2010 Oakland A's: The Comeback Kids
BaseballEvolution.com 2010 Spring Preview
by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
March 20, 2010
In 2009, the Oakland A’s won 75 games, exceeding
my expectations for them by a modest three wins. But while they may have
ended up about where I anticipated, they did not exactly play as I expected. I had
expected their talented young guns to propel them to a fast start, only to see
them to fade down the stretch due to their collective inexperience. Instead, the
A’s struggled early and finished strong, playing .500 ball (38-38) in
the second half of the season, including a 17-10 mark in September.
| Key Transactions |
| Acquired || Pos. |
| Kevin Kouzmanoff|| 3B|
| Coco Crisp|| CF|
| Gabe Gross|| OF|
| Michael Taylor|| OF|
| Jake Fox|| OF/1B|
| Adam Rosales|| Util|
| Jason Jennings|| RP|
| || |
| Departed || Pos. |
| Adam Kennedy|| 3B/2B|
| Scott Hairston|| OF|
| Nomar Garciaparra|| Util|
| Jack Hannahan|| 3B|
| Bobby Crosby|| CI|
| Aaron Cunningham|| OF|
| Dana Eveland|| SP|
| Russ Springer|| RP|
| Edgar Gonzalez|| RP|
| Santiago Casilla|| RP|
Their early struggles, however, weren’t really
tied to their pitching. The A’s staff registered a collective 4.25 ERA before
the All-Star break, including marks of 3.76 in April and 3.72 in June. Oakland’s
offense, on the other hand, managed only a collective .237 batting average with
a .634 OPS in the season’s opening month, and didn’t wake up until July, batting
just .246 with a .687 OPS before the break.
Additionally, they were a poor defensive team. The
A’s infield was particularly deficient, led by Jason Giambi (-10
plus/minus rating at 1B), Adam Kennedy (-10 at 2B, -6 at 3B) and
shortstop Orlando Cabrera (-40 with Oakland and Minnesota combined,
including nearly 900 innings with the A’s), although permitting DH Jack Cust
to log over 400 innings in right field (-17) cost them significantly as well.
Overall, the A’s pitching staff finished the year
tied for the league’s third lowest ERA (4.29) and their offense really picked up
the pace after the break, batting .280 as a team, with a .768 OPS. Can the A’s
parlay that second half achievement into more success this season?
Despite the strong performances in ’09 by
youngsters such as Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill,
and AL Rookie of the Year closer Andrew Bailey, questions remain about
the A’s pitching. And with Kevin Kouzmanoff and Coco Crisp
potentially representing their only significant offensive additions, there are
questions there, too.
Health, or the possible lack thereof, will play a
large role in determining the Athletics' ultimate fate. In particular, the A’s will
be counting on fragile hurlers Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer to
avoid the disabled list and provide the type of veteran leadership that was
missing on the mound for Oakland in 2009. If they can do that, the A’s could
surprise and contend deep into the season.
Both pitchers, however, missed all of last season,
the chronically injured Sheets while rehabbing from elbow surgery, and
Duchscherer, who missed large parts of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with arm and
hip injuries, was out with back and elbow injuries as well as a bout with
clinical depression. Duch is only now getting close to pitching in a game this
spring after undergoing a nerve ambulation in his back the second week of camp
and is a long-shot to be ready when the season starts, while Sheets has posted
an ERA over 31.00 in his first three cactus league outings, allowing 17 hits in
Nevertheless, it is very intriguing to think of
what the A’s could do if they got 30 or more starts each from Sheets, Duchscherer, Anderson, and Braden (who himself missed the final two months of
last year with a foot injury). I have been particularly impressed with Anderson,
who excelled in the second half of last year. Such is the A’s possible rotation
depth that Cahill, who led the team with 32 starts last year and won 10 games as
a 21-year old rookie, came to camp locked in a tight, three-way battle for the
fifth starters job with Gio Gonzalez, 24, and Vin Mazzaro, 23.
