The respective fan bases of our Bay Area baseball teams are, for the most part, predicting doom and gloom, with a strong chance of 100 losses, in their 2008 forecasts.
Can’t really blame them, can you? They have plenty of ammo supporting such claims. But if you happen to be a glass-half-full type, or if you’re simply a true fan of the beauty, cyclical nature, resilience and spirit of the game, you don’t have to look all that hard for reasons to be at least moderately jacked up about heading down to Arizona next month and convincing yourself that things aren’t as bad as they look on paper.
» Glass half-empty: The Giants lost their best hitter (Barry Bonds); they also appear to have parted ways with half of the best defensive left side of the infield in the National League (Pedro Feliz). Their only major offseason addition, while solid in every way, is essentially a No. 5 hitter with nobody to protect (Aaron Rowand); and they lost 91 games in 2007.
» Glass half-full: The baseball gods can’t possibly be mean enough to make Matt Cain go through another year of completely unsupported hell, Tim Lincecum is as electric a No. 2 starter as there is in the bigs, Barry Zito figures to be dramatically better now that the contract is old news and Noah Lowry is a strong No. 4.
Brian Wilson still isn’t Armando Benitez; Bengie Molina, Omar Vizquel and Rowand are defensive stalwarts up the middle and tremendous mentors for the many youngsters who will be in the mix; and if two or three of the five or six youngsters end up being keepers, 85 wins and hope for 2009 isn’t a pipe dream.
The A’s? Wow. Where do you start?
» Glass half-empty: They’ve traded their ace (Dan Haren), their most dynamic offensive player (Nick Swisher), their clubhouse leader (Mark Kotsay) and their Swiss Army knife of a utilityman (Marco Scutaro) for a total of 13 prospects who are too young to have a Bonds rookie card in their collection; they’ve let their top hitter from 2007 leave as a free agent (Shannon Stewart); three-fifths of their projected starting rotation (Rich Harden, Chad Gaudin, Justin Duchscherer) and the star third baseman (Eric Chavez) are rehabbing from major injuries; the No. 5 starter likely will be someone you’ve never heard of unless you work for Baseball Prospectus; the shortstop (Bobby Crosby) hasn’t played more than 100 games in a season for three years; the returning leader in homers and RBIs was in the Mitchell Report (Jack Cust); and they lost 86 games last year.
» Glass half-full: OK, maybe it’s only a quarter-full. But if any team deserves a break from the injury gods, it’s Oakland, and in a healthy Joe Blanton, Harden, Gaudin and Duchscherer, they’ll have a strong rotation. If Chavez and Crosby are healthy and Cust, Mark Ellis and Travis Buck hit like they did last season, they’ll score some runs. The bullpen looks good, too. That’s a lot of ifs, but at least there will be great walk-up tickets available most nights.