How the Heck Do the A’s Keep Winning?

Quickly, what’s the best team in the AL? If you were thinking Boston, New York, Cleveland, or Anaheim, you’re wrong. Those four playoff teams from last year are enjoying mixed success this year, with both Boston and Anaheim at 8-6. But much to my surprise, and probably yours, it’s not one of these talented and high-payroll teams that leads the league — it’s the Oakland A’s who currently hold the best record the AL. Only a couple of months ago I declared that the A’s had conceded the 2008 season. Clearly they’re out to prove me wrong.

While I don’t think they can keep it up, I’m nevertheless impressed by their solid start. You really can’t harbor any animosity towards this team; they’re so well-run that you can’t do anything but respect what them. Sure, Rich Harden and Justin Duchscherer are already on the DL, but this team is looking good. Dana Eveland who was acquired in the Haren trade has been lights out. Andrew Brown, Santiago Casilla, and Keith Foulke have been money in the pen. The staff as a whole has an ERA right around 3.50. They’re not swinging the bat especially well, but guys like Mark Ellis, Bobby Crosby, and Emil Brown have provided well-timed hits. This team doesn’t have even one borderline star on the team yet they’re playing well. How the heck do they do it? And how does Billy freaking Beane field a competitive team every single season?

Moneyball Star Jeremy Brown Retiring

Jeremy Brown Oakland A’sThis touches me, and pretty much anyone who read the outstanding book by Michael Lewis, Moneyball, deeply. Jeremy Brown was “the Badger” — the prototypical Moneyball player, one of the focuses of the book. He wasn’t pretty, didn’t look good with his shirt off, and he wasn’t heavily scouted coming out of college. But Billy Beane’s scouting system saw something — they saw a catcher who mixed an outstanding on-base percentage with some good power. They took Brown in the first round of the draft at a discounted rate when most people thought he was an extremely late round pick, if that. Beane reminded his scouts that they weren’t “selling blue jeans,” and looks didn’t matter. Well, after a career that’s lasted six years in the minors, and one 10-game stint in the majors, it appears as if Brown is calling it quits:

Brown … called Oakland assistant general manager David Forst on Tuesday and said that, for personal reasons the A’s chose not to disclose, he would not arrive in spring training camp.

The A’s announced Brown’s decision as a retirement, but general manager Billy Beane said it could be viewed more as a sabbatical, based on the fact that the A’s told Brown he would be welcomed back if he decided to change his mind.

I really don’t know what his reason for not reporting is, but I do know that at 28, he could have felt old for a minor leaguer. Maybe he thought his future wasn’t as a professional ballplayer. Sad news. The bright side is that Brown was 3-for-10 in the majors, and could retire as a .300 hitter for his career if he is hanging it up.

The Oakland A’s Have Conceded 2008

Which makes me quite pleased as an Angels fan. As I told my buddy Alan today, this could be the year they finish at the bottom of the division. It’s looking like they’ll be behind Texas in the standings — how crazy is that? The A’s have broken off two of their most valuable parts by trading Dan Haren and Nick Swisher. They got five prospects in return for Haren (trading him at his peak value), and three back for Swisher (at a time when power hitters are few and far between). The A’s won’t have many guys on their ’08 roster who are beyond their arbitration years. Matter of fact, they’re now closer to Florida Marlins status than they are Minnesota Twins — if you want to compare small market teams.

So what does this mean? Much as it did a few years ago when Beane dealt Mulder and Hudson in the same off-season, the A’s are clearly rebuilding. They’re trying to stack their farm system with young guys who can all come up at the same time, making Oakland a competitive team in ’09, ’10, and ’11. It’s a harsh reality for fans to deal with, and a very fine line to walk. One of the major battles the A’s are facing is timing. See, the A’s can accurately project a player to develop into a superstar but it could go to waste. What I mean is that they don’t just need stars, they need the players to become stars immediately — before they’re eligible to make big money in arbitration and free agency. As if it’s not challenging to build a team as is, the A’s have to hope their low-salary, pre-free agency players develop early and all within the same two year span. If not, they’re screwed, and they’ll have to keep breaking off pieces until their players all develop simultaneously. What a crappy way to have to build a team.

Nick Swisher Is Better Than the Entire Oakland Team

OK, first check the final score of the game, and then check the scoring summary below:

Pretty impressive huh? The A’s were held to just four runs, but miraculously Nick Swisher drove in six. Incredible! The boxscore was from the usually impeccable Yahoo! Sports.

Baseball Preview: Oakland Athletics

Last year’s record and finish are in parenthesis with projected improvement/decline indicated by plus or minus.

Oakland Athletics (93-69, 1st in the AL West) -7 games

Get Crunked: It’s weird to say it, but I think the excitement starts in the bullpen which is one of baseball’s best. Innings 7-8-9, it’s hard to find better pitchers than Kiko Calero, Justin Duchscherer, and Huston Street to finish a game. In the rotation, Dan Haren has become an underrated starter and absolute innings eater. Rich Harden can be an ace if he stays healthy. Nick Swisher showed off his power last year, coming in second on the team with 35 jacks.

Party Foul: The lineup is another hodge-podge creation by Billy Beane; there’s nothing that really stands out, but for some reason, everything will come together. Eric Chavez must rebound to his 30-100 form to provide support for Swisher in the middle, and combine with Piazza to replace the loss in production with Frank Thomas’ departure. Injuries can really slow this team down — Chavez had one last year, Crosby always seems to be hurt, same with Milton Bradley and Shannon Stewart. Mark Kotsay and Esteban Loaiza already went down, the A’s can’t afford much more.

Rich Harden has the stuff to make fans forget about Barry Zito

What’d my GM do: He had to let ace Barry Zito and slugger Frank Thomas go, there just wasn’t enough money to keep them around. There was considerably less wheeling-and-dealing from Billy Beane than usual, all he really did was sign Mike Piazza to an $8.5 million one-year deal hoping Piazza will somewhat replace the Big Hurt. Alan Embree was brought in on a two-year deal to serve as the lefty stopper out of the pen. He also signed Shannon Stewart for such a cheap one-year deal, that it’s low-risk, high-reward. Beane will no doubt look to bolster the team at the trade deadline like usual.

Lay it on me Straight: The pitching really stands out to me, because the bullpen is so solid and the rotation isn’t far behind. The emergence of a healthy Rich Harden will replace Barry Zito’s production, and the bounce back year from Eric Chavez, plus Piazza will combine to fill the gaping hole left by Frank Thomas. The hitting isn’t stellar, but it’s enough to win games.

So where my boys gonna finish right now: They still should be good enough to win the division once again, but not win as many games as last year. Luckily the Angels have so many injuries to key players and failed to improve drastically over the off-season, otherwise Oakland would truly be in trouble.

Can we be better than that: Billy Beane runs the team — anything’s possible. Think about it, they won 93 games last year. 93!! Of course they can do better than what I have projected.