Veteran Brett Tomko, who went 4-1 with a
2.95 ERA in six starts for Oakland last year before he too was shut down with an
irritated nerve in his shoulder that required surgery, was re-signed as
insurance but he won’t be ready till the end of May at the earliest.
Injuries have also plagued the A’s otherwise
strong bullpen this spring, with Joey Devine still recovering from Tommy
John surgery and Michael Wuertz (shoulder soreness) not having yet
pitched in a Cactus League games. Bailey and left-hander Craig Breslow
have been slowed by sore elbows. Wuertz, Breslow, and Bailey were key components
of a bullpen that led the American League last season in ERA (3.46).
Despite the injuries, all but Devine are expected to be ready come Opening Day.
An arm to keep your eye on is Henry Rodriguez.
Known to hit 100 mph on the gun, Rodriguez struck out 82 batters in 48.2 minor league innings last year. He made his big league debut in September, striking
out four more in four innings pitched, and could land Devine’s spot on the
Crisp, Oakland's new centerfielder, only
recently joined the lineup after missing most of camp with a lingering hamstring
issue. Signed this past winter to a one-year, $5 million deal, he missed most of
last season with Kansas City after undergoing surgeries on both shoulders.
When healthy, Crisp, left fielder Rajai Davis
and right fielder Ryan Sweeney, should give the A’s a very rangy,
defensive outfield. Manager Bob Geren will also count on the speedy Crisp
and Davis to set the table and make things happen at the top of the lineup while
another newcomer, third baseman Kouzmanof, will be counted on in the middle of
the lineup to help Cust drive them home.
Impatient A’s fans seem to forget he’s
still only 24 years old. Posted a .372 OBP in 192 PA last year.
| Comeback Candidates|
A lengthy list headed by Ben Sheets,
Eric Chavez, Coco Crisp and Justin Duchscherer|
The A’s also hope Eric Chavez, who has
played just 31 games the past two seasons and only 121 over the last three, can
bring a little punch to the lineup while helping to spell Cust at DH, first
baseman Daric Barton, and on rare occasions, Kouzmanoff at third base.
This will be a key season for Barton, who needs to produce knowing that 23-year
old prospect Chris Carter is waiting, looming in the wings. Barton, once
an integral piece of the Mark Mulder deal, has thus far responded with a
torrid spring and could be primed for a breakout year.
In the middle of the diamond, Cliff Pennington
came to camp as the front runner for the shortstop position that he manned last
season after Cabrera was dealt to the Twins at the July 31 deadline. Capable
with the bat but deficient with the glove, Pennington is being pushed hard by
Adrian Cardenas, acquired in the 2008 deal that sent Joe Blanton
to Philly. Cardenas, a former first round pick for the Phils, could represent a
significant defensive upgrade at short and form a nifty double play combo with
returning second baseman Mark Ellis. Ellis himself missed two months in
2009 with a strained calf.
Athletics Team Capsule|
3/18/11: Hardly Surprising News for Rich Harden - The A’s 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 starter’s 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.
If the stars align themselves just right, it could
be an interesting year on the East Bay. On paper at least, their young pitching
staff looks capable of competing with any other in the league. Defensively, they
should be much improved and I’m inclined to believe that their offense could be
As is so often the case in the marathon
of a season that is Major League Baseball, however, staying healthy will be a big key for
Oakland, and as we’ve seen, the A’s are certainly not short on health questions.
The low-budget A’s also find themselves
facing stiff competition from all three of their division rivals in 2010, from
the perennially challenging Angels to the revamped Mariners and the
While the odds may be too stacked against them
to hope for a ticket to October, I think the A’s will make things interesting
and end up in the mid-to-high-80s in the win column. But if they struggle, you
can expect Billy Beane to look to auction off one or more of the many veterans
signed to attractive one-year deals like Sheets, Crisp, and Cust as well as
Chavez, who most certainly will never see his $12.5 million club option ($3 M
buyout) for 2011 exercised.
With an attractive core of young players, though,
locked up in its stable and less than $7 million
currently obligated to payroll for 2011 (including Chavez’
buyout), Oakland could find itself next winter in a position to spend big on
just the right player to get them that post-season ticket.
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