Who Should the A's Put on the Field in 2012?

It has been quite a long time since I wrote an article that wasn’t part of a “series” of some kind. Recently, I’ve been working on team prospect lists; before that, it was the top 100 prospects; before that, it was “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.”

In fact, this was the last sort of “free-form” article I wrote. Note the date–August 31. Yeah. It’s been awhile.

Anyway, we’re now about a month away from spring training starting up, so it’s time to begin the shift from offseason list-compiling back to a more open-ended approach, at least for me. And, perhaps due to having a lot of pent-up energy about that, I’ve decided to tackle a rather massive topic: what I’d like the A’s roster to look like in 2012. Why am I posting this on a prospect site? Because, as you’ll see, I’m going to be discussing a lot of prospects.

Ready? I don’t think you are.

Before I start looking at players, I should preface this by saying that I am an A’s fan. So if you think that I’m being unreasonable and tearing the team apart, understand that this is legitimately what I want to see them do.

I should also say that I, like everyone else with a functioning brain, do not think the A’s have any way of competing in 2012. And that’s a damn important thing to recognize.

One thing I like to say regarding non-competitive, rebuilding teams–and this colors a lot of my decision-making regarding them–is that very few teams should ever win 70-something games. To me, there are three scenarios where this should happen:

1) The team’s “true talent” is thought to be less than 70 wins, and they overperform.
2) The team’s “true talent” is thought to be reasonably close to playoff-level, and it all falls apart.
3) The team is “building” from a <70 win team to a >80 win team with a maturing young core (see Royals, 2011).

That’s it. Scenario 1 may yet apply to the A’s (and I’ll talk about that later), but the other two don’t. What that means is that, in my opinion, the 2012 A’s should not be built with a goal of 70 wins–essentially, respectability–in mind. Instead, they should be built with the goal of evaluating as many players as possible. And if that means 55 wins (I don’t think it will), then hey, the first pick in the draft is an added bonus.

Let’s begin looking at the team’s numerous possibilities.

Catchers 

Kurt Suzuki–I don’t really care to see any more of Kurt Suzuki in an A’s uniform. They shouldn’t just dump him for nothing, but he’s a decently-valued commodity who could probably bring back a decent prospect or two.

Why dump Suzuki? Well, over the past two years, he’s averaged 2.0 WAR while hitting all of .239/.302/.375. That’s a .298 wOBA, which is not pretty. He’s signed through 2013 with a team option for 2014 (that vests for $9.25 million if he makes 113 starts in 2013), making $11.45 million over the next two years. That’s below-market rate for his 2-WAR production level, but it’s also a fair bit of money to a guy who isn’t going to be on the next competitive A’s team and isn’t, well, particularly good. More importantly, however, Suzuki is going to be the unquestioned starting catcher of the A’s as long as he’s on the team, and that prevents playing time from going to…

Anthony Recker–Anthony Recker, incredibly, was born a few weeks before Kurt Suzuki. He’s average at best defensively, although he’s nabbed a third of attempted basestealers in his minor league career. He’s not some sort of savior.

But there’s some evidence Recker can hit. Scouts always liked him as a sleeper in the organization, as power-hitting catchers are hard to find. Now 28, he’s coming off a season where he hit .287/.388/.501 in Triple-A Sacramento. In 257 career games there, he’s hit .279/.358/.483.

I ran Recker’s 2011 Sacramento stats through the MLE calculator, and it translated his line to .234/.314/.392 in Oakland. That’s 31 points of OPS higher than Suzuki’s 2010-11 production, for 10% of Suzuki’s cost.

