2008 Record: 75-86, 3rd AL West
2009 Prediction: 2nd AL West
Impact Player: Matt Holliday
Impact Pitcher: Brad Ziegler
Top Prospect: Brett Anderson, LHP
Significant Acquisitions: OF Matt Holliday, 1B/DH Jason Giambi, P Russ Springer, P Michael Wuertz, P Edgar Gonzalez
Significant Losses: OF Carlos Gonzalez, DH Frank Thomas, OF Emil Brown, DH Mike Sweeney, INF Donnie Murphy, OF Matt Murton, P Greg Smith, P Huston Street, P Alan Embree, P Andrew Brown, P Keith Foulke, P Dan Meyer, P Kirk Saarloos
The Oakland Athletics are a team like the Minnesota Twins, without the success…at least not these days. The Athletics do a lot with very little and the names and faces of players are almost always unknown at the beginning of each season. For the first time in years, however, the A’s made significant acquisitions that might help the team be better now. Matt Holliday was acquired from the Rockies in arguably the biggest blockbuster of the off-season and old Athletics-alum Jason Giambi has been brought back to try and rekindle the success of the late-90’s and early-00’s. The question is, will a once again young and unproven rotation be enough to challenge the Angels in the weak AL West?
The A’s have traded away a proverbial All-Star team of starters over the past few years. Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Dan Haren, Rich Harden, Joe Blanton; the list goes on and on. This year was no different as they shipped off a pitcher in Greg Smith, who many believe will one day be an All-Star, to the Rockies in the Holliday deal. The number-one starter in this year’s rotation will be former All-Star reliever Justin Duchscherer who posted an ERA that would have led the league had he had enough innings to qualify (2.54). Despite this, he had only a 10-8 record. After Duchscherer, it’s a crapshoot. Young left-hander Dana Eveland, who was acquired in the Dan Haren trade a couple years ago, appears to have one of the spots locked down; as does 23-year-old righty Sean Gallagher. Three pitchers will likely battle for the remaining two spots: Lefties Dallas Braden (25) and Gio Gonzalez (23), as well as righty prospect James Simmons (22). 26-year-old right-hander Edgar Gonzalez signed a minor-league deal and could also be in the mix, but it looks as though he’ll have a better shot at the bullpen. Another minor-league contract was handed out to former San Francisco Giant Jerome Williams who had a good 2003 before falling off the map due to personal problems.
The A’s refuse to name an outright closer, at least at this time. Instead they plan to use Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler in a platoon fashion unless one proves he deserves the job over the other. Both were lights-out last season; Devine was 6-1 with a stupidly-low 0.59 ERA (and no, that’s not a typo), and Ziegler was 3-0 with an almost-as-ridiculous 1.06 ERA. The A’s signed veterans Russ Springer (40) and Michael Wuertz (30) to deals in the off-season and they should bridge the gap to their two closers nicely. Santiago Casilla should round out the right-side of the ‘pen and young lefties Jerry Blevins and Josh Outman should take care of the A’s needs in the southpaw department. Overall, this bullpen has major promise and they’ll need to be at their best every night with the inexperience and all-but-certain growing pains their rotation will experience. The lack of a true closer may hurt them if Devine and Ziegler don’t continue their path to success.
Rotation (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)
- Justin Duchscherer (R/31)
- Dana Eveland (L/25)
- Sean Gallagher (R/23)
- Dallas Braden (L/25)
- Gio Gonzalez (L/23)
- Joey Devine (R/25) — CO-CLOSER
- Brad Ziegler (R/29) — CO-CLOSER
- Russ Springer (R/40)
- Michael Wuertz (R/30)
- Santiago Casilla (R/28)
- Jerry Blevins (L/25)
- Josh Outman (L/24)
The A’s might hit more in ’09 than they did in ’08 with the addition of some proven talent in Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi and the continued development of some of their young hitters. In the outfield, Holliday will play Left, young Ryan Sweeney (acquired in the deal that sent Nick Swisher to the White Sox in the 07-08 off-season) will likely play Center, and young Travis Buck should start the year as the everyday Right-fielder. If either Sweeney or Buck don’t look ready yet, Eric Patterson or Rajai Davis might step in. In the infield, Eric Chavez is back from an injury-plagued ’08 at Third. Chavez hasn’t been healthy since 2005 and management may be nearing the end of its patience, especially considering the A’s have a highly-touted prospect in Chris Carter who may not be that far off the majors and another young talent in Cliff Pennington who can also play the position. The middle infield is filled with question marks. Bobby Crosby should start again at Short but seems to have forever lost the power that saw him win the AL Rookie of the Year award in 2004. People seem to forget, however, that he was never a good contact hitter, hitting only .239 that year, which is exactly his career average. Mark Ellis should start at Second but struggled mightily last year hitting just .233 with 7 less home runs and 35 less RBI than in ’07. Daric Barton was awful at First in ’08 and will likely spend this year learning from Giambi who should get most of the playing time there. Giambi could also DH at times, giving everday DH Jack Cust a chance to play the outfield. The A’s liked Cust’s 33 HR in ’08 but didn’t care for his .231 average, his 77 RBI or his 197 strike outs. Catching duties will belong to Kurt Suzuki who was solid last season and might benefit from not being asked to lead-off this year.
On the bench the A’s, as with most areas, will go young with backup catcher Rob Bowen (28), Barton (23), Patterson (26), Pennington (25), and corner-infielder/second baseman Jack Hannahan (29). That youth off the bench might hurt them when players like Chavez and Giambi go down with injuries.
Lineup (Handedness/Age on June 30, 2009)
CF Ryan Sweeney (L/24)
C Kurt Suzuki (R/25)
1B Jason Giambi (L/38)
LF Matt Holliday (R/29)
DH Jack Cust (L/30)
3B Eric Chavez (L/31)
2B Mark Ellis (R/32)
RF Travis Buck (L/25)
SS Bobby Crosby (R/29)
C Rob Bowen (S/28)
1B Daric Barton (L/23)
OF/2B Eric Patterson (L/26)
INF Cliff Pennington (S/25)
INF Jack Hannahan (L/29)
The A’s appear to be better offensively than last year but their pitching took another hit with the loss of Greg Smith and All-Star closer Huston Street. The A’s will need more unexpected performances from another crop of no-name pitchers to even approach the .500-mark. Although I believe in the A’s development system (especially when it comes to pitchers), I’m just not sure this year will work out very well for them. Final Prediction: 78-84, 2nd AL West