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3 Oakland Athletics

March 31, 2008
March 31, 2008

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March 31, 2008

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3 Oakland Athletics

"BILLY BEANE HAS BEGUN ANOTHER RENOVATION--THIS ONE MASSIVE EVEN BY HIS STANDARDS."

ABOUT THREE hoursbefore the San Diego Chargers played the Tennessee Titans in an NFL wild-cardplayoff on Jan. 6, Eric Chavez was dropping back in the Qualcomm Stadiumparking lot and flinging 30-yard passes on post patterns through oncomingtraffic. Fellow tailgaters, captivated by the tight spirals and familiar smooththrowing motion, easily picked Chavez out of the crowd even though he waswearing a LaDainian Tomlinson jersey.

This is an article from the March 31, 2008 issue

While Chavez isrecognizable without his name on the back of his uniform, most of his teammatesare not. When A's second baseman Mark Ellis--one of the three other holdoversfrom last year's Opening Day lineup--showed up for spring training in Phoenixthis year, he scanned the clubhouse for familiar faces. There was Chavez, theGold Glove third baseman, and who else? "It was like I didn't know anybodyanymore," Ellis said. "It felt as though I had been tradedtoo."

Oakland generalmanager Billy Beane, master of the tear down, has begun anotherrenovation--this one massive even by his standards. Over the years the A's havelost Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Johnny Damon, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder andBarry Zito to richer markets. But this winter was particularly harsh, as theclub dealt its best pitcher in 2007 (Dan Haren) to the Diamondbacks, their bestslugger (Nick Swisher) to the White Sox and their centerfielder (Mark Kotsay)to the Braves, all for a bunch of players most of their fans had never heardof.

"The more youplay here, the more you get used to it," says shortstop Bobby Crosby."It can be hard losing your friends, but you always have faith in Billy,because he's done this so many times in the past. He always puts us in aposition to win."

Usually after theA's have lost or unloaded stars, they remained competitive because they had theprospects ready to step in. But even the Oakland pipeline eventually runs dry.The trades this winter were supposed to replenish a depleted farm system andstockpile for the future. In exchange for Haren, Swisher, Kotsay and pitcherConnor Robertson--a throw-in in the Haren deal--the A's netted 11 prospects,six of whom Baseball America ranks among the top 10 in theorganization.

Carlos Gonzalez,22, the centerpiece of the Haren deal, is an outfielder with power who appearsready for the major leagues. Lefthander Gio Gonzalez, 22, the key piece of theSwisher deal, struck out 185 batters in 150 innings in Double A lastseason and should be in the bigs by the All-Star break. Lefty Brett Anderson,20, who came from Arizona, as well as righty Fautino De Los Santos, 22, whocame from the White Sox, have power arms with good command; they will likelystart the season in Class A Stockton, where the A's are grooming one ofthe most promising rotations in the minor leagues. "Billy Beane knowsexactly what he's doing," Gio Gonzalez says. "We just have to go outthere as a group and prove him right."

Patience isrequired. From 1999 through 2006 Oakland finished either first or second in theAL West. Last year the A's slipped to third and, with the Rangers stockpilingyoung, major-league-ready talent, they could fall into the division cellar overthe next few years. But Beane recognizes the reality of small-market baseball:It's sometimes necessary to take a step back before taking two stepsforward.

Crosby, however,insists that Oakland can contend now, provided the regulars are able to stayoff the disabled list. Last season Crosby, Chavez, starting pitcher Rich Hardenand closer Huston Street each missed at least two months of the season withinjuries. Alas, Chavez, who's coming off three back surgeries, is likely tostart the season on the DL. But even if he fully recuperates . . . well, then,the A's will probably still be looking up at the Angels and the Mariners.

CONSIDER THIS amodest proposal ...

Whatever the A'shave tried with Rich Harden, it hasn't kept him healthy. But they would be wiseto consider an idea that is at once old and new again: Make the hard-throwing26-year-old righthander a Sunday starter. In addition to keeping Harden'sworkload down, there is evidence that he is especially effective on extra rest:Harden has a 2.96 lifetime ERA when taking at least six days between starts.While the plan would max out Harden at 26 starts--the number of Sundaysthat Oakland has on its schedule--that figure would be a significant upgradefor a pitcher who has started 20 or more games in a major league season onceand who made a total of 13 starts over the past two years (shoulder, elbow andback injuries). And if the A's want to risk it, they could also use him in thebullpen on his throwing day between starts.

THE NUMBERS

DON'T LIE

3.09

Plate appearancesper strikeout last season by slugger Jack Cust, the worst ratio in the majors.Only two players in history--Dave Nicholson (2.97 for the White Sox in 1963)and Rob Deer (3.05 and 3.04 for the 1986 and '87 Brewers, respectively, and3.08 for the '91 Tigers)--had worse single-season marks. Cust's ratio is noanomaly: In 11 minor league seasons Cust struck out once every 3.88 plateappearances.

 

THE LINEUP

PROJECTED ROSTERWITH 2007 STATISTICS

MANAGER BOB GERENSECOND SEASON WITH OAKLAND

View this article in the original magazine

TRAVIS BUCK RF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R167.2887344
DARIC BARTON (R)1B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R98.347481
MIKE SWEENEY (New Aquisition) DH
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R229.2607380
JACK CUST LF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R116.25626820
ERIC CHAVEZ 3B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R132.24015464
MARK ELLIS 2B
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R130.27619769
BOBBY CROSBY SS
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R200.22683110
CHRIS DENORFIA*CF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R269.283171
KURT SUZUKI C
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R213.2497390
BENCH
EMIL BROWN (New Aquisition) OF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
R278.25766212
JACK HANNAHANIF
B-TPVRBAHRRBISB
L-R263.2783241
ROTATIONPITCHERPVRWLK/9WHIPERA
RHJoe Blanton7014105.51.223.95
RHRich Harden40129.51.132.45
RHJustin Duchscherer193337.21.594.96
RHChad Gaudin21711137.01.534.42
LHDana Eveland†177104.91.411.95
BULLPENPITCHERPVRWSVK/9WHIPERA
RHHuston Street4651611.30.942.88
LHAlan Embree2231176.81.263.97
RHKeith Foulke*265306.51.194.35

New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws *2006 stats †Triple A stats

WHIP: Walks plushits per inning pitched

PVR: Player ValueRanking (explanation on page 62)

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SI VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI

JUNE 17, 1974

"I LOOK in the record book," Richie Allen says,"and I see Reggie has never hit .300. And I wonder how he can do all thattalking." But other players commend him roundly. Whatever his flaws andrough edges, Jackson has put together a package of power, speed, science,flash, funk, outspoken quotability, popularity, fun-lovingness, social andeconomic independence and winningness that is unique among ballplayers. AndReggie knows and loves it. Whupp.--Roy Blount Jr.

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PHOTOMICHAEL ZAGARIS/MLB PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGESDOWNSLIDE The '07 A's fell hard after injuries to key players such as Chavez, whose balky back further cripples an already thin lineup.PHOTOBRAD MANGIN (HARDEN)PHOTOFRED KAPLAN (COVER)