EDITOR'S NOTE: A "Chez Nico II" diary has been posted in the regular diary section; be sure to check it out...
First of all, by my personal definition, the A's have been "successful" throughout the 2000s, even the last couple of seasons. If you define success as winning the World Series, you will be unhappy most of the time. What I most want from my poor, small-market group of Lovable Muppets is to play meaningful games in September as often as possible, knowing that not only are most fans deprived of this unique level of tension and excitement, but also that getting to the playoffs is half the battle--the rest is awfully hard to predict. You could certainly argue that the A's are on a downward trend right now, having missed the playoffs the last two years and needing to be in the league's weakest division even to be in contention, let alone on top, this year. I look at it differently. Despite two consecutive seasons of non-stop owies, 2006 figures to be the 8th consecutive season of September contention, so I'd say the A's are doing well.
But will 2007 be the end of this run? Zito will likely be gone, while Dan Meyer and Daric Barton, the two guys who were supposed to make it all okay, have caught the injury bug that has ravaged the organization from top to Braden. It may be necessary for Billy Beane to look into his crystal "just ahead of the curve" ball and add the next undervalued commodity while it is still insufficiently appreciated and therefore affordable.
Which brings me to my main question: What is the undervalued commodity Beane will search for in the 2006-07 era? At one time, Beane felt it was starting pitching--not that starting pitching wasn't highly valued, Beane just felt it was even more valuable than that. The Big-3, and last year's White Sox, demonstrated just how big a piece of the overall puzzle your starting rotation can be. Then as Moneyball was being written and released, the undervalued commodity was OBP, causing many who had read the book, and Joe Morgan, to mistakenly believe the A's were obsessed with OBP. Soon after, Beane targeted bullpen depth, acquiring Rincon and Mecir (the better versions), Bradford, Duchscherer, and eventually Calero. Now it appears that defense is the commodity the A's value but can also afford--and sure enough, 1st place Oakland is 2nd in the league in fielding while floundering at the middle or bottom of the league in most other categories.
Now the A's are looking ahead at a rotation likely anchored by Harden, Haren, and Blanton, a bullpen anchored by Duchscherer and Street, an offense anchored by Chavez and Swisher, and a defense anchored by Kotsay and Crosby. All good--maybe not "World Series good," but good. Probably not good enough, though. So Beane will look to add from an area that the league is neglecting to appreciate at market value. What might we expect?