Things change when you fancy yourself a contender, definitely for the division and possibly for the World Series. Suddenly, player development takes a back seat and "what helps us now" takes center stage. ("Hey Nico, are we in a car or at the theatre? Pick a metaphor and go with it, dude.") With an addition like Frank Thomas, Craig Wilson, Aubrey Huff, or <insert unfounded rumor here>, questions abound as to where that would leave Nick Swisher, Dan Johnson, Jay Payton, and everyone else caught in the domino effect. It is a nice problem to have; "nice problems to have," however, are still problems.
Problem: At this stage of his career, I don't want Swisher becoming a platoon player--not when he has demonstrated the ability to hit LHP in the minor leagues (and the second half of 2005). At this stage of his career, I don't want Johnson becoming a full-time DH--not when he has shown himself to be at least average in the field. I don't want to see him becoming a strict platoon player either--not when he more than held his own against LHP in his rookie season.
Problem: Another roster addition might squeeze Kielty right out of the picture, but if not Kielty's at bats need (please!) to come against LHP. But at whose expense? If not Swisher or Johnson, for reasons just outlined, also not Bradley based on his career splits, nor Kotsay (who hits better against LHP), nor any DH we are likely to add.
Problem: Other than the occasional days off guys like Kotsay and Bradley will need, there is no logical player to sit down against RHP, either. Certainly not Swisher and Johnson, nor Kotsay, Bradley, or any DH we add--because we are unlikely to pay key players and then sit them 75%-80% of the time, or any significant portion thereof.
It is looking grim. Until you realize...
Solution: What that leaves, possibly, is a "6 guys for 5 spots, let's just kind of rotate them equally" plan, which, while great for keeping everyone fresh, is kind of like going with a 6-man starting rotation and hoping your best 6 can match the quality of other teams' best 5. This rarely happens. But it could happen in Oakland with these five positions (OF, OF, OF, 1B, DH). Might the A's best 6 at these positions, following one more addition, wind up being as good as other teams' best 5 at these positions? If so, it is sheer brilliance on the A's part, to build in such depth that they can rest everyone throughout the season and still maintain division-winning quality on the field. Is that where Billy Beane is headed? It could be the ultimate checkmate.