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State of the Athletics’ Nation

The Classic A's fan paradox: 1/2 maybe this is our year, 1/2 wake me up when the season's over.

The turn of the decade is nearing us, and the Oakland Athletics are in a different position than they were in last year. Around this time a year ago, the A’s had made a blockbuster deal to acquire Jack Parkman Matt Holliday. This move had A’s fans excited that their team had taken the express lane on the rebuilding highway. Gone were future centerpieces Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street, and Greg Smith, and the arrival of Matt Holliday lead to the signings of veterans Jason Giambi, Nomar Garciaparra, and Orlando Cabrera. The moves had the A’s poised to challenge for the division crown, just two seasons after the rebuilding process had begun. Well, things obviously didn’t work out as planned, so we’re back to square one. Let’s take a look at the moves the A’s have made so far this offseason.

Signed Dallas McPherson – This was the first noteworthy move of the offseason for Oakland, as the A’s added some depth at Third Base, where the incumbent has become an enigma after injuries have sidelined Eric Chavez for a good portion of the last three or four years. The only real 3B prospect in the farm system, Brett Wallace, wasn’t projected to stick at third, but we’ll get to that later. The A’s took a flier on McPherson, who once was considered a top prospect. However, numerous injuries, mainly to his back, have derailed his career somewhat. Interesting that GM Billy Beane went after a third basemen whose biggest downside is his back. Hmm, thought we already were set there. Nonetheless, McPherson should play a key role in returning to the championship. The AAA championship that is.

Traded for Jake Fox and Aaron Miles – The A’s didn’t give up much in this deal. Relief pitcher Jeff Gray dominated AAA as a closer, but for some reason, never really fit in with the big league team’s plans. Outfielder Matt Spencer has produced above expectations since being acquired in the Joe Blanton deal, but never really figured to be a major league prospect. So, to get players with big league experience, such as Fox and Miles seems like a precursor to more short-term moves. The A’s got a power hitting third baseman, who, surprise, has been called a liability defensively at third. But, no one questions Fox’s power, which is the primary reason the A’s acquired him. He should see more time at DH or OF than 3B while wearing the green and gold. Miles, meanwhile, was considered a throw-in from the Cubs, since he apparently turned out to be a clubhouse cancer. Players with spotted pasts always seem to clean up their act in Oakland, largely because they’re out of the spotlight. Since the middle infield basically consists of Mark Ellis and a handful of AAAA players, such as Cliff Pennington and Gregorio Petit, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Miles play a bigger role than Fox when the season gets underway.

Released Santiago Casilla – One of my favorite A’s of the last few years, Casilla threw heat and for the most part was largely effective. He lacked control at times, however, and he always seemed liable to give up the big hit. He even closed some games out nicely when called upon. Casilla, like many A’s, was on and off the shelf with injuries, but proved to be a key asset in the bullpen. The A’s have no shortage of depth in the bullpen, so he became expendable. I have little doubt that Casilla will catch on elsewhere and play a big role as a setup man.

Declined to Offer a Contract to Jack Cust – This might be the biggest move of the A’s offseason. The Jack Attack was a mainstay in the A’s lineup, leading the team in home runs    each of the last three season. His “Custian” bombs won over many A’s fans, but his strikeouts and defensive shortcomings turned off the rest. He had a love/hate following from the Oakland faithful, and many, including yours truly, are happy to see him go. Sure, his power was nice, but the A’s are forming a new identity as a speedy, defensive team. Cust, believe it or not, is neither. There is, however, still a chance the A’s could bring him back at a reduced rate, but at this time, Cust is out of the picture.

Traded Brett Wallace for Michael Taylor – In case you forgot, Wallace was the key piece in the deal that sent Holliday to St. Louis. He was considered one of the best third base prospects in baseball. Though his defensive abilities there were question, the A’s insisted they would keep him at third, as opposed to moving him to first. They kept their promise, but clearly weren’t sold on him sticking at the position. Once Toronto acquired Taylor from Philadelphia in the Roy Halladay deal, they promptly sent him to Oakland in exchange for Wallace. Taylor seems like a slight upgrade skills-wise, but he comes in at a position of strength (in numbers at least) for the A’s. I see this deal working out well for the A’s, but fear that Wallace will turn into the Blue Jays’ franchise third baseman in the coming years.

