The Oakland Athletics finished 2011 with a 74-88 record, which put them in 3rd place in the AL West. After reeling off 8 straight winning seasons and 5 playoff appearances from ’99-’06, the A’s haven’t had a winning season in the last five years. And in the last ten years, their payroll has fluctuated everywhere between $40 million and $80 million, with no real connection seen between a higher payroll and greater success. It would seem that Billy Beane’s “moneyball” system worked very well for several years, but has taken a bit of a hit the last few years. If you look at their 2011 roster, you’ll notice that their top 5 players were all pitchers. Yes, pitching wins championships (or so the saying goes), but when your best position player all year is Coco Crisp, you’ve obviously leaned a little too heavily toward the pitching and away from the hitting.
The odd thing about trying to determine how to budget the A’s is that they technically are in the 5th or 6th largest television market in the US (depending on whose stats you go with). But, that’s only because San Francisco and Oakland and San Jose are lumped together into one big market. Meanwhile only one of the major stations is based in Oakland (Fox) while 10 are based in San Fran, and 5 have a home in San Jose. So, are they really in one of the top TV markets? I say not so much. They’re fortunate to be in a large market, but since they share that market with a team that’s based in the more predominant city (San Francisco Giants), they’re clearly playing second fiddle to the team across the bay. Just ask the Mets, White Sox, and pre-2000 Angels how much fun that is. So, for the purpose of this post, I’ll do everything I can to keep the budget under $80 million, since that’s the highest it’s been in the last decade – plus, Oakland’s spending has been put on a bit of a hold until they can get something worked out on a new stadium.
For 2012, the A’s have 5 players under contract – Trevor Cahill, Kurt Suzuki, Brett Anderson, Brian Fuentes, and Grant Balfour – and one player that they are opting out of their contract with (Michael Wuertz – $250k). Notice that the majority of the guys they have under contract are pitchers. This is the trend right now in Oakland. They have some very good young pitching talent (6 or 7 potential starters from 2011 will have to fight it out for 5 spots in the rotation), some of whom were put to the test in 2011 when a couple of their regular starters went on the DL. Needless to say, pitching isn’t a big problem in Oakland, as they finished in the top ten in baseball in team ERA. Although, the relief pitching left a little to be desired, with a 3.74 ERA – 18th in the league. That being said, the clear gap in performance for the A’s is on the offensive side – made even more evident by the fact that Coco Crisp was their biggest offensive threat. As a team, they were third-to-last in the AL in both runs scored (645) and team OPS (.680 – 150 points behind league-leader Boston!). I know they aren’t capable of spending the big bucks like other teams, but surely you can do better than that. Let’s see how it might work . . .
Let’s go ahead and get the pitching staff out of the way, since it’s mostly set for 2012. Your 5-man rotation would include 5 of these 6 (unless you wanted to go the unconventional route like the White Sox did for a while with a 6-man rotation): Cahill, Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Guillermo Moscoso, and Dallas Braden. Any combination of these would look nice, if they had an offense to support them. As for the bullpen, you’ve got Balfour and Fuentes already under contract, and Andrew Bailey (your closer) eligible for arbitration, where he’ll probably make somewhere around $4 million, due to a couple seasons with injuries effecting his availability. After these three, your best options from 2011 were Jerry Blevins and Joey Devine, who will cost a total of around $3-4 million for the two of them (Blevins is pre-arb, and Devine is in his 2nd year of arb-eligibility). If you stick with these 11 pitchers (6 starters and 5 relievers – or move the least productive starter to the bullpen), your entire pitching staff is going to cost around $36 million. That’s a fantastic number for Oakland, since it means they will have a considerable amount to spend on their starting lineup.
