2008 Record: 75-86 (.466)
2008 Pythagorean Record: 76-85 (.472)
Manager: Billy Beane
General Manager: Bob Geren
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum (93/93)
Who’s Replaced Whom:
- Jason Giambi replaces Daric Barton (minors)
- Matt Holliday replaces Emil Brown and Frank Thomas
- Orlando Cabrera replaces Jack Hannahan (minors)
- Eric Chavez replaces as much of Bobby Crosby as his body will allow
- Travis Buck inherits Carlos Gonzalez’s playing time
- Nomar Garciaparra replaces Donnie Murphy, Cliff Pennington (minors), and Eric Patterson (minors)
- Landon Powell replaces Rob Bowen
- Trevor Cahill replaces Joe Blanton and Rich Harden
- Brett Anderson replaces Greg Smith
- Dallas Braden inherits the starts of Sean Gallagher (bullpen) and Gio Gonzalez (minors)
- Josh Outman is filling in for Justin Duchscherer (DL)
- Russ Springer replaces Huston Street
- Michael Wuertz replaces Chad Gaudin
- Drew Bailey replaces Jerry Blevins (minors) and Andrew Brown
- Sean Gallagher replaces Keith Foulke and Dan Meyer
- Dan Giese is filling in for Joey Devine (DL)
1B – Jason Giambi (L)
2B – Mark Elllis (R)
SS – Orlando Cabrera (R)
3B – Eric Chavez (L)
C – Kurt Suzuki (R)
RF – Travis Buck (L)
CF – Ryan Sweeney (L)
LF – Matt Holliday (R)
DH – Jack Cust (L)
R – Nomar Garciaparra (IF)
R – Bobby Crosby (IF)
R – Rajai Davis (OF)
S – Landon Powell (C)
L – Dallas Braden
L – Dana Eveland
L – Brett Anderson
L – Josh Outman
R – Trevor Cahill
R – Brad Ziegler
R – Russ Springer
R – Santiago Casilla
R – Michael Wuertz
R – Drew Bailey
R – Sean Gallagher
R – Dan Giese
15-day DL: RHP – Justin Duchscherer (elbow surgery); OF – Ben Copeland (shoulder sprain)
60-day DL: RHP – Joey Devine (elbow)
L – Ryan Sweeney (CF)
R – Orlando Cabrera (SS)
L – Jason Giambi (1B)
R – Matt Holliday (LF)
L – Jack Cust (DH)
L – Eric Chavez (3B)
R – Kurt Suzuki (C)
L – Travis Buck (RF)
R – Mark Ellis (2B)
Don’t be fooled by the age of their infield or by their big-splash acquisition of Matt Holliday. The A’s are still rebuilding; they’re just trying to steal an AL West title in the middle of the process.
After four-straight playoff appearances (and four straight first-round exits) from 2000 to 2003, the A’s missed making it five by one game in 2004, in part because of the departure of free agent Miguel Tejada and a season-erasing injury to Mark Ellis. They then took 2005 to reload, breaking Nick Swisher into the lineup, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton into the rotation, and Huston Street and Justin Duchscherer into the bullpen.
That paid off with not only a return to the playoffs in 2006, but the franchise’s first ALCS appearance since the creation of the Division Series. Unfortunately, their follow-up season was a complete bust as they toppled from 93 wins to 76 due in part to the discovery that Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, and Rich Harden, three players who were supposed to be pillars of the rebuilt A’s, were made of sand. Injuries decemated the 2007 A’s as Street and Duchscherer also missed significant time, as did outfielders Mark Kotsay, Milton Bradley, and Travis Buck, starter Esteban Loaiza, and free-agent addition Mike Piazza.
With their foundation crumbling, the A’s decided to rebuild in earnest heading into the 2008 season. Prior to the 2007 trading deadline, they traded Bradley and starting catcher Jason Kendall. That offseason, they traded Swisher, Haren, who had become the staff ace, Kotsay, and middle infielder Marco Scutaro (who had emerged as a solid major league starter thanks to Crosby’s many injuries). Prior to the 2008 trading deadline, they dealt Harden, Blanton, and swing-man Chad Gaudin. They also let numerous other players leave via free agency or waiver claim, including Piazza, Loaiza, former Cy Young award winner Barry Zito, and first baseman Dan Johnson.
In a year’s time, the A’s traded four-fifths of their rotation, their entire outfield, their starting catcher, and what amounted to a starting infielder, and also bid adieu to their starting first baseman and DH and two other members of their 2006 rotation. When the 2008 season drew to a close, the only members of 2006′s starting nine remaining were Mark Ellis and the fragile (and thus untradeable) Chavez and Crosby (the A’s even put Crosby on waivers, but he went unclaimed). Not a single member of the 2006 rotation remained.
