Saturday, October 16, 2010

Irreplaceable Expendability

Sadly A's fans will no longer be able to watch Carney Lansford stutter his way through A's pre and postgame shows on Comcast Sportsnet California. The A’s former third baseman/ quasi-analyst was hired by the Rockies as their hitting coach for the upcoming 2011 season. The Giants may not have had the greatest offense when Carney was instructing their hitters, but it’s probably a safe bet to say he knows more about hitting than he does about public speaking.

I’m not sure how to follow up such a prominent event in A’s history as losing Carney to the Rockies, but here goes the comparatively insignificant: Jeremy Hermida, Ross Wolf, and Brad Kilby were outrighted to the River Cats, with Hermida and Wolf subsequently opting for free agency.

Kilby is still a spring bullpen candidate, which would give the A’s another lefty in relief. That candidacy could strengthen or weaken depending on what Beane does in the winter.

Ross Wolf wasn’t used much despite being up for a significant portion of the season. This move isn’t groundbreaking but it sure makes all the time wasted on Jake Fox before flipping him to Baltimore in exchange for Wolf seem even more senseless. Susan Slusser wrote that Wolf was disappointed to leave the A’s, noting that his teammates were all around his age and that “they’re going to be good next year.” Despite what little A’s fans got to know about Ross Wolf, that particular sentiment should be applauded.

Hermida was the “biggest” name in this bunch, but the move itself was not surprising. The expansive collection of mediocre outfielders the Athletics have compiled didn’t do much to enhance the value of Hermida from the organization’s perspective.

Billy Beane faces what is arguably the most crucial offseason in his tenure as the Athletics GM.

Predictions, hopes, desires, speculation, and what makes sense.

The basic principles of economic exchange entail two parties trading resources which they have a substantial supply of, while in return receiving an entity they have a substantial need for. The A’s only real offensive strength was speed: they finished third in Major League Baseball with 156 steals. That really didn’t translate into much-in the American League, the A’s finished 11th in runs scored, 13th in SLG%, 13th in home runs, and 10th in OPS.

What does this mean? The A’s could try to pitch speed to certain MLB teams who have excess power. The odds of any team biting on such a proposal are slim if the A’s expect the deal to make any real impact. Not many teams overvalue speed anymore. The most notable is probably the divisional neighbor of the Athletics down south in Anaheim, and its unlikely Billy Beane would seek an impact deal with a division rival.

On the more realistic side, the A’s have pitching, pitching, and some more pitching to go along with their pitching. The 2010 A’s finished 1st in the AL in team ERA, 1st in shutouts, and were 2nd in team WHIP. The A’s will more than likely have to give up someone who toes the rubber in order to get an impact bat. Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez should remain untouchable. Vin Mazzaro is easily expendable, so he’s obvious bait-I’m sure the A’s are just waiting to see who actually bites. The tricky situation is when Dallas Braden is thrown in the mix. A lot of people believe his perfect game enhanced his trade value a tremendous amount. A lot would even say its made people over-value Braden, so much so that the A’s could get something even more valuable in return. I actually think just the opposite. Baseball executives are smart people. They’re not going to be tricked by something flashy. But Braden’s numbers this past season weren’t just “alright.” They were good. In some cases, they were really good. Yes, Gio Gonzalez led the A’s in WAR, Trevor Cahill broke out one of the nastiest sinkers in the game to win 18 games at the age of 22 years old, and we all know what Brett Anderson is capable of. But Dallas Braden was one of the most efficient workers in baseball in 2010. Braden walked 2.01 batters per nine innings, good enough for 5th in the AL. As a result, his WHIP was just 1.16, good enough for 6th in the league. He also missed throwing 200 innings by just 7.1 innings. His reliance on fooling hitters with off-speed pitches rather than velocity allowed Braden to toss 5 complete games, two of which were shutouts. To put Braden’s efficiency in perspective, Trevor Cahill led the rotation in WHIP at 1.11, 4th in the AL. Braden was 6th, just 0.05 behind his teammate. Brett Anderson, also known for his efficiency, finished at 1.19, with Gio Gonzalez rounding out the fab four at 1.31. Most people would’ve likely assumed Braden third in WHIP in the rotation at best, given Gio’s erratic control at times. But Braden proved to be the 6th most efficient starting pitcher in the American League.

Is that worth a bat? Consider what rules everything: $

The other side of things where I would be in favor of a Braden trade are financially related. Braden will easily be the A's most expensive arbitration case this offseason. But that's an easily countered argument because the A's are going to have quite a bit of money to spend anyway. Ben Sheets ($10 million), Justin Duchscherer ($1.75 million), and Eric Chavez ($12 million/ $12.5 million 2011 option [$3 million buyout]) have all likely seen their last days in green and gold. Those three players alone take $20.75 million off the A's payroll. Furthermore, money owed to longtime A's great Willy Taveras comes off the books this winter, in addition to cash still owed to Jason Giambi after his release in 2009. Pending options to Coco Crisp and Mark Ellis that total roughly $11.75 million combined could give or take money from the final tally. Gabe Gross, Jack Cust, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Conor Jackson and Travis Buck could all possibly disappear from the payroll as well, though it's unlikely Kouz will be set free, and I'd prefer to see Conor Jackson take on the Gabe Gross role of 2011.

Despite all the money to spend, the A's aren't going to go on a free agent shopping-spree this winter. For one, it's been well documented that the teams' had a fair amount of trouble convincing big-name hitters on the open market that the Coliseum isn't as bad as it looks (literally). Secondly, the open market doesn't have too many great-looking investments this year anyway. Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Adrian Beltre, Manny Ramirez, and Adam Dunn all come to mind as real impact bats. I'm hoping the A's stay away from a one year deal with Hideki Matsui or Johnny Damon. A Miggy reunion would certainly be welcomed but Tejada's a type-A free agent, and I'm not sure the 37 year-old warrants the loss of two draft picks. Quite frankly, the only one I would be really happy to see the A's sign who the Yankees haven't already psychologically outbid them for is Adam Dunn. Nat's GM Mike Rizzo called Dunn "the most consistent player in the game" awhile back. It would be nice to get some consistency on the offensive side of things in Oakland for once.

Hopefully the excess money is used wisely. Extensions through the arbitration years of Cahill, Gio, possibly Braden, and maybe even Barton would be nice to see, especially if the A's could add some options onto those potential deals.

Hopefully soon I’ll be able to get my next post up. I’m trying to break down each component of the team in a few parts. I’d like to point out some things I believe are possible, and how certain needs could be addressed. I’m going to try to do one post about the infield, the outfield, the bullpen, and the rotation.

After they've gotten a few more games in I'll provide updates on Grant Green, Steve Parker, and Michael Taylor, who are all playing for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. Travis Banwart, Michael Benacka and Justin James also join them in the desert as the A's pitching representatives for Phoenix. Let's hope none of our big time prospects win AFL MVP before deciding to become priests.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

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