Spring Postcard: A's have found other overlooked skills to value
"Listen," says Beane, 47, now entering his 13th season as the A's GM, and his 21st in the franchise's management. "When we started putting our clubs together in Oakland, we built them on three-run homers and walks. That's no longer a skill that we can afford. My first choice to build an offensive club would be a bunch of guys who hit homers and get on base. That's my first choice. As people start to pay for that skill, then we have to keep going down the list."
"Down the list" translates to an increased focus on run prevention, as opposed to the pricier run production, a focus shared by a number of other mid- to small-market teams, most notably the Mariners. But Oakland's payroll projects to be among the league's five lowest, around $55 million, to Seattle's $90-plus million, so Beane, as usual, had to be more creative than most in his effort to assemble a competitive team. That will mean relying on a rotation stocked with young pitchers with the potential to far outperform their salaries, the best of whom should be 22-year-old lefty
Beane's focus on run prevention also led him to assemble a group of fielders that should rank among the league's best, particularly in the outfield, which will feature a trio of starters who have all been significantly above-average defensive center fielders.
Davis, Crisp and Sweeney, however, combined to hit just 12 home runs last season -- every other outfield in baseball contains at least one player who by himself exceeded that total -- but Beane isn't overly concerned about his lineup's lack of power. "At the end of the day, if you score 500 runs in a season and your opponents score 400 runs in a season, it's the same as scoring 1000 and giving up 900," he says. "It's still ultimately a zero-sum game. You try to use some equation, and some combination, that allows you to succeed. For us and the Mariners, it's defense."
Despite being required to work the second-most innings (559.1) of any bullpen last season, A's relievers, rather impressively, ranked third in the majors, and first in the AL, in combined ERA (3.54). They were particularly good during a late-season stretch in which Oakland won 16 of 20 games between Sept. 5 and Sept. 26 -- they had a 1.98 ERA and allowed a .211 batting average against in those three weeks -- before a deflating, season-ending seven-game losing streak. It wasn't just AL Rookie of the Year closer
"If we were ahead after six innings, we felt really good about winning that game," says manager
Bailey, Breslow, Wuertz and Ziegler will all return in 2010. So will
Since 2006, when they went 93-69 and advanced to the ALCS, the A's have won 76, 75 and 75 games. The 2010 A's, though are a very different club than they were four years ago, not only in personnel -- the only holdovers are second baseman
Beane's reimagining of his club into one based on young pitching, fielding and speed seems to be nearing completion, although he could still be a few power hitters -- some of which might be on the way (see items below) -- away from again challenging for the division's title. Still, even in a seemingly stacked AL West, a half-dozen win improvement over last season seems manageable. By 2011 -- even without Sheets, who will likely have signed elsewhere, or, even more likely, will have been traded elsewhere before this season's end for yet more young and cheap prospects -- the A's should be contenders once more.
Carter, 23 and acquired in 2007 from the Diamondbacks in the
Both are physically imposing: Carter is 6'4", Taylor is 6'6". While Carter, who will likely play first base, possesses more raw power -- he hit 28 home runs last year in the minors, and 39 the year before -- Taylor is perhaps more versatile. The A's expect him to be an above-average defensive outfielder, and even though he hit 20 home runs in the Phillies organization in '09, he also displayed a plate discipline possessed by few players of his considerable size. He struck out 70 times in 116 games, and hit .320 with a .395 OBP.
Taylor also, says Beane, "puts about as good a first impression on you as you can imagine. I got off the phone with him when we traded for him, and I said, listen, this kid on the phone was about as impressive a young man as you'd want." Taylor is 19 units, or about one academic quarter, shy of graduating from Stanford with a degree in Political Science -- he focused on American government and U.S.-Middle East relations -- and intends to complete his degree, his studies for which were interrupted when he was drafted after his junior season, in short order. Of his chances of making the A's this season, he says, "You're talking to a guy who has not seen one major league pitch, so it would be a little presumptuous of me to sit here and say, yes, I'm going to provide something at the major league level. But I'm trying to get better, so that whatever skill set I have shines."
Kouzmanoff, 28 years old and now with his third team after the A's acquired him from the Padres in a trade centered on spare outfielder
Speaking of possible sources of power, few players have ever had as much power potential as the 6'4" McPherson, a 2nd round pick of the Angels in 2001 who was
The result of all that is that McPherson is 29 years old now and has played in just 128 big league games. He's in A's camp on a minor league deal, as a non-roster invitee and is under no illusions about his standing. McPherson knows that the window for him to start a long big league career has almost closed. "Hopefully if I play well and stay healthy," he says, "some day there will be a need for me." If there's one place where his services might be needed, it's in Oakland, which has eyed him for at least two years, and which in 2007 gave a chance to a then 28-year-old slugger: Cust, who, like McPherson, had yet to find a big league home. Cust has hit 84 home runs in his three seasons as an A. "Jack's issue was he never got the chance," says Beane. "Dallas's issue is that he's never been able to stay healthy when opportunities presented themselves. If he has health, it's hard to find that kind of corner power." McPherson is as deep a sleeper as deep sleepers get, but he shouldn't be overlooked.
The television in Beane's office is usually tuned to Fox Soccer Channel, and Beane, who along with several members of his staff attended the World Cup in Germany in 2006, is borderline fanatical about the beautiful game. He particularly admires Arsenal boss