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2012: A Look Ahead

ZiPs, Marcel, CHONE, and CAIRO all project the world will not end in 2012.  With the world's fate secure, here's some analysis and predictions about the A's front-office decision-making a year from now.

Rule 5 Protection:

In 2010, the A's had a large crop of youngsters that needed to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft.  Josh Donaldson and Eric Sogard were added mid-season due to injuries, but they would've needed to have been added at the end of the season anyway. Once the season ended, five of their minor league teammates - Adrian Cardenas, Michael Taylor, Corey Brown, Sean Doolittle, and Trystan Magnuson - joined Donaldson and Sogard on the 40-man roster. 

This year's crop?  It's much smaller.  First-time Rule 5 eligibles after the 2011 season will be guys who were drafted out of college in 2008 or high-school draftees from 2007.  Since Tyson Ross came up last year, the only obvious candidate that I can see is 2008's No. 12 overall pick, Jemile Weeks.

A Bevy of 2012 Draft Picks

The A's entered this most recent off-season with a protected first-round pick, and that gave them the luxury of pursuing a Type A free agent while sacrificing only the No. 75 overall pick (their second rounder).  Alas, the Type A free agent they signed was only reliever Grant Balfour and not a star, but at least the team grabbed a slightly-below market value talent that improves the team. 

The downside is that the 2011 draft might be thin for the A's.  The A's first three picks in this year's draft are #18 overall, #105, and #136.  Ouch.  It will be tough to produce a great yield in next year's draft with such a glaring paucity of high-end picks. 

But the 2012 draft will provide some unique opportunities.  Josh Willingham and David DeJesus finished the 2010 season hovering on the borderline of Type A status, based upon Eddie Bajek's reverse-engineering of the Elias rankings (courtesy MLBTR).  Willingham was one of the last Type A qualifiers in the NL, and DeJesus narrowly missed Type A qualification in the AL.  With a healthy, career average season by their own standards, both players may qualify as Type A FA's after 2011.  Given the horrible upcoming FA market, and Willingham and DeJesus' reasonable 2011 salaries of $6M apiece, one can safely assume that both players would decline arbitration offers after a healthy 2011 given the overwhelming likelihood that they will command multi-year deals on the open market.

If this happens, I would advocate the A's allow both players to walk, even if they were key contributors in a 2011 A's playoff run.

By letting two Type A FA's walk, the A's would be setting themselves up for an outstanding 2012 draft - six of the first 80 picks (including the No. ~20-to-25 overall, after winning 85-90 games in '11; four compensatory picks combined for DeJesus and Willingham; and their own second rounder at pick No. ~80). 

Contrast that haul with the 2011 draft, in which the A's will only have one of the first 100 picks.  And keep in mind that this franchise needs to churn out major leaguers in the draft annually in order to succeed on its current budget. Having six of those top 80 picks in 2012 makes it more likely that the A's will hit the lottery on the elite, 4-WAR-a-year talent that they so desperately need to find in the draft. 

DeJesus and Willingham aren't the A's only free agents after 2011, either: 

*If the team declined Wuertz's 2012 option for $3.25M, he would likely qualify as a Type B, and he would also yield a draft pick.  But given the explosion of the reliever market this off-season, Wuertz at $3.25M for 2012 looks like a safe bet.

*Mark Ellis ($6M) and Hideki Matsui ($4.25M with incentives) might be brought back in 2012, despite being on the wrong side of 35.  But I don't think either will be offered arbitration, because it would increase their 2012 salary and both players, if they return, would come back at reduced rates.  No draft pick compensation here.

*Coco Crisp provides a great example of the flaws of the current compensation system.  Even if he has a good, healthy year, Coco very likely won't be a Type A or B, because the stats Elias uses for outfielders don't include defense or stolen bases.  Instead, Coco gets lumped in with the 1b/OF/DH group, and gets rated on the following five stats: PA, AVG, OBP, HR, RBI.  Coco doesn't shine in any of those areas, and thus he rated a paltry "44" on the Elias 100-point scale after 2010.  I would expect that he doesn't qualify as a Type A or B after 2011.  But he is still an invaluable part of A's going forward, especially given the lack of internal CF candidates.  He likes Oakland and seems like a great fit here.  I hope the team re-signs him to a two-year, market-level deal after the season or extends him for a similar term at some point in the middle of the year.

Free Agents, and Filling from Within

Next year's free agent list is very uninspiring.  Thankfully, the A's will have practically their entire pitching staff returning under contract in 2012, with the exception of Harden and McCarthy.  The continued growth of Outman, Tyson Ross, Blevins, FDLS, and Magnuson should help bolster this group even further.

On the offensive side, I would advocate the re-signing of Crisp in CF. But what about the losses of Willingham and DeJesus, and possibly even Ellis and Matsui?

I think that the budget might dictate that these holes are filled internally for the most part, and that might not be a bad thing.

My predictions/wishes:

*Chris Carter takes over in left field in 2012, after a full year in Sacramento chasing flies.  Hopefully he looks like less of a drunken sailor out there after getting 140 more games under his belt.

*Michael Taylor has a rebound year in 2011, and positions himself to compete with Sweeney for the RF job in 2012.  At the worst, he's the platoon guy/4th outfielder. 

*At second base, I'm content to let Ellis walk after 2011 if he's producing 1.5 WAR at age 35 for $6M.  I think the money could be better spent on long-term extensions for Barton or the non-Anderson SPs.  In 2012, I could see a Spring Training battle royale between Sogard, Rosales, Weeks, and Cardenas.  One of those four dudes will to be ready to take the bull by the horns by then.  It's a metaphor, but it'll really happen though. 

*The one free agent splurge?  I'd love the A's to take a multi-million dollar gamble on a return to health for West Coaster Grady Sizemore.  I think that 2011 will be a recovery year for Sizemore, as he tries to regain his form coming back from the microfracture surgery that wiped out his entire 2010.  He won't cost a draft pick, because he won't accumulate great statistics over the 2010-2011 seasons.  But the upside might be there as he returns to health in 2012.  I don't see him returning to a high level as an everyday CF, but I would want the A's to sign him with the intention of getting him 500 at-bats in left field, at DH, and as a backup CF to Crisp.  Sizemore would help compensate for the team's lack of left-handed hitting with the departure of DeJesus and the departure or decline of 38-year-old Hideki Matsui.

That would create an offense that looks like this:

C:  Suzuki, Powell
1b:  Barton
2b:  Cardenas, Sogard
SS:  Pennington, Rosales
3b:  Kouz
LF:  Carter
CF:  Crisp
RF:  Taylor, Sweeney
DH:  Sizemore

Lots of L-R flexibility there, lots of positional flexibility, and very good defense.  What are your thoughts?