What the A’s did have was a bounty of prospects. Entering this past offseason, the A’s seemed to be taking the long view with a system suddenly restocked with pitching and outfield prospects especially. The Bradley, Kendell, and Kotsay deals had restocked the bullpen (adding Andrew Brown, Jerry Blevins, and Joey Devine, respectively). The Haren, Harden, Swisher, and Blanton deals had brought in another 15 players (in exchange for just six). Those 15 players were pitchers Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, Brett Anderson, Josh Outman, Gio Gonzalez, and Fautino De Los Santos, outfielders Ryan Sweeney, Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, Matt Murton, and Matt Spencer, infielders Adrian Cardenas and Eric Patterson, and catcher Josh Donaldson.
Then a weird thing happened. The A’s traded for Matt Holliday, an established and expensive star entering his walk year. It wouldn’t have been such a terrible shock if the A’s had simply given up injury prone closer Huston Street, who is already into his arbitration years, and Greg Smith, on whom they sold high by trading him after he turned in a surprisingly strong showing in the major league rotation last year despite poor peripherals. After all, Beane does like to use pending free agents as a source of extra draft picks. What was surprising was that he gave up talented 23-year-old center fielder Carlos Gonzalez in the deal. He then went out and signed 38-year-old Jason Giambi to play first base, 34-year-old Orlando Cabrera to solidify shortstop, and the fragile 35-year-old Nomar Garciaparra to caddy for Chavez (now 31) and Giambi at the infield corners.
The thing is, it makes sense. The A’s clearly noticed that the Angels are a much weaker team than their 100-win season in 2008 would suggest and made several low-risk, minimum-commitments moves to try to take advantage of the Halos’ tilt. Giambi, Cabrera, and Garciaparra are all on one-year, incentive-laden deals. The A’s total minimum commitment for those three players is $10.25 million. Giambi is replacing first-base prospect Daric Barton who was awful as a rookie last year, but who remains the team’s first baseman of the future. Cabrera is keeping the fragile Crosby on the bench (or at third base when Chavez can’t go) while Cardenas works his way toward the majors. Garciaparra is simply a million-dollar contingency plan.
The only real head-scratcher is the Holliday deal, but if you believe that the A’s soured on Gonzalez after just one season and saw enough of an opportunity in their very weak division (one I rated as the weakest in baseball in SI.com’s prediction extravaganza), one can explain away the trade and the $13.5 million they’ll owe Holliday this year as the one risky move they had to make to take a run at the division. Besides, if their pursuit of the Angels doesn’t pan out, Holliday could bring in still more prospects at this year’s deadline, or he could yield one big one in next year’s draft. Also, if you deduct Street’s 2009 salary from Holliday’s, the A’s are really only spending $9 million more for their All-Star right fielder, or less than $20 million total for Holliday, Giambi, Cabrera, and Nomar.
The early returns point toward the A’s trading Holliday at the deadline. Intended closer Joey Devine could miss the entire season due to a still undiagnosed elbow injury. Intended staff ace Justin Duchscherer (who moved into the rotation with great results last year) is out until mid-May or later following elbow surgery of his own. Chavez has already had some problems with his surgically repaired shoulder, and Garciaparra has proven as fragile as ever, missing some games due to tightness in his right quadriceps.
They’ve played just a dozen games, but the A’s have hit just three home runs (one by Nomar, two by DH Jack Cust). Other than Cust (.286/.423/.476), no one on the entire team is hitting yet. Amazingly, they’ve won five games and averaged 6.8 runs in those five wins, but in their seven losses, they’re averaging less than two runs per game, and they’ve been shut out thrice already (by Joe Saunders and the Angels on Opening Day, Erik Bedard and the Mariners the following Sunday, and this past Sunday by Rickey Romero and the Blue Jays).
It seems as though for the A’s to win they’ll have to do it with pitching and defense. Their defense should be up to the task; thus far Oakland has the second-best defensive efficiency in the American League, thanks in large part to the non-Giambi members of their infield, the addition of Holliday in left, and Kurt Suzuki behind the plate. Their pitching, however, is likely experience some growing pains. With the fragile Duchscherer out, the A’s rotation consists of tonight’s starter, 25-year-old lefty Dana Eveland, and four prospects who entered the season having made 28 major league starts combined.
Eveland is no staff ace. Originally a mid-round draft pick by the Brewers, he’s on his third organization and last year went 9-9 with a 4.34 ERA and a 1.53 K/BB for the A’s in his first full season as a major league starter. Eveland posted a 6.09 ERA over his last ten starts last year and, after a quality start against the Angels in his first turn this year, gave up five runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Red Sox in his last start.
Eveland will face fellow lefty Andy Pettitte, who aced his first two starts, completing seven innings in each and posting a 2.51 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 5.0 K/BB. Curiously, despite their disparate performances, neither has started a game their team has lost this year. That will change tonight.
Joe Girardi has is starting his usual nine, though Jorge Posada is hitting cleanup followed by Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Hideki Matsui. Bob Geren, the former Yankee catcher who manages the A’s, is sitting Travis Buck against the lefty, moving Ryan Sweeney into right field, putting Rajai Davis in center, and moved Mark Ellis up to the sixth spot in the order.