Now, maybe Recker’s defense offsets those 31 points of OPS, but Suzuki’s no defensive savant himself. Maybe Recker can’t live up to his MLEs…but I’d say there’s as much of a chance that he exceeds them. It doesn’t hurt to give him 400 at-bats in 2012 to find out, along with some playing time for…

Josh Donaldson–Donaldson’s more advanced defensively than Recker is. At 26, he’s also younger. His career Triple-A batting line is .252/.341/.454, which translates to .207/.275/.356 in Oakland. That’s pretty ugly, but it’s as good as anything Landon Powell could ever muster up, and Donaldson could maybe push Recker to DH or first base against tough lefties–if spotted well in a backup role, he could hopefully push his average more in the .220-.230 range. Donaldson has experience at third, and scouts seem to think he has a bit more in his bat than the results show. Chances are, between him and Recker, there’s one washout and one legitimate major league catcher. Which is fine, because of the presence of…

Derek Norris–Norris is a bigtime two-way catching prospect acquired in the Gio Gonzalez deal. He’s a stronger defender than even Donaldson, routinely cutting down nearly half of basestealers, and despite a BABIP drop that sent his average to a meager .210, he still managed an OPS above .800 in Double-A thanks to his ridiculous walking and power ability. He’s a Mike Napoli type–while his hitting may not end up on Napoli’s level, his defense will be better.

——

So, I propose that the A’s play Recker and Donaldson in 2012 to figure out what kind of players they are in the majors. At least one should prove himself a good backup to Norris for 2013 and beyond. The best part is that they’ll only have to spend the minimum salary on both, they get a couple of prospects for Suzuki, and Recker/Donaldson may well be an upgrade on Suzuki/Powell, even if they don’t do much more than meet their conservative MLEs.

Infielders 

Jemile Weeks–No reason to discuss Weeks at length. He hit .303/.340/.421 as a rookie last year, putting up 2.0 WAR in 97 games. He’s the unquestioned starter at second base, one of two obvious holdovers along with…

Cliff Pennington–Also a slam-dunk. Shortstop is the one position at which the A’s don’t really have reasonable alternatives to the established starter (of course, they don’t have that many established starters in the first place). He’s 27, a decent defender, a career .259/.324/.371 hitter, and he’s still cheap, not hitting arbitration until 2013. I do think that when the A’s trade Suzuki, they should try to find some sort of possible heir to Pennington in return, but there’s nothing wrong with seeing if Pennington can have a career year. At worst, at least he’s a guy the fans recognize, as is…

Scott Sizemore–Sizemore was a 1.9 WAR player in 110 games last year, hitting .245/.342/.399. He’s still adapting to third base defensively, and could improve there in his first full year of work. He takes a lot of pitches, which brings a good number of walks, but also makes him strike out far more (26%) than you’d expect given his near-average (79.5%, compared to average of 80.7%) contact rate. Pitchers put the ball in the zone on Sizemore 50.2% of the time last year, and his ability to become a successful MLB starter rather than just a platoon player hinges on his ability to make pitchers respect him more. The more out-of-the-zone pitches he sees, the more his walk rate will climb, and his caught-strike-three rate will fall. An acceptable Plan A for 2012, given the state of the A’s, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him ending up platooning along with…

Adrian Cardenas–Cardenas can make contact with the ball. He struck out 56 times in 127 games in Sacramento last year, walking on 47 occasions. His .314/.374/.418 line there is no fluke, and he’s just 24, so he may yet grow into a bit of power. His line translates to .260/.308/.339 in Oakland–keep in mind that was last year at 23, and players typically improve from 23 to 24. It wouldn’t be a surprise to me if he hit .270/.320/.355, which would make him a plausible utility guy. A good player in 2012? No, probably not. But the guy just hit .314 in Triple-A–he’s clearly mastered hitting for average and getting on base at that level. The 2012 A’s, again, have nothing to play for, so as long as Cardenas has reasonable hope of not embarrassing himself, why not? Same goes for…

