FanPost

Looking Further Ahead

{NOTE: Early this afternoon, look for an exclusive interview with a former major leaguer, who played for the A's and had a hall-of-fame career...} -Nico

One thing that struck me when the Angels traded a boatload of nothing for Dan Haren, combined with the Diamondbacks trading Dan Haren for a boatload of nothing as well as freedom from paying Haren's friendly contract and the privilege of paying a mediocre pitcher $6 million dollars next year is that teams really do have to plan for the future. The Angels certainly did that, looking not just at this year's slim hopes of catching the Rangers, but next year's better hopes of controlling the AL West while Texas looms with Bankruptcy (assuming that Mark Cuban does not buy the team) and the Mariners rebuilding efforts seemingly put off by this year’s collapse. So what does the future of the A's look like and how can we make sure it is bright.

The first step, as always, is to evaluate what you have, find where you have holes, then find where you need additional upgrades. Looking at these tiers of talent you have available to you on the team can show if you will be good or just mediocre. After all, even if you seem to have a team full of guys who can fill out every position; it does not do you very good if all of them are fringe or average players if there is no one on the other end of the spectrum to pick up that slack. Previous A's teams could get by with a few below average spots in the lineup because they had superstars on the other end to more than pick up their side of the barging. The last few years, that has not been the case for the A's, and it is something that will need to be addressed.

Let’s start with the Pitching Staff. As it stands, under team control and expected back next year are:

Starting Pitching
LHP Brett Anderson
RHP Trevor Cahill
LHP Gio Gonzalez
LHP Dallas Braden
RHP Vin Mazzaro
LHP Josh Outman (Currently DL)
RHP Tyson Ross
RHP Clayton Mortensen

This is a solid cast of starters, though perhaps a little lefty heavy. But Quality overcomes Handedness, and having so many quality starters is not a bad thing at all. Josh Outman, expected back next year, can start the year either in the Bullpen or in Triple A Sacramento while he recovers from Tommy John Surgery, and hopefully with his fastball intact. Tyson Ross as well can hone his starting abilities in Triple A, and Clayton Mortensen is a candidate to battle for the 5th Starter Spot, though if Anderson, Cahill, Gonzalez, Braden and Mazzaro are all healthy, he should, if he continues his success from this year, be able to handily step into Mazzaro's current role of the 6th Starter.

The Starting Rotation is rather set and above average. If Anderson and Cahill continue to develop even further, they become two true Aces, while Gonzalez and Braden give you two solid number 3 starters and Mazzaro fluctuates between a number three and a good number five.

On the 2011 Free Agent list, if 'veteran presence' is needed, I think Jorge De Los Santos of Colorado would be a nice pick up. De Los Santos is one of those pitchers who's numbers look worse than they are, a true effect of Colorado one might say, who posts a FIP vastly better than his ERA, which should make him a cheap pickup should the A's choose to go that route. Other starters include the reclamation project of Brandon Webb, a situation much similar to Sheets, though I have better hopes for Webb myself. And as the Haren trade has shown, the Diamondbacks are likely to be too cheap to bring him back.

My recommendation would be to play it by ear. If De Los Santos and/or Brandon Webb are available for cheap, I would pick them up, especially Webb who could perform as either a Third Ace on the Staff in a perfect world, or become trade bait in July, assuming his arm does not fall off like our dear Ben Sheets did. Otherwise, standing pat with our current rotation would not be a bad idea. But, if a starter like De Los Santos or Webb was signed, it could open up a trade whereby the A's could deal one of Gonzalez, Braden or Mazzaro as part of a package for a solid bat.

