Free Agency Report: American League, Part VII
The A’s suffered their second straight losing season, but the fact that they only slipped one game from 2007 was quite a surprise; in fact, if not for a mid-season swoon (12-35 between July 11 and September 5 before righting the ship with a 10-9 finish), this team would have been one of the bigger stories in baseball. Of course, you can’t exactly ignore a near two-month stretch of .255 ball, can you?
The pitching staff, helped along by the emergence of relievers Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler (the latter of which was a true revelation) and the excellent conversion to starting by Justin Duscherer (until he got hurt, that is), more than held its own, ranking fourth in the AL in both batting average and OPS against.
Where this team fell flat on its face was its wet noodle attack. The A’s ranked dead last in the AL in batting average, runs, on-base percentage (Gasp! Billy Beane must have been sticking his head in the oven) and slugging percentage.
With Eric Chavez again out most of the season (another disturbing trend altogether), the team was forced to employ Jack Hannahan for most of the year at third, and he’s clearly a borderline major leaguer at best. Daric Barton did not deliver on his ROY potential, but I do expect him to be better now that he’s had his hip fixed. Emil Brown was given way too many at bats; Bobby Crosby finally stayed healthy, but still hasn’t come close to duplicating his first two seasons; and Carlos Gonzalez, brimming with potential, was unable to provide a boost when brought up.
Of course, Gonzalez may not have been part of the solution last season, but he’ll definitely help in 2009 – indirectly, at any rate. He was packaged up with starter Greg Smith and former closer Huston Street (made expendable with Devine and Ziegler developing so rapidly) to the Rockies for a man who will in essence provide the Cialis the A’s lineup so desperately needs – Matt Holliday.
If the A’s land free agent Rafael Furcal, that will deliver another huge boost to the offense.
And with a mere four free agents of their own to deal with – none of whom are major losses, and one at least that’s likely a case of addition by subtraction – the A’s are in an excellent position to retool this offseason and end this mini streak of losing seasons in 2009.
Emil Brown, OF: The fact that Brown was given over 400 at bats last season underscores how anemic the A’s offense was. Scarier still, Brown cut his strikeout rates and put up better numbers overall than he had in 2007, yet he was still a steaming pile of crap, barely useful in an AL-only league, and a deep one at that. Of the 53 corner outfielders who had at least 400 plate appearances last season, just three had an OPS worse than Brown. ‘Nuff said. Baltimore is looking for a right-handed outfielder to platoon with Luke Scott, and given that Brown hit .295 against lefties (.211 vs. righties), this may be his future – as the weak side of a platoon. If Pat Burrell leaves Philadelphia, the Phils may opt to let Geoff Jenkins take over and bring in someone like Brown to play against lefties. At this point, no major league team is going to give Brown anywhere near the number of at bats Oakland gave him in 2008, and that’s a wise decision. For the A’s, this is clearly addition by subtraction.
Alan Embree, LHP: As he gets on his years, Embree is morphing more and more in a left-handed specialist, even though his platoon splits actually got a bit closer together last season. Even so, with left-handed relief pitching being the sacred golden cow of free agency this offseason, someone will throw more money at this vet than he’s worth. With Embree’s control faltering – he issued a career-high 30 walks last season – I’m not bullish on his chances of experiencing yet another comeback season as he last did in 2006 with the Padres.
Keith Foulke, RHP: He had a tough time staying healthy, but for the most part, Foulke’s decision to unretire worked out well as he enjoyed a solid season out of the A’s pen. He wasn’t offered arbitration, so is most likely headed elsewhere, as the A’s commit to developing their youngsters. A team like the Rays may want to add a veteran arm in the pen should fragile closer Troy Percival not be ready for Opening Day.
Frank Thomas, DH: The Jays finally realized they had shelled out too much money for an aging, one-dimensional player and cut bait early in the season after Thomas struggled badly out of the gate. He headed back to Oakland, a team desperate for another bat despite its glut of DH types, and he was certainly better than he had been in Toronto, but that’s not saying much. The Big Hurt wasn’t so much laying a beating on AL pitchers as opposed to himself, as a quad injury cost him most of the season. Not surprisingly, the A’s also did not offer arbitration to Thomas; he’s a Type B free agent, but the A’s obviously didn’t want to take the chance he’d accept the offer, and instead are willing to forgo the compensation they would have received had another team signed him. It makes sense – the acquisition of Holliday will push Jack Cust to where he should be – a full-time DH, leaving nowhere for Thomas to play. Could this be the end of the line for Thomas?
Next: We’ll head up the coast and check in on the free agent situation in Seattle.