February 23, 2009
Throughout January and February (and probably March), we're reviewing offseason MLB transactions that have fantasy implications, and we're going team-by-team. This isn't quite Hot Stove Daily. The focus here is limited. We're only looking at ownable fantasy players who've found new employers.
In 2008, the A's finished last in the American League in team batting average (.242), on-base percentage (.318) and slugging (.369). Not surprisingly, they also finished last in runs scored (646) by a wide margin.
If you scan a list of last year's lowest individual batting averages, you'll find that it's dominated by A's. Every player in Oakland's infield hit below .240. The guys at the corners, Jack Hannahan and Daric Barton, hit just .218 and .226.
However, the A's added a pair of brand-name sluggers during the offseason, and if Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis can somehow contribute meaningfully in '09, perhaps the lineup can make the leap from atrocious to acceptable. Oakland has a few talented bats stashed in the minor league system – 1B Chris Carter hit 39 home runs at Single-A, OF Aaron Cunningham earned a late call-up – and the organization has plenty of young pitching. LHP Brett Anderson and RHP Trevor Cahill are two of the more interesting prospects in baseball, and RHP Vin Mazzaro is coming off a huge season at Double-A (12-3, 1.90 ERA, 104 Ks in 137.1 IP). So there's hope.
But every team has hope. There are plenty of reasons to doubt the A's, too. They still haven't managed to officially bring down the curtain on the Bobby Crosby era, but for months they've been linked to Orlando Cabrera. They've made exactly two additions so far that have relevance to fantasy owners …
Matt Holliday, acquired via trade
We covered this deal back in November shortly after Holliday went to Oakland in exchange for Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith. It's obviously not great news for Holliday. He's leaving one of baseball's most hitter-friendly environments, Coors Field, and heading to an unfriendly environment,
McAfee Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. Holliday is an excellent hitter, but you shouldn't treat him as an elite outfielder for fantasy purposes in 2009. Check the splits. Over the past three years, he's hit .361/.430/.669 at home and .296/.370/.486 on the road. He's also leaving a team that stole 141 bases in '08 – the highest total in the NL – and joining a team that stole 88.
If Holliday spends the entire season with the A's (no sure thing, but let's say he does), the numbers should be useful, though not obscene. Expect something like 90-25-90-12-.290. That's good, but it's not top-of-the-draft-board material. I'm not taking Holliday near his current Mock Draft Central ADP (14.7). If you want him there, he's all yours.
Street's departure cleared a path for Brad Ziegler and Joey Devine to share closing duties in 2009. Everyone recalls the remarkable scoreless innings streak that Ziegler delivered last season; not everyone seems to realize that Devine was better. Devine's 0.59 ERA was the lowest in baseball history among pitchers who threw 40 innings. You can't set a mark like that without a bit of luck (.224 BABIP), but Devine's strikeout rate was outstanding (9.7 K/9) and his career minor league ratios are pretty good, too (2.87 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 13.2 K/9). His ADP is just 189.9, so you don't have to pay much for the terrific upside.
With Gonzalez gone, 24-year-old Ryan Sweeney tops the depth chart in center for Oakland. You might recall that the 6-4, 215-pound Sweeney has referred to himself "the biggest slap hitter in the league." There's no need to draft him, at least in leagues of normal size.
Jason Giambi, signed for one year, $5.25 million
Giambi is a natural successor in the Oakland tradition of old, creaky designated hitters. He's essentially Jim Thome with first base eligibility. Last season they both delivered 30 homers, 90 RBIs, .240-ish batting averages, and useful OBPs. Neither 38-year-old is going to be taken within the first 150 picks in your draft, but they're going to end up filling a few CI and Util positions. These guys are clearly more interesting in OBP and OPS leagues.
Other A's notes: Oakland signed 40-year-old RP Russ Springer to a one-year deal, but he's no threat to Devine or Ziegler. Springer is definitely worth a look in holds leagues, though. Over the past three seasons he's posted a 2.66 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 8.03 K/9. &helliip; Don't expect another 2.54 ERA from Justin Duchscherer. His strikeout rate is unremarkable, and his .240 BABIP was the lowest in baseball last year among pitchers who threw 100 innings. … From 2000 to 2005, Chavez was both reliable and excellent. Now he's un-draftable due to persistent back issues. Apparently his goal for 2009 is to play 140 games, but you've gotta bet the under there. He'll sit out at least the first week of spring games. … LHP Gio Gonzalez figures to have the edge in the fifth starter battle, while Jerome Williams, Josh Outman and Edgar Gonzalez provide token pressure. … There are Nomar Garciaparra-to-the-A's rumors out there. He'd clearly have a backup role. Maybe Chavez and Nomar can combine for 140 games … maybe.
Before we end this thing, let's acknowledge the fact that Billy North (pictured above) was a badass. Back in '73, when North was the starting centerfielder for the World Champion A's, he stole 53 bases, scored 98 runs, hit .285, and delivered a .376 OBP. He then led the American League in steals the following year with 54, and he beat up Reggie Jackson in a clubhouse fight that June. True story. Total badass. North stole 75 bases in 1976, again leading the league. He was like an edgier Juan Pierre, but with 40 more walks per season. He was great. Probably a top-75 fantasy pick. Today's A's would be a lot more interesting if they had someone like him – even if they had North himself, at age 60.
Feel free to discuss your favorite ex-A in comments...
Images via Kelloggs, AP, Jeremiah Boss