Huh? Feh? Gak? I know, sounds about as promising a case as being the defense attorney in the trial of Fashion vs. Bjork. But with all the talk about whether Chavez will ever have a "breakout year," or whether the window for him to have that "breakout year" has come and gone, I'd like to make the case that maybe it has actually come and stayed.
Eric Chavez, circa 1999-2005: A guy who could put up excellent stats and turn in stellar defense, but who would take a called third strike in the clutch and was all too quick to explain why Joe Crede was probably a better player than he was, and how the Angels were probably a lot better team than the A's were. Then came a glimpse of some leadership in 2005, when Chavy stood up on the team bus and made a quietly forceful speech addressed to the younger players. It was a start, and the 2005 season's stats were very good, but nobody could mistake 2005 for being Eric Chavez' "breakout year". We were all still waiting.
Then in 2006, Chavez did something he had almost never done before. He came out swinging a hot bat prior to the Summer Solstice. A career .254 hitter in April and .253 hitter in May, Chavez came out of the gate raking, finishing April with a .301 average, 9 HRs and 20 RBI, on pace to challenge any contender for the MVP award. And then he got hurt. He shouldn't have played but he did anyway, giving the A's a Gold Glove attached to no arms, and watching his average plummet so far that many--myself included--questioned whether it might have been more helpful just to sit. But in playing, hurt, to try to help the team, at the expense of his own stats, Chavez cemented his position as a true leader, which was quite a feat (which is good, since he had no arms) for a guy reputed to have more talent than harnessed talent, heart, or leadership.
So what did we learn about Chavez in 2006? That when healthy, he mashed, even at the time of year that has been his nemesis. That when unhealthy he still fielded, at times even better than ever. And that he arrived, fully, as a team leader as judged by his own peers. We know that when playing crippled, Chavez hits about .105 (which, ironically, is what Antonio Perez hits with a clean bill of health). Now if Chavez is healthy in 2007, two years older and two years more mature than he was in the last season when he was physically able to swing the bat, who is to say he won't pick up where he left off in April, 2006--the last time he swung healthy?
Perhaps Eric Chavez had his "breakout season" in 2006, and now just needs a healthy one to show why Billy Beane chose to make him the cornerstone of this decade of A's baseball. Let's hope, because Eric Chavez at his best could be very, very, very good.