Eric Sogard–Sogard’s a career .298/.387/.406 hitter in Triple-A, and he’s a better defender than Cardenas is, able to play short decently and second and third well. He’s walked more than he’s struck out in Triple-A, and brings an excellent approach to the table. His overall AAA line translates to .234/.304/.316 in Oakland (if a lot of these translations look weirdly low, remember the A’s have a pitcher’s park; Sogard would hit .244/.313/.329 in a neutral park, for example); throw in some age-26 improvement, and you have a solid utility guy, capable of spotting Sizemore at third against tough righties and giving Weeks the occasional day off. A worthwhile 25th man, but perhaps not as intriguing as…

Wes Timmons–Talk about K/BB ratios! This guy struck out ten times in 56 games in Triple-A. He also drew 30 walks. I can’t imagine Timmons–who owns a career 287/468 K/BB in the minors–not walking more than he strikes out at the MLB level (his MLE calls for 11 K and 22 BB). Now, he’s 32 years old and not on the 40-man roster, but that also means that if he’s placed on the A’s roster, they have control of him until his 38–almost certainly the entire utility of his career. Why not let the guy get 250 AB spotting around the infield–he’s a plus glove at the corners and can handle second solidly as well–and see if his .273/.347/.368 MLE line can work out? I mean, the 2012 A’s have to have room for a guy who can get on base 35% of the time and play some defense, right? And speaking of guys that get on base…

Kila Ka’aihue–Kila’s out of options, as far as I know. Daric Barton, who I’ll get to in a minute, has one left, as far as I know (Correct me if I’m wrong). Now, I used to be on the “Free Kila!” bandwagon, but like many, I have drastically lowered expectations after his poor 2011. Then I came across this interesting quote from Rany Jazayerli on his excellent Royals blog:

So then you take a step back, and you look at 2009, when Ka’aihue hit .252/.392/.433 in Omaha, and you wonder if he’s just a wildly inconsistent hitter, prone to really good years and really mediocre ones. He just had the poor timing of synchronizing one of his mediocre seasons with his one big shot at everyday playing time in the majors.
Billy Beane is gambling that it’s the latter. Granted, he didn’t wager much, trading a fringy pitcher named……Ethan Hollingsworth for Ka’aihue. The A’s will get a look at him in camp, where Ka’aihue will have to fight for playing time with Daric Barton and Brandon Allen and Chris Carter. If they don’t like what they see, Ka’aihue could be looking at a long and financially rewarding career in Japan.
But the A’s aren’t yet convinced that Ka’aihue is a AAAA player, and neither am I. For the first time in his career, Ka’aihue is playing for an organization that not only respects his approach at the plate, they encourage it. I’d hold off on writing his career obituary for one more season.

A really interesting way to look at it, I think. Is there really any harm on the 2012 A’s in giving the guy 150-200 PAs between now and June 15 and seeing what he does with them? After all, if he doesn’t break camp, he’s gotta be DFA’d, so there’s no harm in giving him the spot over Barton based on that alone. Of course, there’s also…

Brandon Allen–I still like Allen some, but his K/BB is ridiculous. You can’t strike out 35% of the time, as Allen did in 2011, and be useful, whether you hit the most ridiculous home runs or not. But the guy did hit .290/.333/.521 in August before completely unraveling in September, and he’s got a great minor league track record, so it’s foolish to give up on him without seeing what he can do with an offseason of rest and learning behind him. He’s a solid gloveman at first, and can also handle left field if need be, so hopefully he can at least get a fair share of at-bats against RHPs in the 1B/DH/LF mix. Which means that the A’s will need to exile…

Daric Barton–I appreciate what Barton did in 2010, but he’s been pretty disastrous otherwise. There’s a lot of talk that his awful 2011 season was due to injury issues. He’s got an option left (again, that’s my understanding), so there’s no harm in making sure he’s back in form in Sacramento while evaluating Ka’aihue early in the season. Come mid-June, if Kila and/or Allen are still struggling in the majors and Barton looks back in 2010 form, then bring him back up! Given the other options, there’s also no room for…

