Saturday, December 18, 2010

Harden Returns, Willingham Acquired

One day after the A’s ended their disappointing streak on the open market with the additions of Hideki Matsui and Brandon McCarthy, Billy Beane added a familiar face to the Oakland roster. Rich Harden agreed to a 1-year, $1.5 million deal. The very next day, Beane acquired OF Josh Willingham from the Washington Nationals in exchange for RP Henry Rodriguez and minor-league OF Corey Brown.

The A’s plan to use Rich Harden as a reliever in 2011, though he may compete for the 5th-starter spot with Josh Outman and Brandon McCarthy. Harden came up in the Oakland system, first breaking into the majors in 2003. He was one of the most promising young pitchers in baseball prior to the 2005 season. Harden’s reputation as a hard-throwing, strikeout pitcher gradually became overshadowed by his current reputation as an injury-prone liability. As recently as 2007 Harden was the Opening Day starter for the A’s and will don the same uniform in the upcoming campaign (but will likely be used in a different capacity). The intentions for Harden in 2011 to work out of the bullpen are an understandable measure taken by the A’s, considering his history.

The acquisition of Josh Willingham from the Nationals addresses Oakland’s most pressing need – offense. Despite having one of the most dominant young pitching staffs in Major League Baseball last season, the Oakland offense was among the least productive. The infield boasted dazzling defensive numbers using various metrics that countered their quiet bats, but the outfield did neither - with the exception of Coco Crisp (who didn’t play the entire season). The A’s plan on using Willingham primarily in LF, Crisp in CF and the recent off-season acquisition from KC, David DeJesus in RF. Ryan Sweeney now becomes the A’s fourth OF, but should still see plenty of playing time as a result of his versatility in the outfield.

While the A’s have now added Willingham, Matsui, and DeJesus to their lineup, the lacking offense still remains an issue. The urgency of its acknowledgment has certainly been alleviated (to an extent), but Beane implied over conference call that the team is probably not done searching for help.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A's Add Matsui, McCarthy

After a combination of both disappointing results and a lack of development regarding the offers made to free-agents on their behalf, (some of which were reported to include Adrian Beltre, Adam Dunn, Lance Berkman, as well as the now infamous Hisashi Iwakuma) the Oakland Athletics finally found success on back-to-back days in the middle of December. On Monday, the 13th, the Athletics inked RHP Brandon McCarthy to a 1-year, $1 million deal that could be worth an additional $1.6 million in incentives. The very next day the A's announced the signing of the former Yomiuri Giant, New York Yankee, and most recently, Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim, Hideki Matsui. Matsui's deal was initially reported around $6 million, but a number of subsequent figures reported the deal at $4.25 million. The A's also avoided arbitration by reaching a 1-year agreement with reliever Joey Devine.

While the McCarthy deal is obviously the less publicized of the two, the A's added what many believe could be a diamond-in-the-rough starting-pitcher as a fifth-starter candidate. Those well versed in the career of Brandon McCarthy may be quick to point out that the 27-year old righty was ranked by Baseball America as the #49 prospect in all of baseball entering the 2005 season for the Chicago White Sox. Although his big-league progress has been hindered by shoulder injuries that have persisted largely since he was first called-up, in 8 minor-league seasons McCarthy's posted a 9.8 K/9IP, a 1.10 WHIP, and a 5.26 K/BB ratio that everyone with the exception of Cliff Lee would envy. Following the dissolution of the Iwakuma talks, the addition of McCarthy to the A's staff not only saves the club $18 million, ($19 million for the Iwakuma posting fee - $1 million for McCarthy) but sets up an exciting and interesting battle for the final spot in the Oakland rotation. Adding to an already talented top-4 in Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden, the two favorites for the fifth spot are McCarthy, and the recovering Josh Outman who missed all of 2010 due to Tommy John surgery that was undergone in the previous season. Bobby Cramer, Tyson Ross, and Clay Mortensen are among those who round out the remaining popular candidates for the job.

The addition of Hideki Matsui to the A's lineup aids an offense that was among the worst in 2010. While Matsui's power isn't quite that of Dunn, the 36-year old DH/OF provides a level of pop the A's have lacked for the past few seasons. Matsui will go into the 2011 season with a career .848 OPS - the only Athletics over .800 in 2010 were the recently departed Jack Cust, and the young 2nd baseman Eric Sogard, who accomplished the feat in 4 games. Adding Matsui as the A's primary DH allows the team to utilize a modified platoon at the position. The left-handed hitting Matsui can take the majority of games against righties, while the young right-handed hitting Chris Carter can ease into the position by taking most of the games against lefties. Although Hideki Matsui is certainly a welcomed bat in Oakland, it is unlikely that the A's are done with their search for more offense. Even if no deals are announced, it won't mean the A's didn't explore more options. It is hard to imagine Billy Beane will rest until every stone has been turned.