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OK, so Plan A didn't work, on to Plan B! There is a Plan B... right?

After the disaster that was the A’s most recent foray into free agency, we need to re-evaluate where the team stands. Shortstop remains a hole in the line-up and possibly in the field. 1st base would be almost as bad if it weren’t for the not-completely-unfounded hope that Daric Barton can be a productive big leaguer next year. We’re counting on Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis to return from injury and perform at some reasonable semblance of their former selves. Buck and Sweeney have potential, but they’ve had problems staying healthy and don’t exactly have a track record of consistency. The rotation is long on potential but short on experience, the depth of options is nice but the best young arms might not be ready to blossom until 2010.

There is some good news. Holliday, Cust and Suzuki are all plusses, especially if Cust gets to DH full time. The bullpen is solid and while it’s unlikely that Devine and Ziegler will match their ridiculously low 2008 ERAs they should still be more than fine in 2009. Reinforcements are on the way, Sacramento’s rotation and Midland’s line-up are loaded with quality prospects. Plus the A’s have some fiscal flexibility, which is always a good thing but is an even bigger asset when the economy is rough. The only question here is: How much cash do the A’s have on hand?

We’ve already heard Beane exclaim that his 2009 budget has shrunk in light of the current economic crunch. What we don’t know is how badly his cash flow has been impacted. Up until a few weeks ago posters like myself, PaulThomas and Zonis (basically, the guys who like to throw different roster variations up against the wall) were basing our suggestions on a budget of up to $85 million dollars. This number was based on the A’s 2007 spending habits and included player salaries and amateur signing bonuses. It seems likely that that number has shrunk. The A’s currently have approximately $51 million invested in the big league roster and the belated attempt to place Bobby Crosby on outright waivers signals a desperate attempt to free up more cash in an effort to make another move. This suggests to me that the A’s might have lost up to 20% of their original expected budget, or roughly $17 million. Keeping in mind that the A’s probably don’t want to cut into their amateur signing bonus moneys (that should be around $7 million, which I got by taking last year’s expenditures and subtracting the bulk of Inoa’s record setting bonus… c’mon, how many once-in-a-decade prospects can the A’s sign in a 12 month period?) it seems to me that the A’s probably have between $61-63 million that they can spend on the big league roster. That means Beane has $10-12 million to play with.

Where should that money be invested?

I still think the critical area is at shortstop. If the last few weeks have proven anything, it’s that the A’s have no intention of keeping Crosby around longer then they have to and it certainly appears that there are severe doubts as to the ability of Petit or Pennington to take over long term. Justin Sellers has yet to hit and Adrian Cardenas doesn’t have the range to play the position. The 2008 draft class might produce a long term solution but Christian and Coleman are at least two full years away. I realize there are some who are concerned about Chavez coming back from his myriad of injuries; I agree with those concerns but I also feel he deserves the chance to try and come back. I’ll admit my concern is alleviated by the continued belief that Cardenas has the tools to make it at the hot corner IF the A’s would ever give him the chance.

(Folks are probably thinking: That’s all well and good, grover, but the best SS on the FA market done gone and signed with the Dodgers. Yeah, I noticed.)

The only option left to the A’s is to trade for a new SS and the options are limited. I’ve come up with 3 players that I believe are realistic alternatives to anyone currently in the Oakland organization and it just so happens that each comes with a varied degree of cost/reward potential for you to consider. I’ve used Sean Smith’s 2009 projection (based on CHONE and UZR) to give you an idea of how the various players will perform. Smith has Crosby at .7/1.1/1.5/2 WAR based on his defensive performance. The standards are Poor/Average/Good/Exceptional. So let’s pick the A’s new SS for 2009 and beyond.

Low Cost/Low Reward Potential

Chin-lung Hu (LA Dodgers) Born: 2/84; 6 seasons until FA, P-WAR = .5/.7/.9/1.1


Santiago Casilla RHRP Born: 7/80; 4 seasons until FA, P-WAR = .7

The Dodgers non-tendered 2008 closer Takashi Saito because his elbow shut him down at the end of last year and it remains a question mark heading into next season. He re-signed with the Dodgers but the questions about the elbow remain unchanged. This deal would be a cost-neutral way for the Dodgers (something that’s been of increased importance to Colletti of late) to add an experienced power arm to their bullpen.

