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AL West Preview: Oakland Athletics

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What do the other bloggers for the AL West in SB Nation think about our Oakland Athletics? Does this team truly have a chance to take down the Angels in 2006 or are we sportin' our green and gold colored glasses?

We recently sat down and discussed the fortunes of all four teams in the West and this part revolves around the A's. The chat included:

Rev Halofan from Halos Heaven (Angels)
Jeff Sullivan from Lookout Landing (Mariners)
Adam Morris from Lonestar Ball (Rangers)
And yours truly.

It was moderated by Marc Normandin, the stats guru who runs Beyond the Boxscore. After the series runs, Marc will be running our predictions over at Beyond the Boxscore. I will tell you that three out of four bloggers agreed on what the final order of the division would be.

Without further ado, here is our discussion on the A's.

Marc Normandin from Beyond the Box Score: After a strong showing in 2005 with a roster full of younger players, the Athletics seem to have retooled for an even stronger 2006. What were your favorite and least favorite moves for the A's this winter?

Halos Heaven - The Rev: The Loaiza signing was absurd - borderline Jarrod Washburn territory minus the 4th year. As an Angels fan I was thrilled about the A's including a batting practice pitcher anywhere in their once-superior rotation. Thomas and Bradley are a terrifying offensive threat, however, and the improvement they could bring to the A's run production is kinda humbling for those of us in SoCal.

Lookout Landing - Jeff Sullivan: For my favorite move, I have a hard time picking between the Thomas signing and the Bradley/Perez trade. Thomas is cheap, and when he plays, he'll give Oakland its first real fearsome masher in ages. He's virtually guaranteed to miss a bunch of time, but ~$2m for half a season of a .900-.950 OPS is totally worth it. As for the trade, you can sort of think as Bradley as Andre Ethier's ceiling, and bringing in Antonio Perez as well gives the A's a pretty nifty backup infielder in case they struggle with injuries as much as they did a year ago. As an added bonus, the low attendance all but assures that no one will be around when Bradley flips out, which is in both the player and team's best interests. As for least favorite move, I'll go with the Randy Keisler minor league contract. That's one ugly guy. There's really no way around it.

Lonestar Ball - Adam Morris: Best move for the A's...Frank Thomas. The A's big weakness is the lack of the "scary monster" in the lineup...the Vlad, Sexson, Teixeira caliber hitter in the middle of the order. You look at the lineup, and there are a lot of nice hitters, but no one dominating. Thomas, if he is healthy, brings you that dominant offensive force in the middle of the lineup that the A's have been missing since Tejada and Giambi left. Of course, he won't likely be healthy for the whole season, but if they can keep him scotch-taped together for 80-100 games, and have him close to 100% for the playoffs, he can be a huge difference maker for the A's. In fact, I'd say that the success of the A's in 2006 is going to be proportionate to the number of games Thomas plays. Worst move...the Loaiza signing. I know some folks like Loaiza's K rates, and maybe I'm just biased from watching him be inconsistent while he was in Texas...But it seems like an organization that has a strong track record of producing solid starting pitchers just went out and committed about 15% of its payroll on a guy who, most likely, will be a league-average innings-eater.

Blez: I think the best move is probably the Bradley move, but I also like the Thomas one as well just because of the low-risk associated with it. I like the Bradley move more so because of the addition of Antonio Perez who provides a depth the A's have been sorely lacking the last couple of years. Perez is versatile and can play nearly any infield position. He was also one of the Dodgers best hitters last year. Course that's like saying you're the best looking guy at Comicon. As for the move that's the one I like the least is the bullpen setup. I'm concerned about not really having a proven LOOGY right now. Many would say the Loaiza deal, but to me, that deal was all about creating depth. Loaiza is essentially the A's fifth starter now and most teams would take him as a fifth starter in a heartbeat. I don't like the length of the deal, but Beane will be able to deal him at some point if he's underperforming. Kennedy as the LOOGY is scary to me right now considering Teixeira, Anderson, etc.

Beyond the Box Score: Predict the future (meaning 2006 of course) for Frank Thomas, Milton Bradley, and former big-time pitching prospect Dan Meyer.

Halos Heaven (Rev): Thomas and Bradley healthy for 162 games would mean improving the A's offense by at least .25 runs per game over the course of the season - that is enough to win this division handily. Meyer is 2007 material, if that.

Lookout Landing (Jeff): Thomas (PECOTA Similarity Score of 0, by the way) going to Oakland sort of reminds me of Dominik Hasek going to Ottawa in that you know the organization just wants to make sure he's healthy come playoff time. The A's won't be able to coast into the postseason like the Senators, of course, but they'd be foolish to rely on Thomas for too much during the summer. I see an SLG in the low- to mid-.500's spread over a few hundred at bats, lots of aches, lots of pains, lots of rest, and an August hot streak in which he completely carries the lineup on his back. Bradley's probably just going to be a normal guy, a decent player whose bat would look better in CF. Ends the year with an OPS around .800 or so while playing decent defense. Lots more upside than downside here, though. Doubt he collects enough AB's to qualify for the batting title. Meyer... mechanical problems and shoulder injuries scare the crap out of me. This guy was awful last year, and his margin of error isn't huge, so as far as his future is concerned, I'm leaning towards the pessimistic side. Let's just say I'd be very surprised if he lives up to his potential.