Adam Rosales–Rosales went 6-for-61 in Oakland last year, and then hit just .265/.323/.374 in Sacramento. It’s tough to combine a 20% K rate with an ISO barely over .100 and be an effective player, and Rosales just doesn’t have the glove to make it work. There are worse major leaguers, but I’m not convinced he’s better than either Cardenas or Sogard. Plus, the A’s know what Rosales is capable of–he’s got 209 games under his belt. 2012 needs to be the year when they evaluate the unknown quantities, such as…

Chris Carter–Now 25, Carter is a career .264/.361/.529 hitter in Sacramento. That translates to .225/.298/.427 in Oakland–a not-insignificant .202 ISO. Obviously, he’s a very poor fielder, and it’s tough to be much of a DH with a .300 OBP. But again, this is a player who has nothing left to prove in Triple-A, where he’s been one of the most dangerous power hitters the last two years. He either cuts the strikeouts in the majors, finds a way to compensate for them, or washes out. It’s time to find out which.

——

This is a bit of a mess. Weeks, Pennington and Sizemore are in, but then you have three utility types that merit a look (Cardenas, Sogard, and Timmons), and three first basemen/DHs (Ka’aihue, Allen, and Carter). You can’t carry nine infielders, so someone has to go, not to mention the fact that Barton may force his way up midseason. Cardenas, Allen, and Carter all have some outfield experience, but as we’re about to see, there are some candidates there as well. We’ll come back to this after looking at the outfielders.

Outfielders

Josh Reddick–1.9 WAR in 87 games? That’s a better WAR/game than Weeks. Starting right fielder. Yes, I know he’s got some issues, but he deserves a pretty long leash after that performance. One guy who doesn’t need a long leash is…

Coco Crisp–I just didn’t get this signing. Yes, he’s probably “worth” $7 mil a year, but two years? With an option for a third? Blocking other guys? I’d like to see him traded, where hopefully the return could continue to bolster the improved farm system. Crisp can play in the first half, but I absolutely don’t want him blocking…

Jermaine Mitchell–Mitchell hit .355/.453/.589 in Double-A Midland last year and then continued to rip the ball in Sacramento, hitting .302/.401/.453. He’s a legitimate center fielder with good speed, he has 15-HR power, and he draws a ton of walks. He’s also 27 years old, but if Jose Bautista can morph from scrub to star at 29, why can’t a guy like Mitchell, who always had impressive tools, suddenly become an average starting center fielder at 26? He’s out recovering from knee surgery until midseason, at which point I hope Crisp is moved. And speaking of guys with gaudy AAA stats…

Collin Cowgill–Cowgill was acquired from Arizona in the Trevor Cahill deal; he hit .354/.430/.554 with Triple-A Reno last year. Reno is a tremendous hitter’s park, and he’s a career .299/.383/.490 hitter in the minors, which more reflects his abilities than the inflated 2011 stats. Cowgill has similar athleticism to Mitchell, and he’s really a quite similar player, except his walk and strikeout rates are both lower and he bats righthanded. If the A’s had a good presence in left field, Cowgill and Mitchell could be quite the bitchin’ platoon in center. The first part of that equation currently rests in the hands of…

Michael Taylor–Taylor still has supreme physical tools. Unlike some of the others here, he hasn’t really “mastered” Triple-A–he hit just .272/.360/.456 there last year. Still, he’s 26, and he should get significant playing time in 2012 to see what he can do. There’s talk of him changing his swing in the offseason, so perhaps he should get a bit of time in Sacramento to open the season.

——

Before I get to pitching, let’s see what this all means.

C Recker/Donaldson
1B Ka’aihue/Allen/Carter
2B Weeks
SS Pennington
3B Sizemore
UTIF Timmons/Sogard
LF Cowgill
CF Crisp
RF Reddick
UTOF Cardenas (also Allen in corners)

That’s actually just 14 players to open the season. Cardenas and Sogard could fight it out for the 13th slot, with the other getting a refresher course in Triple-A. You’d have the loser of that battle, Barton, and Taylor on hand in case of injury or ineffectiveness, and then hopefully Crisp builds trade value and is dealt midseason when Mitchell returns, taking his slot.