Signed Coco Crisp – This deal seemed like it was years in the making. Over the last two full seasons, we’ve heard Crisp’s name circled around the rumor mill as a potential trade target for Beane. Now that he was a free agent, the A’s were able to get him for a mere $5.5 million, instead of giving up precious prospects. What’s interesting is he was signed for the same, if not more money than they would’ve had to shell out for Cust. Instead, they’re getting a smaller, faster, better defensive player. You know, basically like another Rajai Davis. Wait, they still have Davis don’t they? Well, perhaps there are more moves in the making, but the A’s now have four quality outfielders in Crisp, Davis, Ryan Sweeney, and Scott Hairston. By the way, I use the term “quality” loosely. I just mean they’re probably too good to spend any time in Sacramento. Anyway, at this point, many figure Hairston to be the odd man out, but I still wouldn’t surprised to see Davis moved. As it stands, Crisp would take over center field, with Davis moving to left, and Sweeney staying put in right field. While not very intimidating on the offensive end, the A’s would go into the season with one of its best defensive outfields in club history.

Re-Signed Justin Duchscherer – This move was a no-brainer, just as long as you can wipe last season out of your memory. The Duke was coming off his second all-star appearance, and was penciled in as the staff ace, as he was really the only starter who had significant big league experience. Offseason surgery, however, delayed his start to the season. By the time he was ready to play physically, he had dug such a deep mental hole, that the only K’s he was throwing were to his therapist. The contract he got was a Billy Beane special, meaning it was largely incentive based. Those deals have tended to work out well for the A’s in recent memory – see Frank Thomas. Duke’s base salary is $2 million, but incentives can balloon it to upwards of $3.5 million. This signing doesn’t look too notable on paper, but if we get the old Duke back, that’s a huge addition.

This guy lost his banjo. If you find it, please return it to him.

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Optimism For Athletics Fans, Once Again: A Rebuilding Process in Review

Even Stomper's excited!

Even Stomper's excited!

The A’s had their fans hopes sky high going into this season after making many moves and signings to acquire talent, instead of their normal MO of trading away talent. One thing led to another, and we found that the guys we signed either weren’t that good in an A’s uniform, or were just plain old. This season has been a disappointment to say the least especially with some of the experts picking them to win the AL West at the beginning of the year. Those dreams were quickly dashed as we saw Matt Holliday consistently getting fooled by pitches, and taking the crown for most fly ball outs since Eric Chavez was healthy and playing. Once his trade to the Cardinals went through Oakland once again had hope for the future.Rivercats Brett Wallace 3-Run Home Run At the time of the trade all A’s fans wanted was a bag of peanuts for Holliday, but instead we got what looks like a great hitter in the near future with Brett Wallace, and a possible good end of the rotation pitcher in Mortensen.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t been paying that much attention to them since they dipped below the 20 games out of first. Alas, they have been playing very good as of late, which has inspired me to pay attention to them again. Maybe it’s because the games don’t matter, or maybe it’s because they have finally adopted a new style of play since their most recent rebuilding began. Since being swept by Seattle on August 26th, they’ve won or tied every series since, going 16-6, and are currently on a seven game win streak. Once again, A’s fans will be able to go into the off-season hoping that a fresh start will rid us of our recent losing ways.

The A’s main failings over the past couple season’s have all pointed to their incompetence on offense, and since getting rid of Holliday, Giambi, and Cabrera they’ve surprisingly done much better in that department. Post All-Star break, the A’s have led the league in stolen bases, doubles, and are third in runs scored. For a team that never used to steals bases, and isn’t known for manufacturing runs, it’s refreshing to see them make a change for what suits their players. The always referenced “Moneyball” will finally be an afterthought, as they seem to be turning to a new page. I haven’t read anywhere that they’ve had a change in philosophy, but it’s pretty obvious if you ever pay attention to them. Even Rajai Davis, a guy I never thought I’d like, is tearing it up. He stole his 40th bag of the season last night against Cleveland, and is the first big threat on the base-paths since Rickey Henderson was around. Rex Hudler, the Angels announcer, whom I completely despise, actually made a good point about the A’s and how they have adapted to so called “Angel way” of manufacturing runs. He likes how they are putting pressure on opposing defenses to worry about runners taking off at any given moment, which opens holes in the infield for more of those dribblers to get through. In a post steroid era the A’s can’t rely on power as much as they once did as we all know it was rampant in the Bay Area. So the shift to stealing bases and manufacturing runs has looked like the a good change in their philosophy, and is starting to pay dividends in the win column late in the season.

