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.