CHONE cracks down hard on Hu’s bat for good reason; he hit like crap last year and appeared to lose whatever power he gained in 2007. Word is Hu had vision issues last year that are supposed to be corrected in the offseason. I don’t know if that means Lasic or corrective lenses or just keeping him away from the sun screen but it leads me to think/hope that his true hitting skills lie closer to his 2007 performance than his Garth Brooks impersonation of yester year. Almost the entirety of Hu’s P-WAR comes from his glove, which scouts have been praising for years. He is likely to provide Good or Excellent level defense in 2009, meaning his glove alone will be worth at least 1 Win. If the bat comes around at all he could easily surpass his projection.

Since this is the only trade that doesn’t include Crosby, I’ll add that I intend to send Bobby + $4 million in cash to the Padres for a prospect or two to be decided at a later date. The real benefit in a Hu/Casilla trade is that it doesn’t cost the A’s any cash so Beane is free to take the $1.25 million he saved in dealing Crosby and combine that with what he already had in the till to give himself $11-13 million to pursue FA opportunities.

Medium Cost/Medium Reward Potential

Clint Barmes (Colorado Rockies) Born: 3/79; 3 seasons until FA, P-WAR = .5/.8/1.2/1.7


Vincent Mazzaro/Andrew Bailey/Bobby Crosby + $4 million

This is one where you have to wonder what the projection system was seeing when it spat out its numbers. Barmes out-hit Crosby by 85 OPS last year and that’s after adjusting for Park/League, plus Smith projects him to save twice as many runs as Crosby will in 2009… so why does Barmes project to be worse then Crosby in 2009? Anyways, it seems to me that Barmes, while a hacker, should at least be a match with Crosby with the bat next year and his defense should give him the overall edge. Barmes is arbitration eligible, so he’s going to cost a couple million (give or take a few hundred thousand) in 2009 but the Crosby savings ($1.25 million) should cover at least half of that, meaning Beane should still have enough cash to make a major move in FA.

Colorado gets two young power arms with ground ball tendencies while Crosby provides insurance for Tulo and 2nd base. Mazzaro and Bailey have potential and the A’s organization will feel the hit but neither arm is currently expected/projected to play a key role in 2009. This is a deal that you won’t be able to accurately judge until a year down the road and it shouldn’t be ignored that it is the A’s who are risking more in the long term. Barmes has struggled with consistency and at 30 years old we shouldn’t expect him to get any better then he’s already shown. He’s young enough to maintain where he’s at through the next 3 years but Mazzaro or Bailey could end up providing more value down the line.

High Cost/High Reward Potential

J.J. Hardy (Milwaukee Brewers) Born: 8/82; 2 seasons until FA, P-WAR = 2.1/2.5/3/3.5


Sean Gallagher/Josh Outman/Bobby Crosby + $4 million


Gio Gonzalez/Vincent Mazzaro/Bobby Crosby + $4 million

Just to clear up any confusion, the Brewers get to pick the package they prefer and Alcides Escobar isn’t an available option so don’t ask if we could swap him for Hardy. The Brewers need SP and either package gives them one arm the A’s had penciled in for their 2009 Opening Day roster and another arm who should be ready by mid-season. Crosby provides them low-cost SS insurance so they don’t have to rush Escobar.

Hardy is in his prime and is set to make between $4.5-5 million in arbitration. He’s also, as I noted above, two years away from FA. It would be my intention to sit him down and hammer out a 3 year/$24 million contract (7/8/9) to buy out his 1st year of FA eligibility and keep him in Oakland until someone from the 2008 draft class is ready to take over SS. Short of getting hit by an asteroid, Hardy will represent a major upgrade over Crosby. He’d also eat up about half of the cash that Beane had saved, thereby restricting what additional moves the A’s could make.

Those are your options, go ahead and speak your piece.