The catcher, Suzuki, is inked for 2 more years with an $8.5 million team option in 2014 (which I wouldn’t expect them to use, since they have a nice catcher prospect that will probably be ready by then). Oakland also has some young talent that will contribute in 2012. Jemile Weeks (Rickie’s little brother) is the kind of lead-off hitter that can be a big boost to the offense. As a switch-hitter, in just 97 games in 2011 Weeks hit .303 with a .340 OBP and stole 22 bases – and he turns 25 in January. He’s clearly poised to be their everyday second-baseman. Scott Sizemore looks to be their everyday third-baseman, provided he continues to develop. He only hit .242 in 2011, but had a .345 OBP and a .778 OPS in Oakland in 2011. He’ll be 27 in January, and ready to hit his prime years. Shortstop is a bit of a question-mark for 2012. The regular starter for 2011 was Cliff Pennington, who played decent in 2011 – .264 with 14 stolen bases – and is also a switch-hitter. But, the A’s #1 prospect (and #7 SS prospect in baseball) is Grant Green, who finished 2011 with a .291 avg., and .750 OPS at the AAA level. It would be an interesting competition for the starting job between Green and Pennington – and then the loser could either fill a bench spot, or be some enticing trade bait. 2012 should also finally be the year that Chris Carter (#3 prospect in Oakland’s system; #5 1B prospect in baseball) gets his shot. He can play either 1B or LF, and he has some impressive power numbers in the minors (averaging 25 hr’s and .915 OPS per year). And, at worst, Michael Taylor should get the chance to platoon some in the outfield, if not be an everyday starter. He’s got 20/20 potential (if not inching toward 30/30), and gets on base regularly (a .371 OBP in the minors). Ryan Sweeney played very well off the bench, and is an excellent option to run out to the outfield when needed. He’s arbitration eligible, which means he’ll make somewhere around $3 million. That’s a little higher than what Oakland might prefer, but I think he’s worth it considering his versatility, and the fact that he’s a good left-handed bat off the bench.
So, with just 1 more bench spot to fill, as well as your 3 outfielders (or 2 bench spots & 2 outfielders if you start Taylor), and the DH, Oakland’s payroll would be $47.5 million. With so much youth on this team, I think Oakland is the perfect place for Mark DeRosa. He had some injuries, which limited him the last couple years, but you’re not looking for him to start every day on a team like Oakland. You want a guy that’s extremely versatile (DeRosa has played over 100 games at SS, 2B, 3B, and RF, as well as 80 games in LF, and 33 games at 1B), has experience with winning teams (he’s played on 6 playoff teams), and is a veteran leader in the clubhouse (no doubt he is this!). He’ll be 37 in 2012, so you’re only signing him for a year or two, and at $4-5 million per season, he’s worth what he brings to the team (a career .272 hitter with an OBP over .340).
At the DH spot, the player that makes the most sense for Oakland is Russell Branyan. He’s cheap (as in about $1.5 mil.), and has reasonable power (career .815 OPS). For the last bench spot, I think a guy like Willie Harris would make sense, because he can play a variety of infield & outfield positions, and will get on base and steal bases when called upon to do so. Now, for the outfield. I like the idea of going ahead and starting Michael Taylor, because it frees you up to more options. If Taylor starts in left or right, and you then can sign a guy like Willie Bloomquist to take on the CF duties (he’ll cost around $1 million), and then you’re left with a significant amount of money left to spend on one corner outfielder (only $55.5 million on the payroll at this point). If Oakland really wants to take a step forward in 2012 – stadium issues aside – they should sign Carlos Beltran. He won’t be cheap, but he would be a significant boost to this team’s offense. And, at $13-14 million per year (for probably no more than 3 years), he could be worth it.
Consider this possible starting lineup for Oakland: 1. Weeks, 2. Green, 3. Carter, 4. Beltran, 5. Branyan, 6. Taylor, 7. Sizemore, 8. Suzuki, 9. Bloomquist. You’ve got some speed at both ends of the lineup, and you have 20-30 hr power from #3-6. Add this group to your very good pitching staff, plus an above-average bench with Sweeney, DeRosa, Harris, and Pennington, and you’ve got a competitive team for 2012 – all for a little less than $70 million. This just makes sense to me, if I was in charge in Oakland. What about you?