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2009 Oakland Athletics
Money Can't Buy You Wins

BaseballEvolution.com 2008 Spring Preview
by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
March 3, 2009

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Orlando Cabrera SS
Matt Holliday LF
Jason Giambi 1B/DH
Russ Springer RHP
Michale Wuertz RHP
Ben Copeland OF
Edgar G. Gonzalez RHP
Chris Schroder RHP
a
Departed Pos.
Alan Embree RHP
Greg Smith LHP
Frank Thomas DH
Huston Street RHP
Carlos Gonzalez OF
Emil Brown OF
Andrew Brown RHP
While most other major league teams were reacting to the economy by cinching their belts and paring down payroll, the Oakland As took the opposite approach this past winter and beefed up spending for their 40-man roster from almost $48 million in 2008 to somewhere in the $60 million range for the coming year.  While not quite matching the spending spree of the New York Yankees, the As did manage to acquire Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies, bring Jason Giambi back home after his stint with the Bombers, and pluck Orlando Cabrera from the bargain free agent bin.  They made a play for Rafael Furcal, discussed Orlando Hudson, and may yet add Nomar Garciaparra and/or Mark Mulder before opening day.   Does that mean the cost conscious As will compete this year with their freer spending Southern California rival for the AL West title?  Not likely. 

After trading away, in recent years, aces Tim Hudson, Mulder, Rich Harden, and Dan Haren and allowing Barry Zito to leave via free agency, Oakland enters the 2009 season without a single pitcher on their 40-man roster who has ever thrown as many as 185 innings in any season, at any level, as a professional.  The teams newest staff ace, 31-year old Justin Duchscherer, tossed 182.2 innings all the way back in 2001, the year he made his major league debut, but spent his first four full seasons with the As as a reliever, only returning to a starting role last year.  No one else on the roster currently has matched that total as a pro.  And while Duke was highly effective last season and secured a spot on the All-Star team, he managed to rack up only 141.2 innings for the year while missing most of April and all of September with bicep and hip injuries; this coming off a 2007 campaign in which he didnt pitch after May 14 due to, again, a hip injury.  The As can boast of a lot of awfully good, young, talent in their rotation, but with their distinct lack of experience, they certainly have their share of concerns as well. 

2008 Standings - AL West
West W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Los Angeles Angels 100 62 .617 0 50-31 50-31 765 697 .542 66-46 34-16
Texas Rangers 79 83 .488 21 40-41 39-42 901 967 .468 58-52 21-31
Oakland Athletics 75 86 .466 24.5 43-38 32-48 646 690 .470 50-58 25-28
Seattle Mariners 61 101 .377 39 35-46 26-55 671 811 .414 40-70 21-31


Catcher

2008 Starter

Kurt Suzuki

2009 Projected Starter

Kurt Suzuki

Kurt Suzuki, 25, held his own as a hitter in his first full season as a major league starter, putting up a batting line of .279/.346/.370 and an OPS+ of 97.  Behind the plate, he was exactly what you want from your catcher: solid defensively (throwing out almost 37% of would-be base stealers, the best mark in the AL) and registering a catchers ERA of 3.88, second best in the junior circuit.  Rob Bowen will back him up. 

Athletics Team Capsule

3/18/11: Hardly Surprising News for Rich Harden - The As brought Rich Harden back to Oakland in December, two-and-a-half years after dealing him to the Cubs, with the idea of giving him a shot at the fifth starters role, but the oft-injured pitcher was eliminated from the competition without having thrown a single pitch. Harden suffered a lat strain in his back in mid-February and has yet to pitch in a spring game.
--RVZ


First Base

2008 Starter

Daric Barton

2009 Projected Starters

Daric Barton, Jason Giambi


Jason Giambi
Daric Barton struggled at the plate (.226/.327/.348) in his rookie campaign and returns to find a face from Oaklands past competing with him for playing time.  Though now a shell of the player he was during his previous stint with the As, Jason Giambi still managed to hit 32 home runs last season for the Yankees while posting an OPS+ of 128 and represents a significant offensive upgrade over Bartons nine long balls and 85 OPS+.  Giambi, however, is 15 years Bartons senior and a liability in the field.  That both players hit from the left side of the plate explains Oaklands interest in Nomar Garciaparra, who would see time at first if he were to sign.  Barton is expected to be ready opening day after undergoing off-season hip surgery.

