Oakland has some huge question marks
After nearly a decade of Billy Beane weaving his small-market Moneyball magic, Oakland had a reality check last season. The A's -- who'd averaged 94 victories over the previous eight years, with four AL West titles and five playoff appearances -- finished 10 games under .500 and just a game ahead of last-place Texas.
GM: Billy Beane
Manager: Bob Geren
'07 record: 76-86, 3rd AL West
'07 payroll: $79.9M, 16th MLB
Runs scored: 741, 11th AL
Runs allowed: 758, 6th AL
OPS: .745, 11th AL
ERA: 4.28, 6th AL
Fielding percentage: .985, T-3rd AL
Primary needs1. The A's must stay healthy. That is especially vital for Rich Harden, who has the stuff to be a dominant No. 1 pitcher, but has started just 13 games the past two years because of shoulder and other problems. Also, shortstop Bobby Crosby (back, hand) hasn't played 100 games in any season since winning rookie of the year in 2004, and third baseman Eric Chavez will be coming back from shoulder surgery in September and back surgery in October. 2. The A's need to add right-handed power. They have decent left-handed pop with Jack Cust (26 homers in 395 at-bats), Nick Swisher (a switch-hitter, but 43 of his 57 homers the past two years were from the left side) and, if healthy, Chavez, but they are lacking a middle-of-the-order hitter from the right side. 3. The A's need to restock their once-thriving farm system. The key to competing with a modest payroll ($79 million in 2007) has been Beane's ability to keep churning out young talent, but it appears that pipeline is drying up. Look for the A's to beef up their Latin American scouting, and at least consider moving an established player in exchange for prospects.
Free agentsDH Mike Piazza, OF Shannon Stewart, OF Jeff DaVanon Beane tried to milk one more big season from Piazza, but he was largely an $8 million bust as DH, and won't be re-signed. The A's wouldn't mind bringing back Stewart (.290, 12 homers, 48 RBIs), but only at the right price. The big question, of course, is whether they will go after the slugger across the Bay, former Giant Barry Bonds, who fits the Beane Moneyball profile to perfection. But they have a cheaper alternative in Cust, who doesn't come with baggage. The A's could also dip into the free-agent market to find a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher after basically selling Esteban Loaiza to the Dodgers (who assumed more than $8 million in guaranteed salary when they claimed Loaiza off waivers in late August).