The lineup would look something like this:

vs. RHP                                  vs. LHP
2B Weeks                              2B Weeks
CF Crisp/Mitchell             CF Crisp/Cowgill
RF Reddick                          3B Sizemore
LF Allen                                DH Carter
3B Sizemore                        C Recker/Donaldson
1B Ka’aihue/Barton          1B Timmons/Recker/Barton
DH Carter                             LF Cowgill/Taylor
C Recker                               RF Reddick
SS Pennington                    SS Pennington

That’s honestly not that awful. Weeks is solid, Pennington’s good for a #9 type, I’m confident there’s good production in the #2 slot, and Carter, Ka’aihue, Reddick, Sizemore, and Recker would at least offer some threats to hit the ball out of the ballpark, a big issue in years past for A’s teams that have run guys like Barton, Ryan Sweeney, and Rajai Davis out there at traditionally “power-oriented” positions.

Starting Pitchers 

Brandon McCarthy–For a guy who led the AL in FIP last year, he’s still criminally undervalued. The A’s should keep McCarthy as the staff ace; if nothing else, it’s a concession to a fanbase that doesn’t want to see every notable player traded. So is…

Dallas Braden–If healthy, he’ll start, too. Hasn’t posted either an ERA or a FIP above 3.90 since 2008, but people seem to think he’s some sort of back-end guy. Worth more to the A’s as a rotation member than a trade commodity. Braden missed almost all of 2011 with shoulder problems, though, so his health is a question, as is that of…

Brett Anderson–When healthy, he’ll be there as well. Unlike Braden, however, Anderson probably won’t be back until fairly late in the season, so he’s out of the picture early on. One guy who isn’t is…

Tom Milone–I have full faith in Tom Milone as Braden 2.0. He’s a damn similar pitcher, walking almost nobody, spotting his high-80′s fastball and getting the occasional strikeout courtesy of his plus changeup. He had just two unintentional walks in 26 innings with the Nationals last year, and also walked just 16 (while striking out 155!) in Triple-A. He had a 3.81 ERA and 3.56 FIP in his MLB time with the Nationals, and I think he can repeat that in Oakland. Honestly, I think he’ll be just as good as the departed Trevor Cahill in 2012, if not better. A truly underrated part of the deal that also netted…

Brad Peacock–I don’t want Peacock breaking camp. That’s nothing against him; I ranked him as the #38 prospect in baseball, and am thrilled to have him with the A’s now. But Peacock’s FIP rose from 1.87 in Double-A to 4.18 in Triple-A after a midseason promotion last year, as his walk rate swelled from 6.1% to 11.8% and his strikeout rate dropped from 34.3% to 23.5%. He only has 48 Triple-A innings–why rush him? The Rays built a very competitive team by making sure that their prospects didn’t come up until they really had nothing else to improve upon in the minors. There’s no need to waste Peacock’s service time in the majors, especially on a dead-end team like the 2012 A’s, until he shows that he’s really mastered Triple-A. While he has more upside than Milone and is thus more exciting to fans, nobody should be upset if Milone–who has nothing left to prove in the minors and is a year older–starts out with the team and Peacock doesn’t. Certainly, Peacock should factor into the second-half picture, as could Sonny Gray and…

Jarrod Parker–Parker’s even less proven than Peacock is–he barely managed a 2/1 K/BB ratio in Double-A. I personally find him overrated, but even if he isn’t, the same logic I used with Peacock applies even more stringently here. Patience, everyone…the stud arms will get here. In the meantime, let’s get a longer look at…

