Monday, December 13, 2010

Why Not the A's?


After suffering a few years of verbal abuse from the anti-Moneyball crowd, Billy Beane and the Athletics are primed for another run to the top of a severely weakened AL West. Let's survey the landscape:

The A's are quietly building one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball (again). Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, and Dallas Braden, all carried ERAs under 3.50 last year, with Cahill and Anderson coming in under the 3.00 mark. Couple that with Billy's latest reclamation project Rich Harden (he's due to connect on one of these), and the A's may well have the division's best rotation.

The A's perennial problem seems to be offense, although they did score a respectable 663 runs last year. But....ESPN.com reports today that Oakland appears "close to a deal" with veteran DH Hideki Matsui. Laugh, go ahead, but Matsui is a very productive player that fits the Billy-ball style of play. If you disregard his first year with the Yankees, and the two seasons that he suffered major injuries, Matsui has posted an OBP of .360 or higher (his lowest all things considered is .353) and swatted more than 20 hrs in each of his big league seasons. That's five seasons of 20 or more. Couple that with addition of David DeJesus and the A's can expect at least modest improvement.

But the biggest reason for optimism by the Bay might be the epic failures of their division rivals during this off-season. Seattle is in rebuilding mode. The Angels struggled last year, and although almost everyone predicted they'd be big players in the free agent market this winter, they swung and missed at each offering. They couldn't land Crawford, Werth, or Lee (it appears) and they need Kendry Morales to return to full strength in order to have a prayer.

And then there's the Texas Rangers, the defending AL champs. If they lose Lee to the Yankees they could be in big trouble. It looks like Vlad Guerrero is already half-way out the door, and without Lee they're the same old Rangers. Great offense with a pitching staff full of nobodies. They'll still have Neftali Feliz to shut the door (or start?), but those other weaknesses might make innings one through eight a mighty struggle.

That leaves us with the A's, welcome to Oakland baby.

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