Our guest bloggers is Matt Seybold from The Sporting Hippeaux.
Question 1 – How many starts will the team receive from Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer?
Aaron: I’ll set the over/under at 30 combined starts for Sheets and Duchscherer. Duke has already pulled up lame this spring and had a nerve issue dealt with. The word is he will not be ready for Opening Day. Depending on how much time he misses, he might have to build up arm strength out of the bullpen when he returns to Oakland. Sheets will miss a month or so to injury – he always does – and almost assuredly won’t be on the roster beyond the trading deadline if he’s healthy and even reasonably effective.
Matt: Aaron hit the nail on the head. If Sheet and Dutch can combine for 30-35 good starts and, as such, act as co-anchors for the rotation, the A’s should be satisfied. Anything more is a bonus. The good news for Oakland is that when/if they each make their perennial trip to the DL, the A’s still have a bunch of high-upside arms (Mazzaro, Gonzalez, Outman, Mortensen, etc.), most of whom got some experience in ’09. They should be able to find a competent addition to the backend of the rotation when necessary.
Eugene: I’d think that those 2 having full seasons off would be able to help them, but we’ll see. I’d take the over of 30 starts though. Both are playing for contracts and the opportunity to join a contender at the deadline.
Question 2 – Is Billy Beane all hype?
Aaron: ALL hype? Of course not. OVERhyped? Absolutely. And, I’m the biggest A’s fan any of you will never meet. Yes, Beane worked wonders with a shoe-string budget and a sinkhole stadium that doesn’t generate a fraction of the revenue of today’s mall-parks. It’s easy (and lazy) to chalk up the success of the team from 2000-2004 as a product of lucking out with Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, but Beane acquired several invaluable players during their run – often on the cheap – who made huge contributions (Kevin Appier, Cory Lidle, Mark Ellis, Jermaine Dye, Mark Kotsay, etc.)
He deserved a lot of the praise he was getting then. The problem, to me, is that he deserves more criticism today. The A’s have had several empty drafts, recently and have been forced to restock the farm system by dealing the same kind of young, affordable Major League talent that the A’s would never have traded away 10 years ago. He went all-in on a rebuilding effort in 2008, then set the plan back a full year with his nonsensical attempts to field a contender in 2009. And, as I wrote here on Inside Pulse and over at my lightly-read blog, the signing of Ben Sheets might be the first time a player was picked up in which the intended best case scenario was flipping him for prospects at the deadline.
I like Beane. Really, I do. But, this lifetime pass he’s procured from the sabermetric community is maddening, sometimes.
Matt: Perhaps the Moneyball “hype” was a bit excessive, but I also think the backlash against Beane has been too extreme. To me, he remains one of the better general managers in the game. Not the best, but certainly in the top ten, maybe even the top five. He understands that with his limited resources he has to take some risks and employ ambitious strategies. Sometimes that pays off, last year is certainly did not. However, I still saw the logic behind taking a few high-risk/high-reward veterans (Giambi, Garciaparra) on the cheap and bringing in a couple of guys who he could turn around at the deadline (Cabrera, Holliday) even if things didn’t work out. He definitely didn’t do any long-term damage to the organization.
I think Oakland is probably a year or two away from being a contender again, but they’ve assembling a nice stockpile of young pitchers (Anderson, Cahill, Gonzalez, etc.) and some potential impact bats (Carter, Taylor) coming through the system as well. They will finally be rid of Eric Chavez’s horrible contract at the end of this season, which will increase Beane’s financial flexibility as he looks at the strong 2011 free agent class.
Eugene: I’m a big fan of Beane’s work, but how can you not say he’s all hype? He’s built some great teams, but ultimately he’s not brought a World Series to Oakland. In fact, the team has really taken a step back over the last 3 years. They haven’t drafted like they did early in his career. It seems like he’s signing guys thinking about dealing them in a couple of months and most of those deals haven’t worked out (Both deals with Dan Haren have, but what about the deals sending out Street, Blanton, Harden, and Hudson? It’s too early to tell on the Holliday sale.)
Question 3 – Which young pitcher will contribute the most this year?
Aaron: The most obvious choice is Brett Anderson. The 22-year-old lefty was understandably inconsistent for the first few months of the 2009 season, as he broke camp with the A’s. Then on July 6, he became the first rookie southpaw to shut out the Red Sox at Fenway in 20 years (shout out to Jim Abbott!) From that start through the end of the season, Anderson went 7-4 with a 3.03 ERA and 98 Ks in 101 innings. Most of the advanced metrics indicated that Anderson was far and away the best pitcher on the A’s staff last year and the most effective rookie starter in the league. He’ll be fun to watch going forward. Also, keep an eye on LHP Gio Gonzalez. He’s gotten this far mostly on the nastiness of his stuff. If he ever learns to actually pitch, he might finally be able to take the next step.
Matt: Definitely love Anderson. I’d be surprised if he wasn’t one of the breakout players of 2010 and the Ace of the Oakland staff in 2011 and beyond. Beane seems to believe that he’s got the makings of the next “Big Three” or even “Big Four,” with Anderson, Cahill, Gonzalez, Mazarro, Outman, and Mortensen. There’s only room in the rotation for one or two of them (depending on injury progress), but I’d bet that Cahill and Gonzalez will get the longest looks in camp. Gonzalez is exciting to watch, almost like the second coming of Kerry Wood, but with similar control issues. If he can harness his stuff, I think he’s got the most upside of the whole lot.
Eugene: I really didn’t like the Cardinals trading Clayton Mortensen; he’s got the potential to be a mid-rotation starter. He’ll get his shot when someone goes to the DL. I agree about Gonzalez too; if he can harness his stuff, he’ll be a really good pitcher.
Question 4 – How will the A’s finish the season?
Matt: I could see the A’s making a run at .500, but I don’t think this is the year they get back to the playoffs. The pitching staff has a chance to be very good and, of course, sometime that’s enough, but the AL West has a lot of depth in 2010 and I don’t think the Athletics are going to be able to hang offensively unless they get production from somewhere totally unexpected. Is this the year that Eric Chavez is finally healthy? Is this the year that Kevin Kouzmanoff suddenly turns into a .300 hitter? Could Coco Crisp become an All-Star? Those are the kinds of things that Oakland would need to happen in order to leapfrog into the postseason hunt. I’m certainly not going to bet on it. Fourth place, 78 wins.
Eugene: Last in the West – they don’t have the hitting in place to compete with the other 3 teams. The young guys may need a season or 2 to really get their footing in the Majors.
Aaron: 4th place – between 70 and 75 wins. I’m just not a believer that the talent they brought in this offseason (Ben Sheets, Coco Crisp) can stay healthy and as an A’s fan, it drives me crazy that the team’s best options for first base and a corner OF spot are going to start the year at Triple-A for “service time” concerns. They’ll be more fun to watch than the team that started 2009, but the A’s are a couple of years away from contending again.
Tags: 30 Teams in 30 Days, Baseball, Baseball Preview, Ben Sheets, Oakland Athletics, Roundtable