A’s scour planet for talent

Having battled through many of their early-season injury problems, the A’s are once again looking like a team headed for the World Series.

The turnaround is an organizational triumph. Look at some of the key players in the latest surge: Mike Rouse, up from Sacramento; Marco Scutaro, who was picked up on waivers three seasons ago; reliever Brad Halsey, who was with the Arizona Diamondbacks to begin spring training; Kirk Saarloos, obtained in a 2004 trade with the Houston Astros for Chad Harville; starter Joe Blanton, a 2002 draft pick; closer Huston Street, a 2004 draft pick who is only two years removed from the College World Series.

This is typical of the A’s, who have made a virtue of necessity. Because their budget is limited, they explore every avenue to get players.

They scout college and high school players thoroughly, make good choices and then develop them in their minor league system; they’ve had the last two AL Rookies of the Year, Street and shortstop Bobby Crosby. They also scout other organizations and pick up players who can help them — Scutaro, Halsey and Saarloos now, Scott Hatteberg, Olmedo Saenz and Matt Stairs earlier.

In the offseason, general manager Billy Beane meets with the top people in the organization to plan strategy for the next season. The 2005 season was viewed as a rebuilding year, with newcomers Blanton and Dan Haren in the pitching rotation, Street in the bullpen and Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson in the field. The young A’s played so well that the team was in the thick of the race for the postseason until injuries to Crosby and starter Rich Harden derailed them in September.

There was no question of the goal for this season. Beane added pitching depth by signing Esteban Loaiza. He added power by signing Frank Thomas. He added versatility and depth by trading top prospect Andre Ethier to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez.

And Barry Zito would not be traded, despite all the ongoing rumors. He’s too important to the rotation.

Not all has worked out as planned. Loaiza, who missed spring training because he was playing in the World Baseball Classic, had an injury he tried unsuccessfully to conceal. Healthy now, he’s pitching as he was expected to. Bradley has hardly played because of various injuries and Perez has not played enough to find his batting stroke. Meanwhile, Harden is injured again and probably won’t return until after the All-Star Game.

Thomas has gone on the 15-day disabled list with a leg injury; with nine games in National League parks in this stretch, he could only have been used as an occasional pinch-hitter.

But the A’s are playing through it with confidence. It will only get better in the second half as Harden returns, along with injured relievers Justin Duchscherer and Joe Kennedy, and Bradley starts to

contribute.

The A’s have a storied history in Oakland, with three straight world championships (1972-74) and three straight pennants (1988-90), including one world championship (1989). This team is not yet the equal of those teams, but it’s a confident bunch with a deep pitching staff. A good team which will only get better, the A’s will be tough to beat in September.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com

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