Bullpen
Andrew Bailey
Mike Wuertz
Craig Breslow
Brad Ziegler
Joey Devine (Currently DL)
Jerry Blevins
Henry Rodriguez
Ross Wolf
Brad Kilby
Jared Lansford

You can potentially include all of those on the failed-to-make-starting-rotation-list as well. The A's generally go with 7 men in the bullpen, however, the 7th man generally rots on the bench, so his role would likely be unimportant. As for the first six, assuming that they have not been traded (as reliever look to have some value this trade deadline), the A's could go into 2011 with a set pen of Bailey, Wuertz, Breslow, Ziegler, Devine, Blevins, and a Long Relief pitcher based on the 5th/6th Starter battle or a competition in Spring Training. After Blevins, I have to admit, the pen becomes rather thin, but the failed-starter-candidates could bolster that well. The A's have also shown an aptitude for finding relievers off the scrap heap, so I do not worry about the bullpen.

The Pitching side of the team entering next year looks to be solid and above average. The starting rotation in particular should be very solid and hopefully comparable to the Angels moving forward. There are a couple potential acquisitions I would like, but they are of opportunity, and then there is also the potential 2011 version of Androlis Chapman that the A's could jump in the mix for, which is always a plus.

Offensively the team's situation is much more complicated. Let’s take a look at who and what we have for each position available to us. In this case, we are going to have to deal with several options of both kinds, forcing us to make some tough decisions.

Offense:

Catcher:
Kurt Suzuki
Landon Powell
Josh Donaldson

First Base:
Daric Barton
Chris Carter
Conor Jackson

Second Base:
Mark Ellis ($6 Million Club Option)
Adam Rosales
Adrian Cardenas (Currently in Double A)
Jemile Weeks (Currently in Double A)

Third Base:
Kevin Kouzmanoff
Adam Rosales
Adrian Cardenas (Currently in Double A)
Dallas McPherson

Short Stop:
Cliff Pennington
Adam Rosales

Corner Outfield:
Ryan Sweeney (Currently on DL)
Conor Jackson
Chris Carter
Michael Taylor
Matt Watson
Matt Carson
Corey Brown (Currently at Double A)

Center Field:
Coco Crisp ($5.75 Million Club Option)
Rajai Davis
Michael Taylor
Corey Brown (Currently in Double A)

Designated Hitter:
Jack Cust
Chris Carter

Utility Infielder:
Adam Rosales
Steve Tolleson
Eric Sogard
Corey Wimberly

When I look at our situation for 2011, I am struck by the amount of mediocrity we have. It does look like we could very much have a repeat of our 2010 Offense, and we have seen that this is most certainly not good enough. Major upgrades are needed, which will necessitate replacements and some hard decisions for letting players go and trading some away.

Let’s start by making a lineup of those who we absolutely want on our team in 2011.

C1 Kurt Suzuki
1B Daric Barton
2B
3B
SS Cliff Pennington
LF
RF
CF
DH

C2
BN
BN
BN

The team generally goes with a Backup Catcher and Three Bench Spots, of which one is a utility infielder and two are outfielders, one with the ability to play Center Field.

That is somewhat surprising. Only three players, of which Cliff Pennington is probably the most shocking (he's one of the top WAR short stops in the league, believe it or not). Looking outside of that, I see a lot of positions which we could desperately use some offense. Daric Barton, while producing a good on base percentage, is not known for his power, and while Suzuki is showing his power this year, he is not a power hitter. So I place my priority, to make this team a match for the Rangers and Angels, and yes, the Mariners, to look at our early 2000 teams and compliment the solid rotation with a solid lineup.

The first decision I made was to not pick up the options of Mark Ellis and Coco Crisp. Both can most likely be resigned for cheaper, if the need arises, especially Ellis, who's option is much higher than market value when compared to Orlando Hudson, who is destroying Ellis in terms of value for a much cheaper price, and will again be a free agent. This leaves us with holes at Second Base and Center Field.

