How useful is it to be an 87 win team on paper? Great, if you’re in the National League, where being just a few wins better than .500 can get you a division title (Padres, Cubs), a World Series appearance (Rockies), or even a World Series Championship (Cardinals).
It’s useful in the American League, too. If Beane decides to “go for it in 2008,” that doesn’t mean “go for a World Series Championship” – you don’t go for a ring any more than you go for “any playoff spot” because that’s about as far ahead as you can hope to plan. (Even if you don’t subscribe to the “crapshoot” theory of post-season ball, you might concede that you build a playoff team in January and a World Series team in July – when you know what you actually have, and what everyone else actually has).
No, 87 wins won’t get you a post-season berth in the AL but 87 +/- 6 can, and baseball is all about the improbable. Injuries, “career years,” and these days I should add indictments, can create a large gap between “expected” and “actual” results. If you are built to win “87 or so,” you then wait to see how healthy Harden is and whether Vlad stays healthy; whether this season’s “career year” goes to Nick Swisher or Casey Kotchman; whether it’s Daric Barton or Howie Kendrick who exceeds, or falls short of, hopes and expectations; whether it’s Chone Figgins or Jack Cust who can or can’t replicate 2007’s success; whether it’s John Lackey or Danny Haren who has an unexpectedly pedestrian year – or whether it’s the Mariners who see everything break just right while the A’s and Angels take turns beating up on each other.
With or without Bonds, I don’t think the A’s can get their 2008 roster to a place where even money is on them to win more games than the Angels win. What I do think is that the A’s can get their 2008 roster to a place where they are, on paper, within striking distance. From there, anything can happen and almost always does.