Lonestar Ball (Adam): Frank Thomas -- 65 games at DH, 310-330 EQA, leaves A's fans lamenting "what could have been" if he'd been healthy all year. The A's playoff chances ride or fall on his health in October. And kudos to Jeff for pointing out the 0 PECOTA Similarity Score...I thought King Felix's 1 was the lowest...Milton Bradley continues his run as the Poor Man's J.D. Drew... Will be in and out of the lineup with injuries, will hit well enough when healthy to get folks excited, but ultimately won't stay on the field enough to contribute enough to justify what Beane gave up to get him... Bradley is one of those guys who, like Drew, is going to tantalize because of his potential, but is going to be overpaid because folks think that this will be the year he'll play 150 games. 50/50 chance he gets 1) non-tendered after the season, or 2) sent to another team via a trade in the offseason because Oakland doesn't want to pay him what he'll get in arbitration. Dan Meyer...bleah. The Hudson trade has turned out pretty awful... If he were a stock, I'd be selling him. A pitcher who goes off the rails like he did last season is too scary.

Blez: Any way, Thomas is a scary situation. He relies so heavily (literally) on that foot that he can experience problems at any time. I'll be very happy if Thomas can play 100 games. But the truth of the matter is that this team isn't dependent on him. To me, the health of Bobby Crosby is more important throughout this year. He has the potential to be that big bat. The team only fell a few games short last year and had devastating injuries to Crosby and Harden. But I do think Thomas will play about 100 games and I think Jeff's analogy to Hasek is very appropriate. As for Bradley, I'm much higher on him than anyone here. I think that he will have a 2003 Milton Bradley-type year (or 2004 J.D. Drew, if Adam would prefer). This is one of those make-or-break years for him and players have a tendency of rising to the occasion when facing that situation. As for Dan Meyer, his shoulder problems caused him to lose nearly 10 mph off his fastball. From a few reports I've read, Meyer is much closer to his old velocity this year. I wouldn't give up on him or the Hudson deal yet, as Meyer was basically the centerpiece of that deal. Also, I'm not sure what Adam was talking about when he said justifying what Beane gave up in the Bradley deal. Ethier is a good prospect, but isn't a great one from what I've read. He isn't Daric Barton. Bottom line, the A's got two MLB players for a prospect.

Lookout Landing (Jeff): Ethier's one of those toolsy guys with a bit of a performance record to back him up. Not a terrible haul for LA, who wasn't going to keep Bradley anyway.

Blez: Still, the A's system is full of those kind of guys...Putnam, Barton.

Beyond the Box Score: With free agency looming, should the A's trade Barry Zito? Where, what, for whom, etc.?

Halos Heaven (Rev): I'm hoping Oakland has just a good enough season to not win the division but not be so far out of the race that they jettison the former Mister Milano for Dan Haren-like prospects. If Oakland needs Barry for August They will not be in a good position for 2007 and beyond relative to trading him and reloading the farm system.

Lookout Landing (Jeff): Short answer - yes, to a team with a stupid GM and a loaded farm system. Zito's perceived value - durability and all - is still so much higher than his actual value that you practically have to see what's out there. I wonder, though, if Beane would have the balls to unload Zito near the deadline if the A's are in the race. He could almost certainly fetch a ton on the market, but you have to think that'd be a PR nightmare.

Lonestar Ball (Adam): You want to talk balls...let's say it is late July, Thomas isn't healthy, the A's are fading in the A.L. West...Would he trade Zito to Anaheim -- who will probably need another starter by then -- and try to land a Brandon Wood or a Howie Kendrick? Or to Texas, for a couple of the DVD guys and Jason Botts?

Lookout Landing (Jeff): I don't see how that would take an act of courage on Beane's part, really...

Lonestar Ball (Adam): Because if you look at teams that 1) may be in the pennant race, 2) would be hot to add a starting pitcher at the trade deadline, and 3) would have the type of prospects necessary to get a deal done...Anaheim and Texas are the two teams that jump out at you. And whenever Zito-to-Texas comes up, I always hear that he doesn't want to trade Zito within the division. Anyway, it is a pretty simple call...if the A's are in the race, they keep Zito. If they aren't, they should probably try to hold up another team on July 31. I think the A's should probably be in the race, so they'll probably keep him and take the draft choices... But I wouldn't be shocked if, at some point in the season, if the A's pitching is holding together and the offense is struggling, to see Beane move Zito for prospects, and then package those guys for a bat...And he's probably the only g.m. in baseball you could say that about...

Blez: First of all, I would love it if Billy was able to make a deal for a Dan Haren-type deal like Mat mentioned. And second, the A's have almost all of their young talent locked up through 2009, so the state of the A's farm system doesn't matter as much this year or even next year as Mat also said. I believe this team will be in the AL West race for the duration unless they suffer a prolonged injury to key personnel like Street, Crosby or Harden. So, I don't think that Zito will be dealt unless Meyer pitches like he was prior to the injury. Even then, I still think Zito will walk after the season is over. But if the A's do suffer a catastrophic injury to one of those three players or multiple other ones, I still think Zito's most likely destination is the Mets. Milledge is very tempting and I'm pretty sure that Beane loves him.