Then they’d have at least one big-time middle-of-the-order producer, and then I’d have them as the favorite to win the American League West. Still, the A’s look good, thanks to a phenomenal pitching staff put together by general manager Billy Beane (picture above by The Associated Press).
Their staff — rotation and bullpen — is as good as anybody’s, and they’re one of the most solid defensive teams in baseball (yes, even though thinking about Josh Willingham patrolling right field at The Coliseum makes me nauseous).
But they’re one big bat away from being a legit World Series contender, and Kevin Kouzmanoff-Willingham-Hideki Matsui (or however Bob Geren chooses to put together the 3-4-5 spots) is not enough. Don’t believe having one of baseball’s worst (and most hitter-unfriendly) ballparks doesn’t play a part in them not signing a premier slugger? Here’s what Beane expressed earlier this offseason, shortly after his lucrative offer to third baseman Adrian Beltre wasn’t deemed good enough.
“Honestly, for three years, it’s been a concern,” he said. “It seems to be becoming more and more of a challenge. It’s challenging enough financially given the market we’re in relative to some of our peers, but there’s other parts of the equation that are becoming more challenging. The facility’s a hurdle. It’s a fact.”
The stadium issue involves several non-baseball-related obstacles that go above our heads and everybody’s on the A’s baseball-operations staff. All you can do is the best with what you’re given, and Beane — Mr. Moneyball — has done a phenomenal job of that. The question is whether a great pitching staff and a makeshift lineup are enough to go all the way (and if the 2010 Giants are any example, it is).
Regardless of whether or not it will be in 2011, the most important aspect to winning — pitching — looks great in Oakland. Let’s have a look…
* LH Dallas Braden: 11-14, 3.50 ERA while making $420K in ’10; first-year arbitration-eligible.
* LH Brett Anderson: 7-6, 2.80 ERA in ’10; making $1M in ’11, locked up thru ’15.
* RH Gio Gonzalez: 15-9, 3.23 ERA while making $405K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until possibly ’13.
* RH Trevor Cahill: 18-8, 2.97 ERA while making $410K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until ’12.
* RH Andrew Bailey: 1.47 ERA, .959 WHIP, 25-28 saves while making $435K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until ’12.
* RH Joey Devine: .59 ERA, .832 WHIP, 42 G in ’10; making $557.5K in ’11; free agent after ’13 season.
* LH Craig Breslow: 3.01 ERA, 1.098 WHIP, 75 G while making $425K in ’10; first-year arbitration-eligible.
* RH Michael Wuertz: struggled in ’10 (4.31 ERA), but 3.08 ERA while appearing in an average of 58 games from 2006-09; making $2.8M in ’11; locked up thru ’12.
* RH Brad Ziegler: 3.26 ERA, 1.352 WHIP, 64 G while making $410K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until ’12.
* LH Jerry Blevins: 3.70 ERA, 1.479 WHIP, 63 G while making $405K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until possibly ’13.
Sure, the A’s payroll should increase significantly after this season, but that’s a lot of great, young pitching under club control for a while. And then you add the bullpen additions of veteran righty Grant Balfour
) lefty Brian Fuentes
, and that’s perhaps the deepest ‘pen in the game.
Last season, the A’s (81-81) ranked fourth in the Majors in team ERA (3.56), and they could be even better this season.
Defensively, first baseman Daric Barton (first), catcher Kurt Suzuki, second baseman Mark Ellis (both third), shortstop Cliff Pennington (seventh), third baseman Kouzmanoff and center fielder Coco Crisp (both ninth) all ranked in the Top 10 in voting for Fielding Bible Awards.
Offensively, though, 22 teams scored more runs, 16 teams had a better batting average and 27 teams hit more homers. I like the David DeJesus signing, and Matsui and Willingham should provide more pop. Will it be enough in that division? I’m not sure.
But I know one thing: The A’s are well on their way. (If only they had a better venue.)
— Alden Gonzalez
** Check out my column on why Jose Reyes is Sandy Alderson‘s biggest Year 1 question.