Guillermo Moscoso–No, I’m not fooled by the 3.38 ERA. Yes, I see the ghastly 26.8% groundball rate. But it’s not unheard of for a guy to improve at age 28, and if he lucks into 10 more good starts, maybe somebody comes calling for him at the trade deadline. At worst, he regresses to a mid-fours ERA; I’m fine with that. The point is, he shouldn’t completely fall on his face, which is pretty much all anyone can ask from the players on this team. If the A’s can assemble a 25-man roster that is super-cheap, super-young, and exudes competence, then I’ll be happy. I’ll be even happier if they give a rotation spot to…

Graham Godfrey–Godfrey’s just 27, and I wonder if he can have a nice little three-or-four-year run as a fourth starter. He put up a 2.68 ERA in Triple-A, which is damn hard to do in the PCL, and his 3.30 FIP was nothing to sneeze at either. He then walked just five guys in 25 innings with the A’s, putting up a 3.96 ERA and 4.27 FIP, so he wasn’t overwhelmed in the majors. In particular, he showed a very good fastball with cutting action–he got strikes on 71.1% of his fastballs, including a 7.2% whiff rate on the pitch. He certainly has nothing left to prove in the minors, and the A’s would do well to give him Anderson’s spot in the rotation until the stud lefthander returns. He gets the nod over…

Josh Outman–I’d love to find room for Outman as well, but I guess he’d slot into a swing role. His lethal slider could play well in left-on-left matchups, and he could also work in long relief situations. If someone gets hurt or Moscoso or Godfrey has a bad April, he could step in if he looks back in form after a poor 2011.

——

So, the rotation would go McCarthy, Braden, Moscoso, Milone, Godfrey. If Braden isn’t ready to start the year, then Outman slides into the rotation. Obviously, Anderson, Parker, Peacock, and Sonny Gray could all knock on the door at some point, and they would dislodge whoever’s pitching the worst. This, by the way, is NOT a rotation that needs Bartolo Colon. I understand the Roy Oswalt clamoring, but I’m really fine with evaluating Moscoso and Godfrey, and I’m worried Oswalt would break down and leave the A’s on the hook for several million dollars with no trade return.

The other thing about this staff is that it’s comprised of guys who don’t walk many and tend to be flyball-oriented, which works well in the Coliseum when you’ve got some combination of Taylor, Cowgill, Mitchell, Crisp, and Reddick in the outfield. It’s pretty easy to see .265-.285 BABIPs and 6-9 HR/FB%s for almost all of them.

Relief Pitchers 

Brian Fuentes–Fuentes is not a popular figure in Oakland, and he’s on the hook for at least $5.5 million between this year and his 2013 buyout. He’s another player it would make sense to deal, as is…

Grant Balfour–Another byproduct of the A’s failed attempt to contend in 2011, Balfour’s still got $4.35 million left on his deal. He wasn’t as bad as Fuentes (2.47 ERA, 3.77 FIP), so hopefully the A’s can ship him out as well. That would then leave a late-game relief spot open for…

Fautino De Los Santos–De Los Santos struck out 43 in 33 1/3 innings last year, but he also walked 17. He’s armed with an undoubtedly lethal fastball/slider combination, and is learning to harness it. He should be an exciting pitcher to watch, and is the most notable of several hard-throwing relievers, such as…

Ryan Cook–Acquired with Parker and Cowgill for Cahill and Craig Breslow, Cook worked at 93-97 mph last year in the majors. He also boasts a good splitter and a solid slider. He dominated Double-A before struggling a bit at Triple-A and the majors, so he could end up back in Sacramento. Still, if there’s anyone who can start in on service time without being 100% proven in Triple-A, it’s a relief pitcher with merely setup upside. However, if Cook’s on the A’s, he shouldn’t be pushing aside…

Neil Wagner–Wagner touched 98 mph at times last year, he dominated Double-A and Triple-A, and he’s 28 years old, so it’s now or never. I wouldn’t mind having Wagner and De Los Santos as a back-of-the-bullpen combo. But they could be joined by another September callup…