Chris Carter hits his fourth home run of the playoffs and is tied for most by a Rivercat in one series.

Chris Carter hits his fourth home run of the playoffs and is tied for most by a Rivercat in one series.

The greatest part about these late season stats is the fact that this isn’t even the reason I’m optimistic for next season. I’m excited about the guys going to be in our offense of the future. Sure guys like Kurt Suzuki are going to be mainstays in the lineup for awhile, but since everybody digs the long ball, A’s fans should be very excited about the two power hitters coming to Oakland sooner rather than later. 3rd baseman, Brett Wallace (#2 in Baseball Prospectus) and 1st baseman, Chris Carter (#4 in Baseball Prospectus) are the new reasons there is optimism in Oakland. They’ve already contributed to the Sacramento Rivercats (AAA) team during their playoff run for a PCL championship. Carter had three home runs in one game since being called up from AA about a month ago, and he is the closest to Ryan Howard type hitter the A’s have in their farm system.  Many point to Carlos Gonzalez as the biggest position player gained in the Dan Haren deal, but Chris Carter has the potential to have much more power than C-Gon. It also looks as though we kept the best pitcher from the Haren deal as well in Brett Anderson, who has had a rocky season, but has shown that he has ace type stuff. Brett Wallace should be on the other corner for the A’s infield solidifying a position that’s been a problem since Chavez went on the DL, about three seasons ago. Personally Wallace reminds me of Troy Glaus, and if we got that I’d be pretty happy. If the A’s can continue to steal bases and hit doubles the way they have been at the end of this season, and add the power of Wallace and Carter to the lineup they will undoubtedly have a chance to challenge the Angels for years to come.

Brett Anderson has won two straight decisions for the first time in his career over his last two starts.

Rookie, Brett Anderson, has won two straight starts for the first time in his career.

Their pitching has been shaky at times this year, and may continue to stay that way as their under 25 year old rotation learns the ropes. Between Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, Gio Gonzalez, and maybe Justin Duchscherer (if he snaps out of his depressed mental state) we should have a solid rotation come next season. The young guys have taken their lumps this season, but they have also shown that they can shut teams and shown glimmers of domination. This year should have taught them the ropes as they find out what types of adjustments they need to make going into the off-season to prevent those crooked numbers from going up on the score board. Michael Inoa is a long way from being called up, but he’s another young guy I will be keeping my eye on, especially since we gave him a Strausberg like contract for a 16-year-old, which I still feel is kind of ridiculous. All in all I couldn’t ask for much more from our management on a tight budget. You just have to hope it all pans out!


The Rockies are White Label Hot!

Coors Light

The Rockies started off slow just as anybody would start off an ice cold Coors in April, but just after the All-Star break the Rockies have powered their way close to a .700 record turning that blue bottle label white hot indicating it’s time to pound! The Rockies have pounded the ball and surprised us with some decent pitching as well. The Rockies took the wild card lead back by one game today, and they truly look like the force they were in their last playoff run in 2007. The Rox 2.0 just picked up Jason Giambi, who arrived in Colorado today.Jason Giambi They have added him as a pinch hitter plus a sub for Helton to keep that always troublesome back of his from acting up. Giambino made his first NL atbat of his career tonight that netted a bases loaded RBI walk. He knows he’s not a major piece, but feels he can help them out with his experience saying “There is no small role when you’re in a pennant race.”  The Rockies also added Jose Contreras from the White Sox for a minor league pitcher yesterday who should fill in nicely for injured starter Aaron Cook. He should get his first start this Saturday. The move from AL to NL has been very kind to many pitchers that were performing at a much lower level (See Smoltz).

