Baseball Prospectus’ Pre-season Projection: 84-78, first place
Current record: 72-79, fourth place

On the plus side, Aaron Sorkin is re-writing the script for a Moneyball movie, which may star Brad Pitt as Billy Beane.

Buster Olney of’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 13th-place .127, the relative ranking reflects how much the attempt to patch the club’s obvious power needs with aging veterans-and the non-development of youngsters like Daric Barton, Ryan Sweeney, Travis Buck, and Aaron Cunningham-have left the club waiting for next-gen answers in the lineup while throwing their young pitching into the fray with little in the way of run support.-Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

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

Draft recap

Signed: 29 of 49
Spent: Just over $6 million.
Hit: Max Stassi, C (123rd overall): The A’s didn’t pass on Stassi, perhaps the best catching prospect in the draft, despite knowing he’d cost first-round money.
Miss: Justin Marks, LHP (92nd overall): Both Marisnick and outfielder Todd Glaesmann (75th on Keith Law of’s Top 100) were still available. Not signing right-hander Sam Dyson robs the A’s of having an even better draft class.-Jason A. Churchill,

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 Insider.

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Would Hideki Matsui be worth a one or two-year deal as a DH?
Max Stassi appears again! This guy must be the second coming of JC.
Max Stassi is better than 10 Matt Wieterses.
That's Wieterae, I think you mean.
Perhaps you haven't paid attention to Wieters' latest production. He has been astoundingly hot, raising his BA into the .290s. Last night he hit a monster HR off the face of Toronto's 3rd deck.

It's a wonder people aren't watching the Orioles recent games, in light off how meaningfut they are for the post-season.
What are you talking about? We were paying homage to Wieters' impending godhood and the fact that Max Stassi has oddly been mentioned in at least THREE (to my count) of these Kiss 'Em Goodbye articles.
This just in: Max Stassi is amazing.
I don't think you guys completely appreciate how much Oakland's failures are being lauded by the statistics-hating crowd as proof that numbers don't matter.

Well when BP picks Boston, Cleveland, and the A's to win their divisions a total of 11 times in the last 5 years and they are right exactly TWICE, can you blame them?

No way to sugarcoat a pathetic record.
BP generally -- and Joe Sheehan particularly -- haven't helped matters by routinely setting unrealistic expectations for the A's. IIRC, Sheehan pegged them as the 6th or 7th best team in baseball at the start of the season. That projection was laughable then, and even worse then that now.
Is Rajai Davis really a placeholder? He's already provided 3.8 WAR this year, and even with a likely regression in offensive production next season, his defense is still excellent and well worth having him in the line-up.
As much as I'm enjoying Davis' season as a fan, and while I'm glad to see him beat the platoon rate, his walk rate's still not anything special, and he'll be 29 next year. He makes for a very decent placeholder, certainly, and he's an improvement on what they've had, but it's hard to say they're set in center all the way until they have their next contending ballclub.
Who 2 Watch 4? Instead of Who to Watch for?

Please never do that again.
Agreed. I'm assuming it's something ESPN made them do. With a gun to their head. Otherwise...please never do that again.
I third that. Guys - please - many of us DESPISE Espn.
I'm still trying to figure out Who's Now now.
The A's situation isn't as dire as it looks. Ellis/Pennington from the start next year will shore up the infield D (and Barton is turning into a good glove at 1st.). Davis isn't this good, but I like him as one of a rotation of 4 outfielders next year, a rotation, that again, will be much improved defensively since Cust will never have to pick up a glove. Cust, since he abandoned his plan of cutting down on k's by being more aggressive has gone back to his old TTO self. The pitching should improve with experience (Brett Anderson is going to be a star) and an already solid bullpen has a chance to be excellent. The real work this offseason will be 3rd base. If Beane can pull a rabbit out of the hat there, the A's will be competitive (I'm not sold on Kennedy or Wallace). And if anyone mentions Eric Chavez I will hire Lance Blankenship to hunt you down. Seriously. And this doesn't even take into account Carter and Cardenas and Wallace whom I suspect will be knocking on the door by July.

And yes, ESPN is pure evil. Thanks to MLB TV I haven't had to watch Sports Center or BBTN all season. Now if we can just get them to get rid of Mitch Williams (last night he referred to NCIS as a "thinking man's television show" I swear to you I'm not making that up.
For all you ESPN haters, you should move to Canada! We don't get it here.
The A's stink period. In many ways I admire Billy Beane as a GM (he should have taken Boston's offer a few years ago), but Money Ball really didn't do him any favors. The bias shown by Baseball Prospectus towards the A's has been absurd and based on some very dubious numbers. For a GM who places high value on OBP, why does he not play small ball. I know, I know, Bill James says bunting is a waste of time. Maybe the A's could hire Brad Pitt as a consultant.
At SOME point, a team has to invest in a few players for the long-term and pony up the money to do so. The As never do.
Except that they did; Crosby and Chavez, for example. The problem hasn't been a willingness to make long-term commitments, it has been picking the wrong few guys to make them to.
Also Jermaine Dye, after the ALDS leg break. The A's always seem to have their money sitting on the DL.