Second Base

2008 Starter

Mark Ellis

2009 Projected Starter

Mark Ellis

After missing all of September last year and undergoing surgery on his throwing shoulder, Mark Ellis returned to the As on what was at the time perceived to be a home town discount (2 years, $11 M with a club option for $6 M, or $0.5 M buyout).  After watching the economy force Hudson to sign for a lower base salary (1-year, $3.38 M with incentives of up to $4.62 M), one has to wonder whether Ellis was the wise one for signing early.  Ellis, 31, wont play exhibition games until the later part of March but is projected to be ready to go on opening day.  Despite watching his offensive line slip last year to .233/.321/.373, Ellis remained one of the top defensive second basemen in the league, registering a +26 with John Dewans +/- system, second best in baseball. 

ROY Candidate
Gio Gonzalez
Struggled with command and the long ball in his brief 08 debut, but the talent is clearly there
Comeback Candidate
Eric Chavez
Can the oft-injured, long-time Athletic, find the fountain of youth?

Third Base

2008 Starter

Jack Hannahan

2009 Projected Starter

Eric Chavez, Jack Hannahan

By all indications, Eric Chavez and his surgically repaired right shoulder remain on track to man third base for the As come opening day.  The As lineup could sorely use a return to health and form from Chavy, though more likely than not, his best days are now long behind him.  If he cant go, or re-injures his shoulder, the As would turn first to Hannahan, who is a strong defender (+21 last year, 2nd in MLB at 3B), but batted only .218/.305/.342 with 9 HR in his first full major league season.

Shortstop

2008 Starter

Bobby Crosby

2009 Projected Starter

Orlando Cabrera

After suffering through Bobby Crosbys offensive and defensive decline for a third consecutive season, the As spent the winter shopping their former first round pick and Rookie of the Year. There were no takers for Crosby, who after posting a combined +/- total of +13 in 2004 and 2005, has an aggregate figure of -19 over the last three years.  Still, when Cabrera finally agreed this week to a reduced rate, one-year deal (reportedly $4 M), the As jumped at the opportunity to upgrade at short with the two-time Gold Glove winner.

Outfield

2008 Starters

Jack Cust, Carlos Gonzalez, Emil Brown, Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis, Travis Buck

2009 Projected Starters

Matt Holliday, Ryan Sweeney, Aaron Cunningham, Chris Denorfia, Travis Buck, Rajai Davis

The one decision As manager Bob Geren wont have any difficulty making everyday, is whom to play in left field.  Well, at least until late July, that is.  Holliday provides the As with a force in the middle of the lineup that was sorely missing last year when Oakland averaged the fewest runs per game in the American League (4.01).  Which player starts in center and which starts in right, though, could depend not only upon whos hot at the plate, but also on who is playing first base.  That is the dilemma the As created by signing the defensively inept Giambi while also employing the equally challenged Jack Cust, two players who are best suited for the DH role.  Ryan Sweeney, Travis Buck, and Rajai Davis can all play center and right field and will rotate in and out of the lineup unless one clearly establishes himself above the rest. 

Bench

2008 Bench Players

Eric Patterson, Donnie Murphy, Cliff Pennington, Wes Bankston

2009 Bench Players

Bobby Crosby, Eric Patterson, Gregorio Petit, Cliff Pennington

Crosby becomes a $5.25 million utility player unless the As can find a taker.  If he stays, Cliff Pennington likely returns to Triple-A Sacramento.  Eric Patterson can also be used in the outfield, but struggled mightily last season (.174/.269/.207 in 104 PA) after being acquired from the Cubs.  In contrast, Gregorio Petit, who can play second, third, and short, thrived in his brief big league debut (.348/.400/.435 in 25 PA).  Garciaparra, if signed, could conceivably play every infield position and would represent a tremendous upgrade for the bench. 


Gio Gonzalez

Designated Hitter

2008 Starters

Jack Cust, Frank Thomas, Mike Sweeney

2009 Starters

Jack Cust, Jason Giambi

Giambis +/- in 2008 at first base for the Yankees: -18.  Custs +/- in 2008 in left field for Oakland: -14.  Regrettably, one must play the field if both are to be in the lineup at the same time. 

Starting Pitchers

2008 Starting Pitchers

Justin Duchscherer, Greg Smith, Dana Eveland, Joe Blanton, Rich Harden, Sean Gallagher, Dallas Braden

2009 Projected Starting Pitchers

Justin Duchscherer, Dana Eveland, Sean Gallagher, Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez, Josh Outman, Edgar Gonzalez



MLB Playoff Factoid

In the history of Major League Baseball, only nine teams have ever made the post-season while their club leader in innings pitched tallied fewer than 200 IP. 

2007 Phillies Jamie Moyer 199.1
1987 Cardinals Danny Cox 199.1
2008 Brewers Ben Sheets 198.1*
2006 Mets Tom Glavine 198.0
2004 Yankees Javier Vazquez 198.0
2000 White Sox Mike Sirotka 197.0
1984 Cubs Steve Trout 190.0**
2002 Twins Rick Reed 188.0
1987 Giants Kelly Downs 186.0

*Brewers acquired CC Sabathia mid-season. Sabathia pitched 253.0 combined innings.
**Cubs acquired Rick Sutcliffe mid-season.  Sutcliffe pitched 244.2 combined innings.

With last seasons innings leader, Greg Smith, shipped off to Colorado in the deal that brought Holliday to Oakland, the only pitcher in camp with the As this year that has ever topped 150 innings in a major league season is left-hander Dana Eveland.  Eveland, in his first full season last year, logged 168.0 innings, second to Smiths 190.1 on the Oakland staff. 

Can the talented-but-inexperienced youngsters Sean Gallagher, Dallas Braden, and Eveland shoulder enough of the load effectively enough to realistically allow the As to compete?  Can some combination of youngsters Gio Gonzalez, Josh Outman, and D-back cast-off Edgar Gonzalez produce a serviceable 5th starter, or even more?  Having shown he can pitch effectively as a starter, can Duchscherer now show he can handle it physically?  Can he log the kind of innings the As will need from their ace?

To be sure, there is no shortage of talented starting pitchers in the Oakland organization, especially with prospects Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson looming on the horizon, but there certainly many questions as well.  And if these young guns struggle out of the gate, perhaps the most relevant question facing the As front office this summer may be whether to deal Duchscherer, a potentially coveted free agent next winter.    

Relief Pitchers

2008 Bullpen

Huston Street, Brad Ziegler, Joey Devine, Alan Embree, Santiago Casilla, Chad Gaudin, Jerry Blevins, Keith Foulke

2009 Projected Bullpen

Joey Devine, Brad Ziegler, Russ Springer, Jerry Blevins, Michael Wuertz

While Geren has stated that both Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler will get opportunities to close, conventional wisdom suggests the harder throwing Devine is better suited to the 9th inning, while the more flexible Ziegler would be most wisely used in a setup role.  40-year old veteran Russ Springer gives the As pen what their rotation sorely lacks experience - and should help make it one of the clubs strongest areas.  Springers 797.2 career innings total, amassed almost entirely as a reliever, actually represents the highest career total of any pitcher on the As roster.  Right-hander Michael Wuertz, acquired from the Cubs, is tough on righties and compliments lefty Jerry Blevins, who held left-handed hitters to a .193 batting average last season. 

Outlook for the Season

Despite their increased financial commitments and offensive upgrades, the As, ironically, lack the pitching experience to contend in 2009.  Given that consideration, along with their failed Fremont ballpark proposal hanging in the background, you can bet that if the As struggle early, both Holliday and Duchscherer will be long gone by August. 




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