Their closest competitors are the Giants, which I unfortunately don’t see them hanging in there. I hope they can pull it out, because they have great pitching that would be fun to see in the playoffs. They still can’t consistently score runs though. They never really filled that hitting void that everyone was talking about for the months leading up to the trade deadline. It feels like they just have big holes in their lineup where you decide, they won’t score this inning before they even bat. They were shut out tonight, which could have been Hamels brilliance, but it could just as easily been that they don’t have that many good hitters. Freddy Sanchez and his continually delayed return could help a little, but they need some more power. He wasn’t the guy they should’ve gone for at the trade deadline. Penny just signed with SF, and just like the cases mentioned earlier going from the AL to the NL should treat him well or at least descent.Barry Zito Fail Zito is quietly throwing up lots of zeros on the scoreboard. It’s unfortunate that he hasn’t pitched to the level of his contract, but this is a start.

The Braves and Marlins are the next closest teams to them, but seem to have trouble playing any better than .500 ball as both teams have been just above or below there all season. I think the Wild Card winner should be a good 8 games over .500, at least we’ll hope that’s the case! Tim Hudson made his return tonight for Atlanta, and pitched pretty well. That has to help the Braves chances if he can stay healthy. He’s always been a big competitor, and should give them everything he can. I do like the makeup of the Braves, but they’ll need their pitching to step up especially Lowe. I just saw that Hanley left the game tonight in Florida with some more of that hamstring tightness he seems to have a lot of. They can ill afford to lose him, and if they do you can kiss goodbye to the wild card spot.

Ultimately I think it’s the Rockies spot to lose, since they have been consistently playing better than the other teams in the hunt over the second half of the season. I don’t care if the Giants swept them in a series, and they lost a couple more.Carlos Gonzalez They could have broken the spirits of the Giants, but now I believe it’s just a minor stumble as they are now back in first. Another reason I attach myself to the Rockies, is because they have some former A’s players on their team. With the addition of Giambi, it’s too hard to resist picking them. Carlos Gonzalez homered tonight, and he’s heated to white label hot over the last month! I hate second guessing things, but I wonder if we should have kept him over trading for Holliday. We’ll have to see how Brett Wallace turns out to answer that one, on another post.


My First Look at Brett Wallace

The prized prospect in the Matt Holliday deal made his Raley Field debut tonight in his new hometown of Sacramento.  The River Cats wasted no time pencilling him into the cleanup spot.  He also got the start at third base, where many question whether he will stick, or eventually make the move to first base or designated hitter.  While he didn’t do anything extraordinary in the field, he didn’t make any mistakes either.  The Salt Lake Bees wasted little time testing his glove, as leadoff hitter Brad Coon hit a sharp grounder to the left of Wallace.  Wallace made a diving effort to no avail.  It wasn’t a play he should’ve made, but he didn’t exactly make a gold glove attempt.  The other balls hit to him were routine, and he fielded them cleanly and threw perfect strikes to first.  So far, so good.

At the plate, Wallace has that hitter’s presence about him.  He showed good plate discipline, while still remaining aggresive.  His first at bat resulted in a sharply hit groundout to first that would’ve been a double, say, if a runner were on first.  Problem is, the River Cats only had one runner on the entire game.  Angels’ prospect Sean O’Sullivan stole the show, throwing the first no hitter in Raley Field’s ten year history.  In his second at bat, Wallace put up a good fight, but ultimately chopped an excuse-me check swing groundout to short.  In his third and final at bat, he had shortstop Cliff Pennington on first, who drew the only walk from O’Sullivan.  Wallace, though, popped out to short center field.

All in all, it’d be foolish to draw any conclusions from one game.  Wallace was hitless, but so was the rest of the team.  As I said, though, he has a promising presence at the plate.  There’s no doubt that Wallace will hit at the big league level, and his glove was dependable enough to raise no questions at this point.

In other River Cats / A’s news, Justin Duchscherer will make a rehab appearance on Friday in Sacramento.


Renewed Faith: In Beane We Trust

Billy Beane

Although Matt already wrote about the Holliday trade today, I felt there was a need to analyze how ingenious this move was. As Matt wrote Oakland teams are never shy from making a trade to at least give us hope that we are trying to make things better. Beane has consistently been one of the masterminds behind the bay area movement to give their fans hope, and the deal today sounds like we have these new guys to once again give us that hope.Brett Wallace Oakland A's The 2009 Baseball America Prospect Handbook says, “Brett Wallace, think batting champ with the ability to be a big bopper. “ This is one of many interesting players that the A’s have acquired as the rebuilding is starting to take some shape.

