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September 24, 2009
Baseball Prospectus' Pre-season Projection: 84-78, first place
Buster Olney of ESPN.com's Take
What went wrong: Oakland acquired a group of veteran position players under the premise that the old guard of Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera, and others could help to stabilize the conditions for the development of the Athletics' young pitchers-and provide a bunch of runs. As it turned out, the young pitchers had to carry the anemic lineup, which produced the AL's lowest slugging percentage and fewest home runs and is 21st in the majors in on-base percentage. Since Oakland changed course-trading Holliday and Cabrera while dumping Giambi-the team has actually played well, scoring more runs with guys like Cliff Pennington leading the way.
Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: Oakland has a chance to have a solid pitching staff in 2010, but the Athletics desperately need power in the form of a high-impact bat. The expectation is that Brett Wallace, the major piece acquired in the Holliday deal, will help the Athletics' offense, but Oakland will need more pop than the rookie cornerman might be ready to provide. The Athletics, with very little in the way of long-term financial obligations, will have a lot of payroll flexibility to try to land the kind of bargain that the Angels got when they signed Bobby Abreu.
The Baseball Prospectus Take
While we projected the A's to win the AL West, that was a somewhat mild-mannered prediction, given that somebody had to win the division and PECOTA was more enthusiastic about the A's young pitching than it was about the Angels' offense or the Rangers' defense. The Angels, however, survived ghastly early-season bullpen woes and injuries in the rotation while the Rangers aggressively addressed both their D and an organizational culture of complaint and failure on the mound. The A's? They saw their attempts at patching up a bad lineup fall flat-and their young pitchers struggle as much as you might anticipate, as the rotation ranks 12th in the AL in Support-Neutral Winning Percentage. Factor in one of the league's worst defenses; their Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rates ahead of only the Blue Jays'. The result? With a pitching staff stacked with promise and a lineup almost equally bereft of it, baseball's best last-place team is under-equipped to compete in an improving division.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus
Key Stat: .136
That's the mark that's good enough for tops in the American League-for worst Isolated Power (ISO). If the Moneyball mindset was, to some extent, defined by finding productive and potent hitters on the cheap (such as Matt Stairs or Olmedo Saenz), today's A's suffer from a basic absence of power. This is troubling since every great Oakland team has had sluggers. While that .136 clip is an improvement on last year's 13
ESPN's Rumor Central
Free Agency: It's still bargain-hunting by the Bay. And while Buster Olney notes how the Angels found a Honus Wagner card in the commons bin in the form of Bobby Abreu, that also takes Abreu off the market. There's no such thing as a perpetual bargain, unless we're talking Tim Wakefield. Ex-A's outfielder Jermaine Dye is likely done in Chicago. He's 35 and could make an ideal OF/DH platoon-surely more productive than Jason Giambi was, and potentially for a few years. Or consider Miguel Tejada, who will likely be out of Houston and can play third base, shortstop, or DH when needed. Our speech: You haven't won in a while-get the some of the old band back together! (This time, just lose Giambi's number.)
Money: The A's have avoided arbitration for the last two years with Justin Duchscherer, which now means he's free to go. Of course, he's also coming off a season marred not just by injury, but by the diagnosis of clinical depression. The Duke has been stellar when healthy; the A's will look to re-sign him if they can.
Who 2 Watch 4: Chris Carter, 1B
After leading the minor leagues with 288 total bases in 2008, Carter upped the ante a bit this year with 310, in no small part because he raised his batting average from .259 to .329. The A's have been desperate for any kind of real production from the first-base position for years, and they'll take a long look at Carter next spring to see if he is ready to be the answer-and if they can live with his hands of stone at first base.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
The Bottom Line
The pitching they've acquired through the draft (and their many trades) should improve with more experience. The A's will still be sorting through keepers and sendoffs to Triple-A Sacramento, but next year's selections shouldn't be like this year's open casting call. The real question is the lineup. Even the veteran "success" stories, guys like Rajai Davis and Adam Kennedy, are placeholders at best. However promising the pitching is, and a prospect like Carter might be, the A's master plan is going to have to account for the fact that the other three teams in the division are all being run to win, now and into the future. It isn't easy to achieve brilliant masterstrokes when the competition's every bit as smart, and the AL West figures to be tough for years to come.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .