A's Take a Step Forward
by Glenn Dickey
Dec 02, 2005

WHEN THE A’S signed Esteban Loiza, it signaled that their new owners will be willing to bump up the payroll to put together a team that has a good chance to get back to the postseason.

“We aren’t going to go crazy here,” said A’s general manager Billy Beane, “but we do have a little more payroll flexibility. We had to move fast on Loiza because the Giants were in there, too, and when I called Lew Wolff, he gave me the go-ahead right away.”

The A’s were already deep in quality pitchers, but Beane believes, as I do, that you can never have too many good ones. “We’ve got seven starters, and most teams are scrambling to put together a rotation,” he said. “This is a ‘zero sum’ game. If you have better pitching, you don’t need quite as much hitting.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Barry Zito will be traded, as so many writers assumed after the Loiza signing. “We don’t have to do anything,” Beane said. “This is not the same situation as last year.”

Last year, Beane felt he had to trade Tim Hudson, who would have been a free agent after the season. He also traded Mark Mulder a year early, because he feared that Mulder’s injury problems might be chronic, and he felt Mulder's trade value would never be higher.

This year, with a somewhat expanded payroll, he can be more patient. If he sees the chance to pick up a proven right-handed power-hitter for the DH role – one reader suggested Troy Glaus, who would be a good fit – he could trade Zito. But, he doesn’t have to, even though Zito’s contract will be up at the end of the season.

Kirk Saarloos was a solid No. 5 starter last year, but Loiza is a better pitcher. If there are no changes to the A’s staff, they’d be better served with Loiza in the rotation, with Saarloos available as an emergency starter and for long relief.

Last September, the A’s had serious problems when Rich Harden was sidelined. Joe Kennedy, who had been a help to the bullpen because he could pitch 2-3 innings if necessary, was made the fifth starter, and he was totally inadequate. Beane counts him as one of the seven available starters, but please, let’s not see any more of him in that role.

If Saarloos were in the bullpen, the A’s wouldn’t have that worry if a starter went down, because he could take over the No. 5 slot.

TEAMS ALWAYS measure themselves against their divisional competition, and the A’s chances were improved because the Angels could not get Paul Konerko, who re-signed with the White Sox. Had Konerko gone to the Angels, it would have forced Beane to make a deal for a hitter. As it is, the A’s are the team which has improved – and, before those September injuries to Harden and shortstop Bobby Crosby. the A’s were a better team than the Angels last season.

Still, it would surprise me if Beane did not make a significant move, beyond Loiza, this offseason. That’s not his style. He’s always been very pro-active.

Frank Thomas remains a possibility. Certainly, the White Sox have no use for him, after re-signing Konerko and trading for Jim Thome. Thomas is a Beane type of player, a power hitter who has a high on-base percentage, as well. But he comes with a huge asterisk: his injury history. Unless Beane can get some assurances that Thomas could stay reasonably healthy for a season, he wouldn’t make that deal. I doubt that he can get those assurances.

I think it’s much more likely that he’d go for a younger player. The Arizona Diamondbacks have two young right-handed hitters, Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin, who are possibilities. Jackson, a former Cal player, has been a Beane favorite. In the 2003 draft, Beane was poised to draft him, but the Diamondbacks grabbed him just before the A’s turn came up.

The kind of trade the A’s make probably depends on who they’re dealing with, and who they’re seeking. Zito has always been a favorite of Beane’s, who has resisted earlier suggestions by writers that he trade Barry. I think he would be traded only if Beane could get that proven veteran hitter and only if it’s to a team with deep pockets, which could afford to sign Zito to a contract extension for much more money than his current contract, as Atlanta did with Hudson after trading for him.

I believe it’s more likely that Beane will make a trade for a younger hitter with a package that could include Saarloos and/or Justin Duchscherer and a minor league prospect.

“I never say any young player is an untouchable because we’re trying to win now, and I think we have a real opportunity this year,” said Beane, who has traded away top young prospects, such as Eric Hinske, in the past. That said, from the way Beane talks about Daric Barton, I’d be shocked if he were traded. Javier Herrera, a centerfielder who can do it all, is also an unlikely trade possibility – and he hits right-handed. Andre Ethier, the MVP in the Texas League last season, could be part of a package, though, because he’s another left-handed hitter.

THE OTHER noteworthy factor in the Loiza signing was that the A’s forfeited their first-round pick in next spring’s draft. Usually, they have more than one pick in the draft, and they’ve used the draft to build their team and provide trading chips.

Right now, though, they’re in a good position because they still have prospects in the minor league system and they brought up so many players last season, two position starters – Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher – and starter Joe Blanton and closer Huston Street, the American League Rookie of the Year.

This is the season for consolidation, for putting together a team that can start another playoff run, for this season and those following. The Loiza signing was an important step, but there will be more to come.


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