Yet again, the A's will be losing an MVP, and one of the game's best closers. Miguel Tejada is out the door, leaving Oakland with basically no right-handed power. And Keith Foulke will be leaving as well, so Billy Beane will be going to his fifth closer in five years in 2004. But you can never truly rule out the A's, who will have a healthy Mark Mulder in the rotation next year, along with a full season from Rich Harden.
>From a batting standpoint, there's not a lot to be done. Ramon Hernandez had a solid year, and neared 140 games for the season behind the plate. Beane had stated he originally wanted to platoon Hernandez with Mark Johnson, whom hasn't played since April. The team has now ran into Adam Melhuse, whom helped clinch the division with a 10th inning off-the-bench home run.
The infield is pretty set, with not much needing to be done. The team stupidly locked up Scott Hatteberg for next season, and will likely choose between Graham Koonce and Dan Johnson in 2005. Second base is the only position that has some controversey, with Mark Ellis posting a .295OBP in the 2nd half. Esteban German has re-emerged, and will make a run at the position next season. The team may pursue a free agent, and a player like Tony Graffanino would fit Beane's profile well. Top prospect Bobby Crosby will be inserted full-time at shortstop, and is a favorite for Rookie of the Year. And at third, expect a big season from Eric Chavez, whom has hit .313/.379/.551 in the second half. The team will lose contracts like Scott Hatteberg and Jermaine Dye next season, and they've talked about inking up Chavez long-term.
Is there something as too much depth? Yes, only when you're on a big budget. That being said, expect the team to trade or non-tender Ted Lilly next season. Lilly is 7-2, 3.00 in the second half, and expect the "mastermind" Beane to use that to his advantage. After that, the team has a pretty easy decision. The Big Four are all locks, with Mulder's hip as the only concern. The fifth spot will be Justin Duchscherer's until Joe Blanton claims it.
Jermaine Dye and Chris Singleton were to be leaned on a lot this season, but together they've put up 112 hits, cumulatively less than the Cubs' Alex Gonzalez. Singleton won't be back in 2004, but Dye will, to the tune of $11 million. The team thought a superstar had landed in their lap when Eric Byrnes hit .356/.405/.625 in May, and .322/.395/.583 in June. But Byrnes has tailed off, only managing a .174 average in the second half. The team has turned to Billy McMillon, a AAA veteran known for taking walks, and Terence Long. Long has disappointed, not eclipsing the .240 mark. But McMillon hasn't, and his splits vs. right-handers (.298/.392/.496), compared to Byrnes against lefties (.290/.340/.531) will make for a decent platoon. Jose Guillen was brought into be the big right-handed bat, and hasn't disappointed. But he was mad the team didn't immediately re-sign him, and might walk. If he does, the team may have to use Lilly for a left fielder, or sign a free agent. The team was previously interested in J.D. Drew, and those talks may re-ignite. And if the Sox will part with Carlos Lee, look out.
Beane must prove the ability to build a bullpen out of scraps more than any other time in 2004. Keith Foulke, one of the league's best closers, will probably walk this season. But the team has some many stashed away, and don't be too surprised if they go after him. If not, Lilly may be traded for one, or Beane will sign a free agent. The team also needs a set-up man, as inept Jim Mecir is gone. Ricardo Rincon will be back, as will Chad Bradford. Rule V pick Mike Neu will be in the bullpen next year, as will Chad Harville. The team will have to acquire a closer, set-up man, and swing-man, unless Mike Wood will fill the latter hole. Billy Beane will be tested in 2004, and must come up big to have the A's win, and to prove GMs don't hate him because of Moneyball.