Athletics are in tough company

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues at No. 24 with the Oakland Athletics.

2009 record: 75-87
Finish: Fourth place, AL West
2009 final payroll: $61.7 million
Estimated 2010 opening day payroll: $45 million

OFFSEASON ACTION

At this point last year, the Oakland Athletics had spent their offseason feverishly building a team they believed would contend. They didn’t. They were almost immediately the worst team in the American League West, and their major acquisitions – Matt Holliday(notes) via trade, Jason Giambi(notes) in free agency – were both wearing other uniforms by season’s end.

The A’s took a different tack this offseason. Their biggest signing: center fielder Coco Crisp(notes), to a one-year, $5.25 million deal. They re-signed starter Justin Duchscherer(notes), who missed last season with injuries and depression, and DH Jack Cust(notes). They traded for Cubs utilityman Jake Fox(notes), a decent bat and positional nomad, and loaded up at third base by acquiring Kevin Kouzmanoff from San Diego for outfield surplus Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham.

Otherwise, all’s quiet on the western front, the A’s finishing second in the Aroldis Chapman(notes) sweepstakes and content to bargain hunt otherwise. They understand: With Los Angeles a perennial contender, Seattle making its spirited Felix Hernandez(notes)-Cliff Lee run and Texas primed to bring up even more young talent, now isn’t the time to spend on the present.

The A’s aren’t stupid, no matter how much the anti-“Moneyball” crowd crows about no postseason since 2006. Other teams have wised up. Bravo to them. Strategic advances rarely last more than a few years, and now comes the most difficult part for the A’s: Dreaming up what’s next before everyone else does.

REALITY CHECK

By 2011, the AL West has a chance to be one of those top-to-bottom meat grinders. The AL East, for its gauntlet reputation, still had the bad Tampa Bay and Baltimore teams all those years. Should Oakland’s development plan continue accordingly, the prospect of four young, talented teams inhabiting the West isn’t fantasy.

Fantasy owners: This comes from a known roto laggard, so take it with a heavy pinch of salt, but Brett Anderson(notes) is worth busting a draft budget. He’s left-handed, somehow pumped his velocity from the 90 mph range early in the year to topping out at 98 by the end of the season and complemented the heat with the best slider in baseball. He is, in the words of one scout who saw him in August, “Going to be hand in hand with Jon Lester(notes) for the best lefty this decade.”

Anderson doesn’t turn 22 until February. Trevor Cahill(notes), the sinkerballer who struggled as a rookie last year, isn’t 22 until March. And with Dallas Braden(notes), Vin Mazzaro(notes), Gio Gonzalez(notes), Josh Outman(notes) and Duchscherer, depth among starters isn’t a problem, nor is a bullpen with Andrew Bailey(notes), Michael Wuertz(notes) and the return of Joey Devine(notes).

The big issue, as it was last year: How are the A’s going to score runs? They should be able to prevent them, especially with an outfield defense of Rajai Davis(notes), Crisp and Ryan Sweeney(notes). However, there isn’t a power bat there, nor one anywhere else, really. Rookie first baseman Chris Carter(notes) and outfielder Michael Taylor provide pop, but Oakland expects to start them at Triple-A.

They’ll be ready soon enough. Certainly in time for 2011.

Athletics in Haiku
Eric Chavez(notes), told
Through onomatopoeia
Ouch! Crack! Snap! DL!

NEXT: Cleveland Indians

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Jan 17, 2010