be sold to a new ownership group.
Whether or not that's the best outcome for A's fans, the city of Oakland, MLB or really any other stakeholder is not something I want to get into. What I want to explore and ruminating on is: if this happens, what will it mean for the A's on-field product over the next several years and how will the current ownership group react to this?
Although Wolf/Fisher will probably make out just fine by selling the club at any time (they only paid $180 million for the team in 2005, and they'd probably sell for something around $400 million) I'd really think that they would at least attempt to leave the Lodge on some sort of up note. Keep in mind that Beane is also part owner and while we can question Woff/Fisher's commitment to winning, I don't think the same doubt underlies Beane's intentions. He might be a very small stakeholder in the overall ownership group, but I don't really see him being satisfied with divesting from the A's after never having gotten close to a World Series or championship.
Beane has done a pretty masterful job this past year crafting the current iteration of the A's into a viable contender. He's also bolstered the farm system into an asset that has already and will likely pay dividends over the next several years. My fundamental question is, then, would this ownership group look at the writing on the wall and say: "We can't have our way in San Jose, but while we're stuck here in Oakland until a sale goes through, let's do what we can to bring a championship here and define our legacy of ownership about what happened on the field, instead of what happened off it." I'm inclined to think, with the way things are headed for this 2012 team, that they might very well take that course of action. In that case, they can "leave it all on the field" and even simultaneously drive-up the eventual price of the franchise, even incrementally: a true win-win for all involved!
The second question is: can this team, theoritically, put itself in a position to make a serious run or two over the next several years, without taking on a boatload of salary (Wolf/Fisher won't want to go out of pocket too much if it all to accomplish this, mind you) and without mortgaging every asset that might make this team attractive to potential buyers? I think they can:
The team is in a very manageable player-salary position for the next several years. A lot of core players are pre-arb eligible and guys like Anderson, Cespedes and even Coco - while not cheap, per se - are under shorter-term contracts that are not breaking the bank. The team has some depth at a few positions that are desirable on the open market and also even has built-up some goodwill from this 2012 run to possibly attract a free agent or two to take a slight discount to come over and/or re-sign with the team. What does it all add up to? I think, the possibility of a serious couple of runs in 2013 and 2014.
Now comes the rosterbation: an outfield of Cespedes-Crisp-Reddick has proven to be pretty productive (*when healthy, ugh). While I don't think that Reddick is a long-term answer at the 3-hole, he's combination of power and strong defense makes him a solid core player. Crisp might be in slight decline, but still holds down CF and the leadoff spot fairly well, and Cespedes, well, when he learns to read balls off the bat a bit better, he won't have too many weaknesses in his game (*with the exception of health).
In the infield, I am really hoping that the A's bring back Stephen Drew, even for that one year on a $10 million mutual option on his contract. It's a risk, but he seems to be fully healthy finally, enjoys playing for "BoMel" and could conceivably be a major boost offensively (and even defensively) when given a full healthy off-season to prepare and a fresh start. At 3rd, I think the A's should get Chase Headley from the Pads. It won't be cheap and again, it might be a risk, but he'd be a pretty massive upgrade (and under club control for two more seasons).I';m thinking that a package headlined by Straily could get the job done. At 2nd: I think the A's have some options. If Weeks comes back after September 1st and goes back to being the 2011 "I'm a star" Jemile, then the team should be set for the next couple of years. If not, then they have a few cost-effective internal options such as Sizemore, Rosales or even Grant Green who could provide some good offense and palatable defense at the position. It seems like Carter has finally seized the 1st base job...hooray! At DH: I like Seth Smith in the role, despite his lower numbers at the spot versus his time in the outfield. I think he'll adjust and still backup in the corner spots occassionally.
On the mound, the bullpen seems fairly set at the back-end with Cook and Doolittle (the latter of whom I am hoping takes the entire off-season to develop a secondary out-pitch, since at some point, hitters will begin catching up with his fastball). Despite lowered K/9 and higher BB/9, and fairly "lucky" HR/9 and BABIP numbers this year, I'd honestly strongly consider picking up Balfour's option for 2013. He's versatile, durable and a great competitor. Blevins is a pretty top notch LOOGY who is also fairly servicable against righties. The rest of the BP can be put together fairly cheaply between Ross, Blackley, Jesse Chavez, etcetera.
In the rotation, I'd bring back McCarthy if a reasonable 2-year guarantee + 3rd year option could be worked out. His health concerns are somewhat tedious, but actually seem manageable. Anderson, Parker, Milone and Griffin could fill out the rest of the rotation (with Blackley, Peacock, Bruce Billings and at some point, Sonny Gray, providing some depth).
On the bench, I think the team has some decent, cost-controlled options: Rosales is decent, Grant Green could fill-in at a few different spots, Sizemore could be an option and in the outfield and at 1st, Moss is an option. I'd bring back Kottaras as the backup C as he's a vet that bats lefty and can be a decent matchup option.
All in all, where does that leave this team for 2013 and beyond? Here's my preliminary look, lineup/rotation/bullpen:
1. Crisp - CF ($7 mil)
2. Drew - SS ($10 mil)
3. Cespedes - LF ($8.5 mil)
4. Carter - 1B ($500K)
5. Headley - 3B ($6 mil)
6. Reddick - RF ($500K)
7. Smith - DH ($4 mil)
8. Norris - C ($500K)
9. Weeks/Rosales/Green/Sizemore - 2B ($500K)
10. McCarthy ($ 7 mil)
11. Anderson ($5.75 mil)
12. Parker ($500K)
13. Milone ($500K)
14. Griffin ($500K)
15. Cook ($500K)
16. Doolittle ($500K)
17. Balfour ($4.5 mil)
18. Ross ($500k)
19. Jesse Chavez ($1 mil)
20. Blevins ($1.2 mil)
21. Blackley ($1 mil)
22. Kottaras ($1 mil)
23. Sizemore/Green/Rosales ($500K - $1.5 mil)
24. Moss ($500K)
25. Pennington/Cowgill ($1 mil)
Total salary: Approx. $64 million (less than 2011 numbers)