Andrew Carignan–Another fastball-reliant hard-thrower, Carignan finally stopped walking a zillion guys in 2011 and zoomed to the majors. He’s 26 in July, and while he doesn’t have Wagner’s velocity or track record, he could well find a spot. Speaking of guys who often walk too many…

Jordan Norberto–Some lefthander will probably have to be in the mix along with Outman. Norberto is sort of the reliever version of the bad version of Gio Gonzalez–he throws hard and snaps off a nice breaking ball, but he’s just so erratic it often doesn’t matter. He’s had two high-strikeout years in a row in Triple-A, but has walked 29 batters in 26 2/3 career MLB innings while striking out just 19. Lefties who can touch 95 can get a lot of chances, though, as we can learn from…

Erick Threets–Now 30, the former Giants and White Sox pitcher is back after sitting out 2011. In 2010, he was still working at 92-95 mph with the White Sox, and he seemed to have his formerly Norberto-ian walk rates under some degree of control. He may be the better option than Norberto–the A’s would need to DFA Pedro Figueroa and Sean Doolittle to make room for him and Timmons. Or they could just give the second lefty spot to…

Jerry Blevins–It kind of blows my mind that Blevins is still on the team–he seems to disappear for long stretches. He was reasonably effective last year (2.86 ERA, 3.70 FIP), and he’s never been worse than replacement level in parts of five seasons. His velocity has declined every year, though, and he’s in danger of falling into “pure finesse pitcher” territory–I’m not sure I wouldn’t rather have Threets, but it’s close. Speaking of guys who feel like they’ve been around forever…

Joey Devine–It’s crazy to think that Devine hasn’t allowed a home run in the major leagues since 2006. In 2011, he was about as good as you’d expect a guy who missed all of 2009 and 2010 to be; it’s worth the A’s while to see if he can improve further a year after his return. After all, he struck out 35 guys in 23 1/3 Triple-A innings. I can’t say I’m sure where that leaves…

Tyson Ross–Ross is sort of in limbo, I guess. Between his injuries and shifting between the rotation and the bullpen, he’s sort of a forgotten man to me. He pitched fairly well in the majors last year, but was all over the place in Triple-A. As with Barton, it might make sense to just let him start out in Sacramento and prove he’s back in form.

——

So that would leave the bullpen something like this (roughly back to front):

