Grade "A" Rebuild
Earlier this offseason, it became apparent that the Oakland A's were going to have to break up something that had defined their organization for years: The Big Three. Many credited Hudson, Zito and Mulder when even after the exit of Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada, Oakland continued their winning ways. But money, or more specifically impending free agencies, forced Billy Beane's hand to trade one away. One. Billy traded two.
Tim Hudson's demands for a contract extension before Spring Training, quite Giambi-esque, fueled speculation that he would be the one leaving the Bay Area. First he was going to the Braves, and then the Cardinals, and at one point, he was a Dodger. But the rumors came full circle when, on December 16, John Scheurholz landed his ace without giving up Marcus Giles. Instead, Beane landed Juan Cruz, solid outfielder Charles Thomas, and solid prospect Dan Meyer. While the acquisition did not quite match the haul that had once been rumored to, three solid pieces of the future had been planted.
Excuse me, I have gotten ahead of myself. Beane saw the opportunity earlier in the offseason to lose the rights to overrated players Mark Redman and Arthur Rhodes. For this small, and still expensive package, the A's landed 31-year-old catcher (at least come 2005) Jason Kendall. A better hitter than the previous Oakland catcher, Kendall would provide only a slight dropoff from the wonderful defense Damian Miller had offered. For the economic relief that losing Redman, Rhodes and Miller would provide, Beane improved his team behind the plate and added a draft pick to boot.
And then, on the heels of the Hudson trade, Beane made a minor move that should not go overlooked. With Marcus Giles apparently untouchable, Beane moved at another underrated, sabermetric-friendly second basemen: Keith Ginter. His 2004 slugging percentage of .479 would be a large improvement on the .363 that the likes of Marco Scutaro and Mark McLemore accumulated. The cost? Justin Lehr, a young and possibly budding middle reliever, still far behind the likes of Justin Duchscherer and Kirk Saarlos. And the largest loot was Nelson Cruz, the 24-year-old outfielder that grabbed the ten spot in Baseball America's rankings. A solid power player no doubt, but again, not first in line for any job.
So, that takes us where we are today. In fact, that gives us one-fifth of a team. Cruz turned the corner under Leo Mazzone's watchful eye (shocking!) last year, and as long as he stays in a big outfield, should continue his powerful relieving. Thomas' 2004 season screams David Newhan flukable, but he very well could provide a solid platoon with Eric Byrnes. Meyer looks to be everything that Mark Redman was and more, offering the best four-pitch combination in the minor leagues. Kendall and Ginter are two solid pieces of Beane's lineup puzzle.
With Hudson gone, it appeared the rotation would have the rest of the Three, along with Rich Harden, Meyer, and solid prospect Joe Blanton. The former Kentucky ace, Blanton performed brilliantly out of the bullpen during a September call-up. But his future lies not there, but rather in the rotation as an innings horse. His PCL stats are not jaw-dropping, but he finished the year well, and is not said to have lost the stuff that once made him a first-round pick. Chosen in the same round, and also a 2005 Rookie of the Year candidate is Nick Swisher. After posting huge power numbers with a broken hand last year, it's apparent the Buckeye is ready to man Jermaine Dye's old stomping grounds.
It appeared that Beane was nearly finished, with only a few moves left on his docket. The money from Hudson's departure would certainly allow Erubiel Durazo to stay, who should make a lot of money in arbitration this season. Chad Bradford and Scott Hatteberg appeared two players a bit expensive for what they bring to the table, and I've hypothesized that both should not make the 2005 A's 25. Dan Johnson, the PCL MVP, has proven again and again that he is ready for the job. In the bullpen, both Huston Street and Jairo Garcia look like they could be forces in the back-end. With Dotel and Cruz, it looked to make Bradford quite expendable.
So, if you're like me, you thought Hudson's trip back home would be one of Beane's last major offseason moves. And, like me, you would have been wrong. The package that had rumored to be St. Louis' offer for Tim Hudson proved to be a bit too intriguing for Beane, who sent southpaw Mark Mulder instead. Acquired in exchange was Dan Haren, the PCL strikeout leader, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton. Haren will take Mulder's spot in the rotation, while Calero will only add to an already solid 'pen. Barton adds yet another top forty prospect to the organization, one that was somewhere on the Internet, named the best prospect in baseball.
This leaves a lot of interesting options in Beane's future. Peter Gammons, in his most recent column, notes J.D. Drew and Carlos Beltran as now possible acquisitions. I would say the former makes the most sense, creating a nice 25-man roster:
Catchers (2): Jason Kendall and Adam Melhuse
Infielders (6): Dan Johnson, Erubiel Durazo, Keith Ginter, Mark Ellis, Bobby Crosby, Eric Chavez
Outfielders (5): J.D. Drew, Mark Kotsay, Nick Swisher, Charles Thomas
Starting Pitchers (5): Barry Zito, Rich Harden, Joe Blanton, Dan Meyer, Dan Haren
Relief Pitchers (7): Octavio Dotel, Juan Cruz, Huston Street, Kiko Calero, Ricardo Rincon, Justin Duchscherer, Kirk Saarlos
This proposed 25-man offers some unique possibilities, with Hatteberg, Scutaro, Eric Byrnes and Bradford all off the roster. I elected to send Jairo Garcia back to AAA, though it's really Blanton, Meyer, Haren, Street and Garcia fighting for four spots. Saarlos will take the spot of the loser. What Beane elects to do with the foursome I mentioned above, is up to him. I would advise further build toward the system, as a solid 2004 draft (plus Barton and Javi Herrera) speak of an even better future.
I had hopes that this offseason would allow the Arizona Diamondbacks to completely rebuild, but they got all noble and spent worthless dollars on Troy Glaus and Russ Ortiz. Instead, it has been the Oakland A?s that have begun to rebuild. And in a way in which none of us would have imagined.