By Christy Hofmann of Athletics Nation
The A’s have fallen off the map in the three seasons following their ALCS appearance in 2006. After finishing a dismal 75-87 last season, landing in the cellar of the AL West, the A’s are back for another try in 2010. The A’s have attempted to replace the offensive power of Matt Holliday with newcomers Kevin Kouzmanoff and Jake Fox, and they have shored up their defense by deploying three natural centerfielders, including free agent signing Coco Crisp, in the outfield.
The A’s light-hitting offense will be tempered by their standout pitching, having signed ace Ben Sheets to their starting rotation for 2010. Sheets missed all of 2009, but expects to be healthy and productive this season. He will anchor the staff, which will include the oft-injured All-Star Justin Duchscherer (assuming he can make it through the spring) and second-year standout Brett Anderson. The A’s bullpen is one of the best in the league, highlighted by last year’s Rookie of the Year, closer Andrew Bailey.
Working in the A’s favor this season is the wide-open AL West; the stranglehold the Angels have had on the division may be gone with their loss of several key players.
Gold Glove third baseman Eric Chavez, who has missed most of the last three seasons, is in camp this year, but the A’s brass took no chances; acquiring Kouzmanoff to fill the hot corner. If healthy, Chavez will back him up, and take at-bats at first base and DH, as well. The A’s re-signed Jack Cust, but also picked up Jake Fox, which adds to the logjam at 1B/DH, and provides an interesting puzzle for the 25-man roster.
Daric Barton will most likely start the year as the A’s first baseman, but five-star rookie prospect Chris Carter is lurking in Triple-A, ready to make his major league debut in 2010. Carter is expected to provide huge offensive numbers for the A’s, and it will only be a matter of time before he secures the position.
Newcomer Adam Rosales is likely to make the team as the utility infielder, and Gabe Gross should be the fourth outfielder. Eric Patterson, who is out of options, will probably have to clear waivers to end up in the A’s minor league system, and it looks like Travis Buck will be aced out of an outfield spot, yet again.
Adding Ben Sheets to the rotation gives the A’s a much-needed veteran ace anchoring their young starting rotation. Sheets and Duchscherer would make a flashy 1/2 combo, but injury-prone Duchscherer, who missed most of last season batting injuries and depression, has already shown signs of back trouble in Spring Training. If he isn’t ready to go by Opening Day, Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, who are battling it out in Spring Training for the #5 spot, will both crack the rotation.
Brett Anderson’s star has never been brighter; now in his second full year of major league work, many are predicting him to continue where he left off after his solid pitching during the second half of last season. If Dallas Braden can stay healthy (his season ended last year with a nerve issue in his foot), he is poised to build on his own solid 2009 season.
If the A’s have an elite-level anything this season, it is their bullpen. Sporting four legitimate set-up men and one of the best closers in all of baseball, the A’s young starting rotation could win some games as long as they can turn a lead over to this crew. The A’s welcome back Joey Devine, who missed all of last season following elbow surgery. He will join Michael Wuertz, who struck out 100 batters in 76 innings last season, Brad Ziegler, who compiled a 1.06 ERA in 2008, Craig Breslow, a Yale graduate with a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, and Andrew Bailey, who matched numbers with the likes of Mariano Rivera and Joe Nathan in his rookie campaign last year, earning him the Rookie of the Year.
In The System
Two of the A’s monster prospects will make their major league debuts in 2010; the only question is when. Chris Carter, acquired in the Dan Haren trade, is expected to be the first baseman of the future. He has been tearing through the minor league system, and despite his limited games at the Triple-A level, he is not expected to be there for very long.
Michael Taylor, built like a linebacker, will be playing in the A’s outfield before too long. A high average hitter, with natural power, he will be an incredible addition to the A’s weak-hitting offensive lineup. But with the two outfield additions this off-season, he may have to wait for an opening (maybe an injury) before it’s his turn.
The A’s have Bob Geren at the helm, who hasn’t yet managed a playoff-impacting game in his time with the A’s. It will be interesting to see his performance if the A’s can actually stay in the 2010 race. Is this the year that Eric Chavez plays a whole season? Can Justin Duschscherer battle his injuries to take his place in the starting rotation? Can Brett Anderson live up to his (considerable) hype? When do A’s fans get to see Carter and Taylor?
Vegas odds have Oakland listed at 125/1, which sounds about right to me. It will take absolutely everything to go right for the A’s to win it all. The starting pitching would have to stay healthy and the offense would have to prove that it’s considerably better than the sum of its parts.