RH De Los Santos
RH Wagner
LH Outman
RH Devine
RH Carignan
RH Cook
LH Blevins/Threets/Norberto

~~~~~~

So that’s roughly the direction I hope the roster goes in 2012. Of course, things change quickly, but as of today, that’s how I see it.

How good would this team be, though? Would it win 50 games and disillusion basically everyone but me?

Well, let’s think of it in terms of WAR. It’s accepted that a replacement-level team would win around 42 games, so we start with that.

At catcher, Recker should replace Suzuki’s 2 WAR production, with Donaldson around replacement level, so 44 wins. If you’re pessimistic about the glut of first basemen (counting Allen as a LF), then call them replacement level. Still 44 wins. If Weeks produces WAR at the same pace he did in 2011, he’s probably a 3-win player, getting the team to 47 wins. Pennington’s probably about a 2-win guy, so he increases it to 49. I would expect Sizemore and the other 3B options to produce around 2 WAR as well. So even with a replacement-level outfield and pitching staff, it’s a 51-win team on paper.

Of course, the outfield is above replacement level. Reddick was on a 3-win pace last year–if he duplicates that, 54 wins. Crisp was a 2.2 WAR player in 2011; let’s say he’s worth 2 wins and that Mitchell can replicate that, so that’s 56 wins. The Cowgill/Allen platoon in left probably adds somewhere between 1 and 2 wins–I’ll be conservative and say one, especially since the DH (Carter) could well be between 0 and -1 WAR. So, 15 WAR from the hitters, if you assume that all backups/spot starters are exactly replacement level, which is a pretty conservative assumption for someone like Timmons.

I could see McCarthy going for 3-4 WAR and Braden for 2-3, so I’ll say 6 WAR between them. I see Milone replacing Cahill’s production (2.5 WAR), but he probably won’t throw quite as many innings, so I’ll say 2 for him. Godfrey and Moscoso could combine for three wins, so that’s 11 for the rotation, even without considering late-season contributions by Anderson and the prospects. Say the bullpen’s worth a meager two wins–which is pretty feasible–and hey, 70 wins, even as much as I hacked up the team!

Of course, there’s stiff competition in the AL West, there’s a high level of unpredictability with almost all of these players, and it’s anyone’s guess what happens with injuries. But there are some important things to take away from this:

1) With this roster, the A’s trade away Suzuki, Crisp, and hopefully Balfour and Fuentes, so they save a ton of money that can be invested in the team when it actually gets to a competitive point while probably adding more depth to the minor league system.
2) Before a lot of their top prospects come up, they can evaluate a number of players who have proven themselves in Triple-A. Some will stick, some won’t, and your guess is as good as mine as to who’s in which category. The only way we’ll know is by seeing what they can do in the majors.
3) The A’s can put together a roster in 2012 without rushing any prospects, signing any veterans, or resorting to playing guys who have no business in the big leagues.

It’s the third point that is very important. As bad as the A’s major league team and minor league system was before they made their recent trades, they just happened to have a very interesting collection of older prospects (Mitchell, Timmons, Taylor, Carter, Godfrey, Cardenas, Sogard, etc.) in Triple-A. Those guys can serve as excellent stopgaps between the last straws of the A’s that attempted to be competitive pre-2012 and the A’s that will attempt to be competitive in the middle and later parts of this decade. They would be foolish to not give as many of them a shot as possible–some guys will play their way into the future and others may play their way into some trade value.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the A’s become something like a lesser version of the 2006 Marlins, who won 78 games and were above .500 most of the year despite having easily the lowest payroll of any team. There was talk that Marlins team would win 50-55 games too, but that was the year Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez came out of nowhere to star, they wrung 2 WAR out of Wes Helms, Josh Willingham burst onto the scene as a 27-year-old rookie, and Alfredo Amezaga even provided some value. No, the A’s don’t have a Miguel Cabrera-level hitter, but that Marlins team didn’t have any pitchers produce 3 WAR, wasted 122 innings on Brian Moehler, and saw ten pitchers who combined to throw 282 2/3 innings amass -1.6 WAR.

Will the 2012 A’s, with my proposed roster, win 78 games? Almost certainly not. Can they win something in at least the upper 60s? I think that’s a strong possibility.

So, 5500 words later, those are my thoughts on my favorite team’s current makeup. I suppose some of my ideas are unconventional, but I don’t think any of this is particularly radical. Feel free to weigh in if you think this falls apart somewhere; even I’m somewhat surprised that this roster projects to win around 70 games the way I calculated it. Of course, 2012 wins are not the important thing here; evaluating all of these deserving players is.

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Tags: Adam Rosales Adrian Cardenas Andrew Carignan Anthony Recker Brad Peacock Brandon Allen Brandon McCarthy Brett Anderson Brian Fuentes Chris Carter Cliff Pennington Coco Crisp Collin Cowgill Dallas Braden Daric Barton Derek Norris Eric Sogard Erick Threets Fautino De Los Santos Graham Godfrey Grant Balfour Guillermo Moscoso Jarrod Parker Jemile Weeks Jermaine Mitchell Jerry Blevins Joey Devine Jordan Norberto Josh Donaldson Josh Outman Josh Reddick Kila Ka'aihue Kurt Suzuki Michael Taylor Neil Wagner Oakland Athletics Ryan Cook Sacramento River Cats Scott Sizemore Tom Milone Tyson Ross Wes Timmons

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