A group weblog for Oakland A's fans

Friday, December 24, 2004

Daric Barton profile

John Sickels continues to be quite useful to A's fans. Last week he profiled Dan Meyer, the Braves-turned-A's pitching prospect who was the centerpiece of the Tim Hudson trade. This week he's done the same for Daric Barton, who joins the Oakland farm system from St. Louis after a huge year in the Midwest League.

After reading this piece, I am still satisfied with the Mark Mulder trade. Even if Barton doesn't stick at catcher, he's still the best hitting prospect that the A's have had since... I don't know, Mark McGwire? Ben Grieve? (It's easy to forget now just how good Grieve was in his early 20's... unfortunately, he has gotten worse every year since he reached the majors in 1998.)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Projected 2005 roster

This assumes the A's offer arbitration to all arb-eligible players and don't sign
any free agents. I'm predicting that Duchscherer will be in the rotation and Meyer will start the season at AAA, but any number of things could happen with the bullpen (translation: don't go out and buy that Juan Cruz jersey just yet.)

Manager: Ken Macha
Hitting coach: Dave Hudgens
Pitching coach: Curt Young
Infield/3B coach: Ron Washington
1B coach: Brad Fischer
Bullpen coach: Bob Geren
Bench coach: Rene Lachemann (2004: Seattle bench coach)

CF Mark Kotsay (L)
C Jason Kendall (R) (2004: Pittsburgh (MLB))
3B Eric Chavez (L)
DH Erubiel Durazo (L)
RF Nick Swisher (B) (2004: Sacramento)
1B Scott Hatteberg (L)
LF Eric Byrnes (R)
SS Bobby Crosby (R)
2B Mark Ellis (R)

C Adam Melhuse (B)
IF Marco Scutaro (R)
IF Keith Ginter (R) (2004: Milwaukee (MLB))
OF Bobby Kielty (R / nominally B)
OF Charles Thomas (L) (2004: Atlanta (MLB)) [may platoon with Byrnes]

LHP Barry Zito
RHP Rich Harden
RHP Joe Blanton (2004: Sacramento)
RHP Danny Haren (2004: Memphis (AAA)/ St. Louis (MLB))
RHP Justin Duchscherer

CL Octavio Dotel (R)
RP Chad Bradford (R)
RP Ricardo Rincon (L)
MR Juan Cruz (R) (2004: Atlanta (MLB))
RP Kiko Calero (R) (2004: St. Louis (MLB))
RP Tyler Johnson (L) (2004: Tennessee (AA))

Others on 40-man:
SP John Rheinecker (L) (2004: Sacramento)
SP Seth Etherton (R) (2004: Louisville (AAA))
SP Dan Meyer (L) (2004: Greenville (AA)/Richmond (AAA))
RP Chris Mabeus (R) (2004: Midland/Sacramento)
RP Tim Harikkala (R) (2004: Colorado (MLB))
RP Huston Street (R) (2004: Shot through system)
RP Jairo Garcia (R) (2004: Shot through system)
C Jeremy Brown (R) (2004: Midland)
C John Baker (L) (2004: Midland)
1B Dan Johnson (L) (2004: Sacramento)
1B Jason Perry (L) (2004: Modesto/Midland)
IF Mike Rouse (L) (2004: Sacramento)
IF Freddie Bynum (L) (2004: Midland/Sacramento)
OF Matt Watson (L) (2004: Sacramento)

The bullpen

Take a look at the following list:

Octavio Dotel
Juan Cruz
Kiko Calero
Chad Bradford
Ricardo Rincon
Justin Duchscherer
Tyler Johnson
Tim Harikkala
Huston Street?
Jairo Garcia?

That's how the 2005 bullpen is shaping up to look as of this moment. Obviously the A's are not going to go into the season with a ten-man pen, so what gives? Street and Garcia aren't yet on the 40-man roster (and they don't need to be), so in some sense there's no need to rush them. On the other hand, Street is looking increasingly major-league ready and there's no reason to think he couldn't be successful in Oakland immediately. Until the recent flurry of trades, it looked more or less like a sure thing that Street was going to get a chance to pitch for the A's this year. But now there are a lot of other arms in that race, so it's less clear. Jairo Garcia could definitely use some more minor-league seasoning, so it's pretty much a no-brainer at this point to keep him around in the minors. Tyler Johnson is the other unknown here, but he's a Rule 5 guy and so he has to stay in the majors unless the A's want to return him to St. Louis and cough up the $25,000 in the process. (Another shady but tried-and-true alternative is to hide him on the DL with some kind of bogus injury.)

