The A’s are one big bat away from serious contention in the American League postseason race. The question is: Will ownership be willing to step up?
The A’s have been a pleasant surprise this season. Despite trading Dan Haren and Nick Swisher in the offseason, Rich Harden earlier this year and Joe Blanton on Thursday, they’re seven games over .500 entering play tonight. The A’s are just six games behind the Angels in the AL West and 4½ games behind Tampa Bay, which seems to be sinking after a hot start, in the wild-card race.
The A’s record is primarily due to their fine pitching; their team ERA of 3.39 leads the majors. But that statistic comes with an asterisk: It includes 53 games at McAfee Coliseum, a pitchers’ park.
The rest of the season won’t be so kind to the A’s pitchers, with 41 of their remaining 67 games on the road. The A’s don’t have the hitting to counter the additional runs their pitchers will yield on the road. Specifically, they need more right-handed hitting. Presumably, they’ll soon get Frank Thomas back as a DH (Mike Sweeney is probably history when he comes off the DL) but they can’t count on Thomas remaining healthy or consistent.
A good place to look for right-handed hitting would be the sadsack NL West. Both the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies are more realistic than the Giants about their fortunes this season and seem ready to deal.
The most obvious need for the A’s is at third base. It would be unrealistic to expect much from Eric Chavez for the rest of the year, and Chavez’s career as a full-time player is probably over. Jack Hannahan, who has gotten most of the starts at third, is inadequate, no more than average defensively and a weak hitter.
The Padres might be willing to trade KevinKouzmanoff, though he’s only 27 and in his second year, because Chase Headley, at 24, is regarded as a better prospect. Headley has had to move to the outfield, though he’s much better at third.
Kouzmanoff has hit 12 homers and has 39 RBIs, but all the Padres’ offensive numbers are depressed because their home park is easily the worst in the majors for hitters. His numbers would go up with the A’s. To get Kouzmanoff, the A’s would have to give up some good prospects, but they now have a wealth of them, especially after the Harden and Blanton trades.
If the A’s really wanted to think big, they could go after Matt Holliday, who is reportedly being shopped by the Rockies. This would take a big financial commitment from the A’s because they’d still be on the hook for about $16 million for his contract, which runs through next season, but their current payroll is very low, with all their young players. Holliday is a terrific hitter. Last year, he had an overall season that was one of the six best in major-league history; three of the five others on that list — Lou Gehrig, Chuck Klein and Frank Robinson — are in the Hall of Fame.
Many A’s fans feel, with reason, that the A’s ownership is only interested in building a team which will be good when, or if, they move into the proposed park in Fremont. By stepping up to the plate with a dramatic move now, ownership could show their current fans that they care.