With the A's signing of Jason Giambi imminent, just like the signing of Furcal was...hey wait a minute...I guess nothing's been signed yet, huh? Well anyway, if the A's do sign Giambi, as currently rumored, let me offer a perspective on why it might work out better than his detractors fear.
While some are skeptical about Giambi's hitting skills going forward at age 38, I think all will agree that he represents an offensive upgrade that helps the middle of the order to become yet more legitimate. The big question is how much his defense at 1B, rated somewhere between average and gawdawful depending on your metric of choice, would offset the offensive gains.
I'm thinking that Mark Ellis may have been a factor in the A's apparent interest in signing Giambi to play 1B. Giambi's main issue at 1B is not "fielding ground balls" or "scooping errant throws." Along with a career-long weakness making the throw to 2B, the main reason Giambi hurts a team defensively is that he has the range of a sedated sea turtle who is trapped on land under Joe Blanton, only not quite as good.
Ellis, of course, has exceptional range. Imagine that in the 2009 defensive alignment Ellis is positioned another step or two to his left, essentially allowing him access to any ground ball that is more than a step to Giambi's right. This of course compromises Ellis' range to his right, but balls up the middle are a problem for Ellis anyway due to his limited throwing strength. Better to have your SS handle as many of those as possible.
Which is why the SS, Crosby or whomever, plays a step to his left, increasing his ability to get to balls up the middle and adequately covering for Ellis there. Chavez stays put, with his usual good range, to handle balls down the third base line, field left-side choppers, and cut off as many balls to his left as possible.
The end result? The biggest hole is between third and short, where Chavez is in a normal alignment but the SS is shaded to the second base bag. This is a problem, but many of the balls that now get through to LF are balls the SS would have backhanded deep in the hole - these are often infield hits, not outs, anyway, as they are the toughest plays of all to finish.
In other words, I think the A's feel that with a 2Bman who has great range and a left side of the infield that has above average range, the team can put on its own "Giambi shift" to turn their 1Bman into an adequate fielder. When should you curse Giambi's lack of range in this scenario? Ironically, only when a ball barely gets through the shortstop hole.
Buck - RF
Cust - DH
Holliday - LF
Giambi - 1B
Chavez - 3B
Suzuki - C
Sweeney - CF
Ellis - 2B
Crosby - SS
That lineup would score some runs, folks.