Saturday, April 16, 2011

From the Other Side: Oakland Athletics

Today's edition of From the Other Side is a bit different from the others because two A's bloggers volunteered, so this edition will be sort of a mini-roundtable discussion. Joining me today are Bee Hylinski, author of Contract Year, a coming of age love story set against the backdrop of Major League Baseball; and Jason Leary of Junk Ball, where he has blogged the A's since 2008. My thanks goes to both of them for helping me out on this project (One minor note: I conducted this Q&A last week, so keep that in mind).
1. What do the A's have to improve upon from last year in order to challenge for the AL West title?

Bee: Offense.

Jason: That's easy, the A's need to improve their hitting if they're going to have any chance to build on last season's .500 finish and make a run at the AL West title. Acquiring Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus was general manager Billy Beane's attempt to address the A's painfully impotent offense. The early results this season have been uninspiring and it's easy to see why Beane made such an aggressive, but ultimatelt futile, run at free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre.  In my opinion the team's most dangerous hitter is Chris Carter but the young slugger is taking his hacks in Sacramento instead of Oakland as mangement stubbornly tries to convert the lumbering first baseman into an outfielder.

2. How much of a concern is Andrew Bailey's health and how good is their bullpen depth, should they need a fill-in closer for an extended period of time?

Bee: It’s a concern.  He was a big part of the A’s success last year and is a two-time All-Star.  Brian Fuentes hasn’t picked up the slack, though his last outing was good.

Jason: During spring training I didn't think the loss of Bailey would have a big impact since the A's had an impressively deep bullpen thanks to incumbent relievers Mike Wuertz and Craig Breslow and free agent additions Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes. But Wuertz is now on the disabled list and Breslow is still rounding into form after nursing a hamstring injury in spring training. Fuentes should be able to adequately fill in as closer for short periods, but over the long haul of the season the A's are going to need Bailey to anchor the bullpen. Everything I have read indicates that Bailey is recovering at a steady pace and I expect him to spend most of the season handling the ninth inning. 

3. Both the A's and the Tigers finished 2010 with an 81-81 record. What offseason moves have both teams made that make them a better (or worse) team this year?

Bee: I can only speak for the A’s.  They strengthened their offense with the acquisition of DeJesus, Willingham and Matsui and they strengthened their bullpen with Fuentes, Balfour, and maybe Rich Harden if he can get (and stay) healthy.  They also added a solid 5th starter in Brandon McCarthy.

Jason: I think Oakland's addition of Matsui, Willingham, DeJesus, Balfour, Fuentes, Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden all make the team better. The offense should be marginally improved and the bullpen and bench should be deeper. As for the Tigers, adding Victor Martinez to an already strong offense can only help them in the AL Central. Aside from that I think they grossly overpaid for Joaquin Benoit and Brad Penny probably won't be a difference maker in their starting rotation.

4. There have been news stories off and on that the Athletics want to move to a new stadium in order to increase attendance. How likely is this and will it help draw more fans?

Bee: Not likely in the next 5 years as it will take that long to get the approvals and actually build the thing, and it all hinges on MLB’s decision from the study done by Bud Selig’s special commission investigating move possibilities.  As for drawing more fans, it will have that effect, at least initially.  If they have a lousy team in a new ballpark, the interest will wane.

Jason: Personally, I don't think a new ballpark will happen anywhere anytime soon for the A's.  San Jose is simply co-owner Lew Wolff's pipe dream until MLB commissioner gets off his butt and makes a call on whether the A's can move and infringe on the San Francisco Giants' territorial rights. Oakland is making a push for a ballpark near Jack London Square but that process is in the very early stages. California's budget crisis also threatens any effort to build a ballpark in San Jose or Oakland because each city wants to use redevelopment agency funds to help finance a park but Governor Jerry Brown wants to eliminate those agencies.  If the A's ever find a new place to call home they'll definitely get a big boost in attendance, at least in the first few years when droves of fans will probably come out to see the new ballpark.

5. Is there anything that the Tigers can learn from the A's (or vice-versa) that can make them a better team?

Bee: Pitching and defense with decent hitting is the key, as is staying healthy.  Having a top-notch player development program is another strength for the A’s, especially as it pertains to pitchers.  Young pitchers tell me they are thrilled when they are signed or traded to the A’s.  They know they will get great training and stand a better chance of making it to the majors, either with the A’s or as trade bait for other teams.

Jason: To be perfectly honest, I don't follow the Tigers closely enough to be well-versed with their organizational philosophy.  The biggest difference between the A's and Tigers is money, a common theme when comparing the A's to most other organizations. The Tigers sign players to contracts the A's could never afford and the A's sign players the Tigers may never have to consider because a bigger budget means they can successfully bring in top-shelf talent. That makes it hard to level any constructive criticism at the Tigers or focus on something the A's could adopt and use to their advantage.

One additional note from Bee:
The A’s are off to a bit of a slow start, which may be due to reduced playing time at spring training, in an attempt to ward off the injury bug.  It’s early.  I think they’ll be fine.  At this point their Triple-A team is doing better than they are.  

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