This past weekend I went to see my favorite hockey team play the Sharks in San Jose. The Devils were shut out by the Sharks (I saw a surprising number of A's gear around the Tank - I wonder if those in the South Bay are really embracing the A's move closer to their neighborhood). But it got me to thinking about how my teams kind of mirror each other. Both have a brilliant defensive team highlighted by one star defensive player (Brodeur and Chavez), but neither can score a lot despite having very good offensive players (Bradley, Chavez, Thomas, Gionta, Gomez, Elias). Oh and they also have the best GMs in their respective sports in Beane and Lamoriello.
It naturally led to me thinking about whether the A's biggest weakness was indeed their offense or their starting pitching going into 2007. I know it seems like an easy answer, but I would submit that the A's could be looking at their worst rotation of starters since possibly 1999 or 2000. The reason is simple. The rotation in 2007, as it is currently constructed, is dependent on a healthy Rich Harden. And much like Bobby Crosby, you just never know if you're going to get that.
Look at the overall ERAs of the A's starters from 2006 who will likely be with the team in 2007.
That's not exactly Hudson, Mulder and Zito now, is it? That's more like Harang, Hiljus and Heredia. And yeah, Loaiza was hurt and ballooned his ERA early beyond repair. Blanton was up and down like a yo-yo last year as was Haren. But 2007 needs Blanton and Haren to really turn it around. Haren absolutely needs to emerge as that ace that many believe he can be. I mean, Haren has proven that he can at least provide good, strong innings and occasionally be dominant. The A's need him to take that next step.
The key to all of this is Harden. Can the Canadian King remain healthy? If he can, then the A's rotation sets up fairly nicely. Harden could be the best pitcher in baseball if we ever see him for more than 10 starts. Haren is a nice number two who could emerge as co-ace of the staff with Harden. But he needs to learn to work around the corners of the zone and cut down on the long ball. He gave up 31 blasts last season which was about 10 too many. I'd exchange a few more walks for a few less bombs. Although don't go all Zito on us with the walks, Danny Boy.
The bottom line is that the only sure thing (or close to it) that the A's 2007 team has going for it is the bullpen. As long as Street doesn't slide back more, the bullpen should be pretty rock solid in 2007. But since the A's lost Frank Thomas and will soon lose the dependability of Zito, two huge parts of their fortunes next season will need some answers.
I think that this team probably needs a top-of-the-order as well as cleanup hitter and probably an extra starting pitcher. The A's have a lot of options (I didn't even list Kennedy), but none of them are likely to fill that every fifth day dependability that Zito provided.
As for which part of the team is more unstable right now, I would assume Eric Chavez will be a better player unless he has similar injury issues in 2007. I would also guess that Nick Swisher will get better. Maybe the A's get a better (and full) year from Milton Bradley. But the state of their starting pitching is very, very scary to me right now. Probably more so than this team's ability to hit with RISP. And that says a lot about my faith in the starting pitching right now.