If you were to ask any knowledgeable A's fan what the A's core strength is (indeed, what it's been through the Beane era), there's virtually no chance you'd get any response but "Pitching."
The last several years -- and this year especially -- the offense has done its part to reinforce that perception.
And while the A's up-the-middle, high-end-of-the-spectrum defense when healthy has been solid, Beane has never been shy about strategically sacrificing defense at certain positions.
It's also been hard to describe any Beane team as "balanced," either -- even when the major components of team productivity have been complementary, the major components themselves (especially the offense) have had significant shortcomings or biases.
But more and more as this year wears on, and I think about the team as constructed for '08, I think that the A's may not even have a "core strength" on which Beane can build.
The offense, despite a few flukey successes in the last couple of weeks, is simply bad.
The defense, even considering the injuries (which are either themselves a core deficiency or should be factored into the assessment of the pitching, defense, etc.), hasn't been as impressive as we expected.
And the pitching ... well, to be sure, our pitching is still good -- but how good?
Haren and Street are the only truly reliable, frontline-talent, virtual-lock pitchers on the team.
Sure Gaudin has promise, Blanton will eat 200 innings with only occasional blowouts, Loaiza's an established middle-of-the-road starter; and Embree has been wonderful out of the pen all year, Brown may be a decent MLB reliever, and several oter arms in the 'pen hold promise.
But this is, essentially, a mediocre pitching staff that's been able -- mostly -- to prevent runs this year despite some not-so-hot peripherals, as shown by the A's post-ASB pitching.
Looking at the season-long stats, the A's are still holding their ground as one of the top 3 or 4 staves in the AL -- looking at runs allowed and ERA.
But looking at even the simplest peripherals -- WHIP, BB, K -- and the A's staff slips down a tier or two. And look at the whole picture post-ASB, and what emerges is an image of a league-median pitching staff with results regressing to its peripherals.
Now, what Beane can do about this in the next 6 months, I have no idea (that's grover's department).
But I think it's clear that this team, as currently constituted, doesn't really have a solid foundtion on which to build -- which would explain why Beane is beginning to broach the possibility of major roster reconstruction. This is not a team that can push back into reliably predictable contention with just a couple of simple additions.