Much of this organization's focus for the past year or two has been on the bright and shiny future of the franchise...and for good reason. On the field, talented rookies have been debuting at a record-setting pace and the minor league system has been transformed into one of the best and most dynamic in Major League Baseball. Off the field, the new(ish) ownership group has shown sincere interest and legitimate (albeit piecemeal) progress towards keeping the team in the Bay Area long-term and building a new baseball-only venue.
And yet, over the past year, the organization has taken steps towards reaching out and reclaiming some pieces of it's past glory days. First off, owner Lew Wolff revealed to AN that the A's would be bringing Rickey Henderson back into the organization to serve in an as-of-yet undefined role. Then, the team actually retained the services of one of their most popular and respected players of recent years by re-signing Mark Ellis beyond his initial team-controlled "6+1 option" year seasons. Just a few weeks ago, the team then announced that former utility-stud of the "Bash Brother" era Mike Gallego was returning to the team to be 3rd base coach and infield instructor for 2009, and soon after, the team announced that the organization's former strength and conditioning coach (Bob Alejo) will be returning to Oakland to resume his old position. Now, numerous independent media sources report that the A's will at least consider the idea of signing former Oakland MVP and homegrown star Jason Giambi to a free agent contract this winter...
Just for the fun of it, I started thinking about how far this "Homecoming" of sorts could logically, sensibly, plausibly, go. Obviously, the process would begin with Giambi. The soon-to-be 38 year old remains a strong offensive producer and while he's a liability defensively, his playing-time at 1st could be limited (with him able to split DH duties with Cust) and he'd instantly boost an offense that sorely lacked both slugging and on-base abilities last season. In the meantime, he could buy some time for both Daric Barton and Sean Doolittle to even-out their performances at the plate in the upper minors in 2009. Sources say Giambi is looking for a multi-year deal. I believe that a 1-year deal with an easily attainable 2010 option could be enough to entice him to come back home and possibly retire where it all began for him.
Next, I thought about other former Oakland Athletics that 1) are still playing professional baseball, 2) will be freely available within a year or two, 3) might still be productive through 2010 and 4) wouldn't completely block a hot-prospect. IMHO, that left me with Miguel Tejada and Tim Hudson.
Tejada is certainly not the MVP-caliber player he was during his time with the A's. However, he remains a decent shortstop with a little pop relative to his position. It remains to be seen how he'll hold up over the course of next season, but several factors could combine to make him an A's target next off-season. First off, one way or another, Bobby Crosby will not be the A's shortstop one year from now. At the very least, his contract will expire at the end of next season and he will move on to greener other pastures. Thanks to a couple nice picks in the 2008 draft (Nino Leyja, Jason Christian, Dusty Coleman) the A's have a couple of promising shortstop prospects in the minors; however, they will likely not be MLB ready until after 2010. Cliff Pennington is more of a utility-guy than an everyday shorstop (ditto Gregorio Petit), leaving the A's in need of a likely one-year stop-gap for 2010. Enter Tejada, whose mammoth 6-year contract ends after 2009; he'll be a free agent at the exact time the A's could most use him and by that time, he'll only be looking for a short-term deal. Provided the A's still have a gaping hole at short come a year from now, Tejada still has enough range to handle the position and he can still slug above .400 and hit .270-.280ish, he just might be an ideal stop-gap solution.
Of course, in an ideal world, the A's will trade Bobby Crosby in the next few weeks and use some combination of Huston Street/Travis Buck/pitching prospects to either get an established big-league shortstop that can contribute immediately (J.J. Hardy) or a premium shortstop prospect that'll be good to go in 2010 (Reid Brignac, Alcides Escobar). Even if either of those two scenarios were to happen, I could still see some room on the roster for Tejada. By that time, Eric Chavez could be totally unable to play defense on a regular basis, necessitating the need for a guy that can step in and provide some pop at the 3rd base position: enter Tejada again, who has resisted moving to 3rd in the past, but after revealing he's two years older than previously thought and not the sprightly ball of energy he used to be, might be inclined to at least try-out the position on a part-time basis. And even if Chavez were to be 100-percent healthy AND the A's had a solid player st short by that time, Tejada could certainly be one helluva left-side of the infield utility guy...
Then there's Tim Hudson. Of the Big Three, Huddy, to me, was the hardest to see go. He was the consummate bulldog on the mound and seemed like an awesome team-first, ra-ra, but also hard-assed, cheerleading type leader...which is exactly why I think the A's could use him in their 2010 rotation. By that time, Justin Duchscherer will likely be on his way to a big payday in free agency, while top prospects Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson will be ready to join the big league rotation. Duke's likely departure will leave the A's with a very young and mostly inexperienced rotation that will likely be in need of some veteran guidance: enter Hudson.
Huddy's currently on the shelf and is scheduled to miss the bulk of 2009 with Tommy John surgery. After next season, the Braves and Huddy hold a $12 million mutual option for 2010. I'm not entirely sure what the "mutual option" means in terms of whether both parties have to agree in order to have it vest...if that is the case, the Braves will certainly decline their end of the agreement and pay him a $1 million buyout, which would make him a free agent. At that point, you could see the Braves have mild interest in re-signing Huddy at a lower salary, but at that time the Braves will likely be in re-building mode and won't have all that much room in the budget or in the rotation for Huddy (especially if they acquire two starting pitchers this off-season like they plan on).
Huddy is a constant injury risk, but even when he's not pitching, he's a valuable asset to a pitching staff and coming off a lost 2009, he could even be a free agent bargain. He could help guide the future core of the A's rotation through their first year in the majors and take some pressure off of them as well. With so much starting pitching depth in the minors and presumably loads of relief pitching to fall back on, Huddy can be well-rested through the season and well-supported by a, presumably, solid offense and defense. I imagine a rotation of Huddy, Cahill, Anderson, Gio and one of Mazzaro/Simmons/Smith/Eveland.
As far as off-the-field pickups, what about Scott Hatteberg? The guy is currently a free agent and not likely to receive any major league contracts within the next calendar year. The A's have renewed Ty van Burkleo's contract as hitting coach for 2009, but what 2010? Hatteberg and the A's always alluded to his future as a coach in this league, and why not bring him into the fold sooner rather than later?
So there you go. Not that this whole "homecoming fantasy" is a likely plan for this organization going forward or even one that I'd whole-heartedly endorse. In fact, in some ways it might even resemble Hollywood's recent geriatric-resurrecting train-wrecks. But hell, wouldn't it be fun to see the heart and soul of the early-decade A's reunite and take the field one last time before the roster completely turns over and the A's leave the Coliseum for good? Is it possible? Probably, but it's certainly not probable. Would the 2010 A's, with Jason, Miggy, Chavvy and Elly in the infield, Huddy on the mound, Hatty in the dugout, and Rickey in the stands win more games than a totally fresh and young A's team? Possibly. But would a team like that sell some tickets and tear some eyes? Hell ya it would, and hey, wouldn't it make for a pretty damn good way to wrap up the "Moneyball" movie?