I think there may be another trade coming, and it may involve Juan Cruz, who's arbitration-eligible. If there isn't a trade, then even if they send all three of Street, Garcia and Harikkala (who is the worst of these pitchers) back to Sacramento to start the season, that still leaves them with seven relievers, which is too many. This suggests to me that they should put Duchscherer in the rotation in place of whichever one of the starter prospects (Meyer, Haren or Blanton) who impresses least in spring training.

What are your ideas for the bullpen? I'd like to hear some other opinions.

On a related note, does anybody know what the 40-man roster looks like in the wake of all these trades? They did clear off a bit of room in the Kendall and Ginter trades, but I still don't really see where the room for all these new players is coming from.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Bradford, Ellis re-up

The A's have agreed to one-year contracts with RHP Chad Bradford and 2B Mark Ellis, avoiding arbitration. Bradford will make $1.4M (this seems a little high to me, but it won't break the bank) and Ellis $400,000 with some playing-time-based incentives that could boost the total to $675,000. Also, waiver pickup Tim Harikkala was signed to a one-year contract that will pay him $335,000 if he spends 2005 in the majors or $100,000 if the minors.

The other arbitration-eligible players (Octavio Dotel, Eric Byrnes, Bobby Kielty, Erubiel Durazo, and the newly acquired Juan Cruz) received contract offers but haven't yet signed. I don't expect that the club will actually go to arbitration with any of these players, but they have until early February to negotiate before the case would go before an arbitrator.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Big ... One?

Well, this blog is called Barry Zito Forever, but honestly, who thought that Zito would be the last of the Big Three to remain with the team? Not me, that's for sure.

That said, I feel the need to dispel several myths here.

1) Mulder is just not as good as people think. While it's true that he's a wonderful pitcher, and really fun to watch because he works fast, throws strikes and likes to complete his starts, he's not the ace that Hudson is. He's never even had a season as good as any of Zito's best two (2001-02). Last year was probably his best year, but he got hurt with two months to go and only made 26 starts. When he's healthy, he'll give you 220 innings of a 3.6-ish ERA and maybe 6 K's per 9. That's good, but both Hudson and Zito have the ability to be quite a bit better than that in a good season; and Hudson (in particular) often attains his potential. I think the package of players that Billy Beane extracted from St. Louis in exchange for Mulder was a fair comp for his perceived value, and a bit more than his actual value.

2) Rich Harden is the A's best pitcher anyway, so this "Big Three" talk was pretty inaccurate to begin with. This is certainly true now that Hudson is gone, but I would have expected him to be the best even if everybody had stayed. Harden is absolutely ready to make The Leap. I would be surprised if he finished lower than about 3rd or 4th in the AL Cy Young balloting next season.

3) The A's are not giving up on 2005. Does anybody really think that the Angels will run away with the division? Compared with 2004, they've lost Troy Percival, Troy Glaus, and Jose Guillen; they've acquired 40-year old Steve Finley and Juan Rivera, and will be trying to work Dallas McPherson and maybe Casey Kotchman into their regular lineup. Texas is no better off than they were in 2004 (although I like the Richard Hidalgo move--low-risk, high-upside), and you have to think they'll suffer from regression to the mean after their big move up the standings. Seattle has made a splash but they're starting out 25-30 games in the hole.

Meanwhile, here are a lot of reasons to think that the A's will contend in 2005, just as they always do.

1) The lineup is quite a bit better. Swisher should be able to duplicate or exceed the production of Dye right out of the gate (especially if his thumb is healthy). Kendall is clearly an upgrade over Miller, even if his slugging is nonexistent. Ginter/Ellis gives a team much more offense than Scutaro/McLemore. Thomas is the left-handed hitting corner OF that the team desperately needed to platoon with Byrnes. Crosby is clearly better than he showed in 2004, RoY award notwithstanding. The other guys (Kotsay, Chavez, Durazo, Hatteberg) can afford to regress a little bit and the team will still score more runs than it did in '04.