The A’s have historically been a mover around the trade deadline. In the past two years Beane has been very active as he traded ace Dan Haren for Brett Anderson, Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, Dana Eveland, Chris Carter, and Aaron Cunningham. He then traded Huston Street, Greg Smith, and Carlos Gonzalez, for Matt Holliday. Today he traded Holliday and cash for Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen, and Shane Peterson. Since most haven’t heard of a lot of these guys you may not understand why it’s so significant to the A’s organization. These moves have laid a solid foundation for a much more competitive team in the near future. Fans seemed to think that it was going to take a few years to rebuild, but I’m confident that we could have the next Tampa Rays on our hands within a year or two!

So far it appears that the A’s have kept the best piece in terms of major league play so far from the Haren trade, with Brett Anderson. He has been dominant over his last four starts as he seems to be figuring out the way to pitch at the major league level tossing 26 1/3 IP, 2-0, 25 K, 0.34 ERA, and a 0.69 WHIP over the last month.Brett Anderson Oakland A's Tonight he is facing the Yankees with a 21 inning scoreless streak going into the game. The guy I was excited about for awhile, Carlos Gonzalez, was traded away in the Holliday trade, and he hasn’t impressed so far hitting only .229 in 97 at bats for Colorado this season. Street is having a pretty good year for Colorado, but even when he was on the A’s last year he wasn’t even the closer as Brad Ziegler took the spot from him. Beane has never seemed to highly value the closer’s role, so losing Street and C-Gon, hasn’t hurt them.

The Holliday trade today was amazing in the sense that I don’t think they could have got any more than they did for him from any other team. Were the Cardinals that desperate to help Albert to not notice the A’s situation? They dealt away three of their top prospects that appear to be major league ready when it seemed like a week ago the A’s had no interesting offers for Holliday. The Tigers made an attempt, but it wasn’t enough for Beane. The Cardinals knew all the A’s would get was two draft picks if he left, and Holliday is very likely to accept an arbitration offer in this struggling economy. This was a match made in heaven for Beane. He escaped the trap of log jamming millions for an underachieving star next season, and now he has three promising young players to show for it. I don’t know how he does it! I wouldn’t trade Beane for any GM in the league.


A’s Pull Another Jack Move on the Cardinals

It seemed as though the A’s were going to deal Matt Holliday for Brett Wallace straight up.  Instead, they got two extra players.  Many would say this is a good deal for both teams, but frankly, I don’t really care what it does for the Cardinals.  I don’t care if Matt Holliday hits .220 or .330 the rest of the way.  No matter what happens, the A’s win.  Perhaps I’m overstating it, but removing Holliday from the lineup is addition by subtraction.  Seeing him up close this year has been a huge disappointment.  Many have tried to chalk it up to him being in a pitcher’s park or having little help offensively in the lineup.  The fact is, he simply wasn’t hitting.  It’s not like he was constantly hitting balls that died on the warning track.  Or that he was racking up hits but getting left on base when others failed to come through.  You can’t even attribute his struggles to seeing few good pitches, because pitchers weren’t pitching around him.  He had plenty of opportunities with runners on and saw plenty of pitches to hit.  He just wasn’t hitting them.  He filled in nicely for Mark Ellis providing the team’s bulk of infield pop-ups.  At the same time, he beat out Bobby Crosby for the title of best at hitting into inning-ending double plays.  Don’t let the past week or two fool you.  The A’s could’ve traded him for the ol’ proverbial bag of balls and come out winners.

However, Oakland didn’t receive a bag of balls in this deal, but rather two top ten prospects from the Cardinals’ system.  Brett Wallace is a supposed can’t miss big leaguer, and is probably less than a year away.  Despite being a fat gut, scouts say he is in fact athletic, and could stick at third base for years to come. Third base, as A’s fans know too well, is a huge hole for the team.  On top of that, they managed to snag St. Louis’ 2nd best pitching prospect, and 6th best prospect overall.  It’s unlikely he’ll be the next Dan Haren, but he is projected to be a future #3 starter.  The bottom line is the three players the A’s got are almost guaranteed to be better than the two compensation picks they would’ve received at the end of the season.  The added bonus is that Holliday is out of lineup two months sooner!