Disclaimer: I really don’t mean to be negative these days—I just try to “call ‘em as I see ‘em,” and what I’ve seen lately hasn’t inspired a lot of positivity. Sorry.
So I ran into Nostradamus sometime in late March and took the opportunity to ask him whether Milton Bradley and Rich Harden would be healthy this season. “I don’t time for this!” he snapped. “I’m too busy predicting the things you can’t figure out for yourself.” Point is, Billy Beane’s big blunder in 2007 wasn’t the Milton Bradley DFA. The blunder occurred far earlier, when the A’s constructed a 2007 team that was so reliant on the impossibly improbable, it would have taken a complete moron—like a blindly passionate fan, like me—to hold out any hope for success.
Start with Harden and Bradley, arguably the A’s ace and #3 hitter going into the season. Had Oakland cut ties with these guys in the off-season, perhaps Beane would have been compelled to find suitable replacements. Instead, we spent most of the season’s first three months eagerly waiting for Godot and Godoter—while trotting out Kennedy and DiNardo, Langerhans and Kielty, because help was “on the way soon”. That’s just a dumb way to build a team, folks, especially if you’re a low payroll team that can’t afford to book 6 quality starters and 4 quality starting outfielders.
When was the last time Esteban Loaiza pitched effectively two years in a row? Despite the fact that this is Loiaza’s 13th major league season, the correct answer is, in fact, never. This is less surprising if you realize that ELo’s career ERA is 4.62, that he has only won more than 12 games in a season once, that 4 of 7 times he has won in double figures he has also lost in double figures, that 4 of his season ERAs since 2001 have been 4.89, 5.70, 5.71, and 5.02, and that what he has been best known for in his career is his inconsistency. Obviously, the A’s thought Loaiza would be healthy, but actually history suggests that if healthy ELo would likely be underwhelming us with his performance one way or the other.
Beane is fond of saying that you need to build the team you believe in and then don’t panic halfway through, because players tend to find their career norms by the end. Does Billy realize that Bobby Crosby’s career norm is to be a very poor hitter? The sample is now 19 months and Crosby’s average has been below .250 in 12 of the 19 months, while his OBP, currently a whopping .309 for his career, has been at .316 or below for 11 of the 19 months (and .333 or below for 14 of the 19 months). Chavez, in his current state of body and mind, is no better than a league average hitter at 3B, but the bigger problem is that he joins Ellis, Crosby, Kendall, Kotsay, and ultimately probably Stewart and Johnson, as players who aren’t really “plus hitters” for their position. You can’t have seven of those, and this team can’t really afford to trot Johnny LeMaster’s ghost out there day after day.
So the A’s, who believe strongly that players, over time, will find their career norms, decided to rely heavily on two starting pitchers, an OFer, and a SS, who have given the A’s exactly what they should have expected: absence and disappointment.
Sadly, as much as I’d like to see the glass as “half full” (“How amazing that with all the injuries, the A’s have still managed to play .500 ball!”), in fact to me the glass looks very much “half empty”: Despite the amazing levels of emergence of Chad Gaudin, Santiago Casilla, Travis Buck, and Jack Cust, the A’s have still managed to be no better than a .500 club. How do you build a team without the sub-3.00 ERA starter, the 0.45 ERA reliever, the 5-tool OFer, or the .400 OBP/30 HR DH in mind, and still find yourself only at .500 when these pieces unexpectedly come together? Bad planning, that’s how.