State of the Franchise: Oakland A’s
March 10, 2011 1 Comment
The Oakland A’s are a tale of two sides of the diamond last year. Though the team finished .500 or better for the first time after not winning more than 76 games in any of the last three seasons, the team still didn’t have an offense to match their stellar pitching.
In 2010, no player on the A’s hit more home runs than third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff’s 16. Furthermore, no regular hit better than right fielder Ryan Sweeney’s .294, and even he played the fewest games among the regular everyday players (82). Oakland’s general manager Billy Beane, who acquired fame through Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball, always constructs his clubs with limited financial flexibility. This previous off-season was no different, but Beane is famous for getting creative around the edges.
The first move Beane completed in the off-season was trading pitcher Vin Mazzaro and minor leaguer Justin Marks to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder David DeJesus. During an injury-shortened season, DeJesus hit .318 with five home runs and 37 runs batted in. He also added in 23 doubles while playing in spacious Kaufman Stadium, and compiled an OPS of .827. DeJesus is expected to be either the team’s Opening Day left fielder, as center fielder Rajai Davis performed well in his first season as an everyday outfielder. Davis hit .284 while playing center day in and day out, and also stole a team-high 50 bases.
The A’s also shored up their other corner outfield position, signing outfielder Conor Jackson off of the bargain bin. The move was more for depth, as Jackson has some pop, hitting as many as 15 home runs in a season while with the Arizona Diamondbacks. But, Jackson has been struggling with injuries and playing time the last two years, slumping down to .182 batting average and one home run in 32 games in 2009, while the struggles continued in 2010 to a .236 batting average and only two home runs. However, Jackson has always been a patient hitter, something Beane emphasizes in his offensive structure. Jackson will likely compete with Ryan Sweeney for the everyday right fielder’s job in Spring Training.
The flashiest name the A’s picked up this off-season to help in the line-up is former Yankees World Series MVP, Hideki Matsui. Though the days of Matsui hitting 30+ home runs are long behind him, “Godzilla” did connect on 21 last year while playing for the Los Angeles Angels. He also hit .274 and drove in 84 runs while appearing in 145 games exclusively out of the designated hitter role. Matsui also drew 67 walks, boosting his on-base percentage up to a robust .361. His addition to this otherwise slender line-up should provide the needed pop that the doubles-happy A’s team needs to drive in more runs then the 663 they did last year.
Historically speaking, the Oakland A’s have always maintained stellar pitching staffs. However, it is possible that this current collection of aces can turn out to be some of the best the team has ever ran out at the same time. The A’s have such strong pitching up and down their rotation, they were able to part with a young pitcher such as Vin Mazzaro to acquire offense.
The staff is anchored by right-hander Trevo Cahill. In just his second season, and only 22 years old, Cahill led the staff with an 18-8 record and a 2.97 earned run average over his 30 starts and 196 innings. Cahill earned a selection to the All-Star game, and finished ninth in the American League Cy Young balloting. Behind Cahill was young lefty flamethrower, Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez, only 24 and in his third season, compiled a 15-9 record with a 3.23 ERA in 200.2 innings of work over a team-high 33 starts. However, the best of the pitchers in the Oakland stable may be lefty Brett Anderson. Last year, Anderson battled various arm ailments to get through 19 starts and a 7-6 record. Anderson also had a 2.80 ERA and struck out 75 batters in his 115.2 innings of work. If Anderson can put together a healthy season, at only 23 years of age, he could round out the most fearsome threesome the A’s have had since the hey-day of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder.
Even the projected fourth and fifth starters for the A’s have impressive resumes. Left-hander Dallas Braden won 11 games and had an ERA of 3.50 in 2010, a season that included a perfect game on Mother’s Day. The A’s also re-signed oft-injured former prospect Rich Harden to a one-year contract. When he’s healthy, Harden has one of the hardest fastballs throughout the game. But, the problem for Harden has always been staying healthy. Harden has completed only one season with 30+ starts, and was only able to start 18 games last year for the Texas Rangers, while struggling to keep bars in the yard in the Ballpark at Arlington. Back in a familiar setting, the A’s hope that Harden will regain the form he had in 2008, when he had a 10-2 record with an ERA of 2.07 and 181 strikeouts in 148 innings. The team also added former White Sox top prospect Brandon McCarthy to add depth in case of injury.
The A’s drastically improved their already strong bullpen in the off-season as well. Closer and 2009 American League Rookie of the Year winner Andrew Bailey recorded another strong season, posting a 1.47 ERA and 25 saves while also appearing in his second straight All-Star game. Side-winder Brad Ziegler also posted a strong season, maintaining a 3.26 ERA in 64 appearances. Heading into 2011, the bullpen corps will be armed with a brand new deadly duo of left-hander Brian Fuentes and right-hander Grant Balfour.
Fuentes split last year between the Angels and the Minnesota Twins, compiling a 2.81 ERA along the way with 24 saves. Balfour, one of the many key components to the Tampa Bay Rays shutdown bullpen, posted a 2.28 ERA while striking out 56 batters in 55 innings. With Andrew Bailey set to maintain his closer duties, the likes of Fuentes, Balfour and Ziegler towards the end of ballgames will make the lives of the starting rotation that much easier, and make the games themselves that much shorter.
In the end, this season for the A’s will come down to offense. The pitching staff alone could go out and win 81 games again as it did last year with very little support. But, Billy Beane feels he’s added the necessary pieces in the line-up, like Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus, to serve as protection for corner infielders Kevin Kouzmanoff and Daric Barton.
The A’s have the benefit of playing in a very winnable AL West. If they hit enough, the A’s just may find themselves playing in the later months of fall.