The next position I looked at was Third Base, with Kevin Kouzmanoff as the incumbent and under team control next year. Ideally, assuming that he is ready, I would like to put Adrian Cardenas at Third Base, as I am unhappy with Kouzmanoff's .307 OBP (in line with his projections) and .310 wOBA, but I feel that our hole at 2nd Base and Jemile Week's fragility, which makes me want to start him for sure in Triple A Sacramento next year, makes Kouzmanoff a likely repeat at Third for the A's in 2011.

Going back to Second Base, the position becomes a battle between Adam Rosales and Adrian Cardenas, with Cardenas getting the job if he proves he is ready in Spring Training, otherwise getting it mid season, with Rosales winning the job if Cardenas loses, and getting the Utility Infield job if Cardenas wins.

Moving to the outfield shows our main problem. We have a lot of non-production coming from spots in the lineup that require production, especially because we are not getting much production from the infield, and First Base being lower than is typically expected from the position.

If we were to go with the incumbent outfield, we would have an outfield of Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis and Conor Jackson. This is not good. Not good at all. Thankfully, Chris Carter and Michael Taylor have remembered how to hit, and if they keep it up, will likely be ready for 2011. That solves two of our outfield problems. The problem is what to do with the third position. Michael Taylor, as shown in Sacramento, can play Center Field or Right Field. Chris Carter has been playing acceptable defense in the Corner Outfield, and as we've all grown used to seeing Jack Cust in the outfield, we can likely live with that. The third position has several options.

The First option is to use a platoon of Ryan Sweeney (who's knees are shot, likely eliminating much of his defensive value and part of his offensive value) and Conor Jackson (who's hammy is shot).

The Second option is to play Rajai Davis in Centerfield, with Taylor and Carter manning the Corner Outfield positions.

The Third option is to shift Carter into the Designated Hitter position, Rajai Davis in Center Field, and a platoon of Ryan Sweeney and Conor Jackson in the corners.

The Fourth option, and the one that I fully endorse, is to go hard after Carl Crawford and sign him to play Left Field. I view Crawford as one of the most valuable free agents this off season, a player on the right side of thirty who can play plus defense, with a plus bat and plus speed. The A's have the money, and we've also seen these last few off seasons that mediocre signings produce mediocre or bad results, while wasting money, and that the few contracts that produce actual value tend to be the few premium contracts signed. Crawford will likely be this premium contract, and I would prefer that the A's got him instead of the Angels.

I want more offense in the lineup, and I feel that retaining and relying on Sweeney and Jackson alone would simply maintain our current mediocrity at those positions.

Finally, the last offensive position left to us is the Designated Hitter. I looked around, and found that there are several candidates for that position, so that buying one should not be a difficult thing to do, and all produce about the same wOBA and value. So you can pick your choice between:

David Ortiz
Lance Berkman
Paul Konerko
Manny Ramirez
Jack Cust

Yes, that Jack Cust, believe it or not, has around the same wOBA as the others.

My recommendation would be to go very hard after Carl Crawford, or to trade for a very good franchise outfielder who can help carry a lineup so that the rookies (Carter and Taylor) do not have to by themselves. Combine this with a good, solid Designated Hitter, of which you can take your pick, assuming that Adam Dunn resigns with Washington (otherwise, he'd be my choice, though an expensive one), and you have your lineup.

2B Adrian Cardenas
1B Daric Barton
LF Carl Crawford
DH Jack Cust or Other
RF Chris Carter
CF Michael Taylor
3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
C1 Kurt Suzuki
SS Cliff Pennington

C2 Landon Powell
OF Ryan Sweeney
OF Conor Jackson
IF Adam Rosales

It is not as solid a lineup as I would have hoped, but it already looks better. And after looking at that you are not convinced that the lineup is much better, replace Crawford, Carter and Taylor with Sweeney, Jackson and Davis, and see for yourself.

Without a solid offense to go with our pitching staff, we will again be stuck in the position of a team that keeps losing 3-2 games. We must step forward and change that, and win those games 4-3 if we wish to win our division, and reclaim our place as second all time in World Series trophies, and get the Angels to remember that they only have 1.