Move over Biggio, Berkman, and Bagwell, because the next generation of “untouchables” are a fresh set of B’s. On the A’s. True, if the A’s want a plus-hitter for the middle of the lineup, or another middle of the rotation starter, they will have to give something to get something. A team might quite like to pick up Dan Johnson or Lenny DiNardo, but they aren’t going to give the A’s much in return. Nonetheless, as Beane ponders his off-season options and strategies, it’s the B’s who must stay as the team builds for the next wave of success.
Travis Buck: The guy is simply a “player” who can roll out of bed and instinctively do six things right on the baseball field. The main question about Buck was whether he would develop enough power to be considered a true “5-tool player”. I’m not worried about that. I really believe that it’s not necessarily so important to hit HRs as long as you get enough extra-base hits in general—what the A’s have lacked in recent years is not so much the long ball but the 40 doubles guys, the guys who…well who aren’t Kendall, and Kotsay, and Hannahan and Shannon Stewart—who has been wonderful but who gets on first a lot ahead of guys who get on first a lot. Buck hits enough doubles and triples to succeed practically anywhere in the lineup. Swisher might hit 35 HRs in a good season, but Travis Buck is already a better hitter and the A’s need to keep him around.
Daric Barton: Step aside, “Scott Hatteberg, Pickin’ Machine,” because we have a new #10 at first base: “Daric Barton, Hittin’ Machine”. Barton’s swing is so quick, and he keeps his hands so far back, that he can wait until the ball is practically in the catcher’s glove and still pull a fastball. That’s impressive, and when you can wait that long to see pitches you can tell balls from strikes better. Because he can hit the ball hard to all fields, he will get a lot of doubles simply because the OFers are spread out and he drives the ball hard. Because he drives the ball hard, he will hit his share of HRs, as HRs are often line drives with lift. Barton is what the A’s have so sorely lacked: a pure hitter. He has to stay. No matter what.
Joe Blanton: On July 31st, I was actually hoping the rumored Blanton trade would go through, simply because the A’s future, especially offensively, was looking so stagnant, and Blanton’s value seemed inflated. But now that Loaiza has gone, and regression has sabotaged the great stats once held by Gaudin and DiNardo, it is clear that if the A’s hope to win in 2008 they will need Blanton in the rotation. Call me when he’s made 10 starts in a row and I’ll act like Rich Harden exists. Until then, Blanton is the A’s #2 starter and while he tends to get shelled a couple times just when he has finally won you over, the fact is Blanton is a solid #2 starter. He has proven he can win 14-16 games for a low-scoring team, whether in a good year or in a bad year. The guy is young, healthy, strong, and he throws strikes. How many pitchers in the AL have thrown 200+ innings, and walked less than 40? (Answer: Joe Blanton and C.C. Sabathia; Josh Beckett and Carlos Silva still have a chance.)
Finally, look for another “Killer B” to join Oakland’s core of exciting young B’s: Jerry Blevins. Blevins just completed 9 stellar innings in Sacramento, pitching against the best teams the PCL had to offer. He allowed 4 hits, 0 runs, walked 2 and struck out 20. In A, AA, and AAA combined this season, he pitched 86.1 innings, posted a 1.42 ERA, walked 20 and struck out 102. He can also stay.
The B’s are the ones who have to stay, OK? Otherwise, you’re not a great G.M.; you’re just another guy named Illy Eane.
The A’s get another chance to score against a lousy pitcher, when Chad Gaudin and the A’s host Jeff Weaver and the M’s at 7:05pm.