2) The bullpen is much, much, MUCH better. I don't know if anybody has been paying attention, but the A's have accumulated a whole lotta versatile power arms for the bullpen. I talked about Juan Cruz last time; now in the Mulder trade they've nabbed Kiko Calero. Calero isn't young (29), but he is cost-controlled due to his low service time, and he's got absolutely electric stuff and fantastic numbers. For his career, he's pitched 83.2 innings, allowed only 56 hits and 30 walks, and struck out 98 batters for a 2.80 ERA. That's tremendous. So basically, instead of Rhodes, Mecir and Hammond the A's now have Calero, Cruz, and (if they need him) Huston Street. Bradford and Rincon can pretty much be used as one-batter specialists because the A's top four relievers are all nasty. As Anaheim has proved in recent years, having lots of great relievers is a much better way to build a bullpen than having righty-lefty balance. Last year the Oakland bullpen was one of the worst in the league; next year I honestly expect that it will be one of the best, if not the very best.

3) The starting rotation will still be pretty decent. The A's still have a legitimate ace in Harden. Zito is obviously a mystery, but if he bounces back even to 2003 levels he'll be as good as any #2 around. That leaves the back end of the rotation to be filled out by Dan Meyer, Dan Haren, and Joe Blanton. I think it's safe to say that everybody is comfortable with the idea of Blanton being the #5 starter going forward, and has been for about a year. He won't dominate, but he looks ready to contribute. Meyer and Haren, on the other hand, do have a chance to dominate. After all, they did dominate AAA in 2004 (check out Haren's 150 to 33 K/BB ratio in the International League; his ERA was only 4.15 because he gave up a fluky 136 hits in 128 innings). But suppose they don't dominate--after all, it's only reasonable to expect growing pains. Would it be surprising if they combined (along with Blanton) for 500 innings with an ERA in the mid fours? That's pretty good (actually very good) for your 3-4-5 starters. They don't have to pitch deep into games because the bullpen will be so good and deep. And if one or more of them gets injured or is ineffective, the A's have a large reservoir of insurance starters (Duchscherer, Etherton, Saarloos, Rheinecker to name a few) who could step in and fill the void. In short, while the rotation won't be quite the strength it has been recently, it won't have to be because of the improvements to the lineup and bullpen; and meanwhile, it should still be pretty good.

Finally, the A's are extremely well set up to contend for championships for the rest of this decade. The recent trades of Hudson and Mulder have brought in two of the ten best prospects in all of baseball, Daric Barton and Dan Meyer. Meyer we've discussed; if he's major-league ready, there's no reason he and Swisher couldn't finish 1-2 in AL RoY balloting. But nobody seems to want to talk about Daric Barton, so I'll go ahead and do it myself. Barton is 19, a left-handed hitting catcher, and played 2004 in low A-ball. Most of the discussion of him seems to focus on what he's not: close to the majors, famous, or at an organizational position of need for the A's. But let's talk about what he is: a potential megastar. Whether he sticks at catcher or not, Barton is an absolutely top-notch prospect as a hitter. Even though his 2004 baseball age was only 18, he managed to hit .313/.445/.511, with 69 walks and 36 extra-base hits in only 393 plate appearances, in the Midwest League against significantly older competition. He's a stud. Looking at the bigger pitcher, the A's farm system prior to these trades had great depth but no real blue-chip prospects. Now they have two, and it's not a stretch to say that the farm system is now one of the top few in all of baseball (along with Anaheim, Minnesota and Los Angeles). Add that to a good young core already at the major-league level, and you've got the makings of a dynasty. (Not quite a dynasty, I guess. Is there a word for something which isn't as dominant as the word "dynasty" connotes, but lasts for much longer? Something like what the Braves have done for the last decade-plus.)

So no, the sky isn't falling down and Billy Beane hasn't gone crazy. It's going to be a really fun season to be an A's fan. I can't wait.

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