2010 Oakland A's: The Comeback Kids

BaseballEvolution.com 2010 Spring Preview
by Richard Van Zandt, BaseballEvolution.com
March 20, 2010

Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Ben Sheets SP
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

In 2009, the Oakland As 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 As struggled early and finished strong, playing .500 ball (38-38) in the second half of the season, including a 17-10 mark in September.

Their early struggles, however, werent really tied to their pitching. The As staff registered a collective 4.25 ERA before the All-Star break, including marks of 3.76 in April and 3.72 in June. Oaklands offense, on the other hand, managed only a collective .237 batting average with a .634 OPS in the seasons opening month, and didnt wake up until July, batting just .246 with a .687 OPS before the break.

Additionally, they were a poor defensive team. The As 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 As), although permitting DH Jack Cust to log over 400 innings in right field (-17) cost them significantly as well.

Overall, the As pitching staff finished the year tied for the leagues 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 As parlay that second half achievement into more success this season?

Pos '09 '10
C Suzuki Suzuki
1B Giambi/Barton Barton/Chavez
2B Ellis Ellis
3B Kennedy/Hannahan Kouzmanoff
SS Cabrera Pennington
IF Crosby Rosales/Miles
LF Holliday Davis/Fox
CF Davis Crisp
RF Sweeney Sweeney
DH Cust/Giambi Cust/Chavez
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 As 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 As 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 As 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 4.1 innings.

Brett Anderson

Nevertheless, it is very intriguing to think of what the As 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 As 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.

Pos '09 '10
SP Cahill Sheets
SP Anderson Duchscherer
SP Braden Anderson
SP Outman Braden
SP Mazzaro/G Gonzalez Cahill
SP Eveland/Tomko Mazzaro/G Gonzalez
CL Bailey Bailey
LP Breslow Breslow
LP Blevins Blevins
RP Ziegler Ziegler
RP Springer Devine
RP Casilla Kilby
RP E Gonzalez Jennings
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 wont be ready till the end of May at the earliest.

Injuries have also plagued the As 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 Devines spot on the active roster.

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 As 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.

Breakout Candidate
Daric Barton
Impatient As fans seem to forget hes 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 As 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

Final Word

Jack Cust
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 Im inclined to believe that their offense could be as well.

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 weve seen, the As are certainly not short on health questions. The low-budget As 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
young and hungry Rangers.

While the odds may be too stacked against them to hope for a ticket to October, I think the As 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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