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Camp Notes: Athletics in Phoenix

The Athletics have had had one of baseball's most interesting offseasons. As is his wont, General Manager Billy Beane was overactive rather than sitting tight, making one of the biggest deals of the winter right off the bat, adding outfielder Matt Holliday from the Rockies in exchange for his own closer, Huston Street, who the team had been quietly shopping for a couple of years. Despite that move -- and the re-signing of Jason Giambi -- there are still plenty of questions swirling around Oakland's spring training camp in Phoenix ... and plenty of moves that could still be made.

  • What is Billy Beane up to? After shedding payroll and veterans for years, the frugal Oakland General Manager is suddenly splashing cash around, trading for slugging outfielder Matt Holliday and making a big push for both shortstop Rafael Furcal and Orlando Cabrera. Why the change in philosophy?
  • Will they get Cabrera? Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle says there's mutual interest between the team and the player. The hard-hitting shortstop can be a difference maker, but he's also been known as a clubhouse killer in more locations than not. Still, the A's have been interested in Cabrera longer than anyone else, and their interest in signing him reportedly hasn't waned. Naturally, that just begs the question: Why isn't Cabrera already signed? And what will it take for Oakland to close the deal?
  • If not Cabrera, what about Nomar Garciaparra? The A's were late on the scene when it comes to courting the former Red Sox star, but that doesn't mean they won't land him. ESPN's Buster Olney indicated high interest from Oakland in recent days, and Garciaparra would help the A's balance their lineup, provided he could hit in the AL the way he did for the Dodgers in recent years.
  • What does Jason Giambi have left? The A's signed the Gi-am-bino in the offseason, assuming that a return to his original climes would harken an improved slugging percentage and OBP. There's no guarantee of that, but Giambi will still be relied upon to play a key role in the team's lineup; he'll either be hitting in front of or behind Matt Holliday, so Giambi has to hit to make sure that Holliday will see decent pitches.
  • Speaking of Holliday, will he hit the way he did in Colorado? Much has been made about the slugger's home/away splits. Sure, belting homers in a bandbox like Coors Field can inflate one's stats, but Holliday put up monster numbers after they started storing baseballs in a humidor to neutralize Coors Field's altitude and short fences. What will happen in a cavernous arena like the Oakland Coliseum?
  • What happens if the A's are out of the race by the trade deadline? It's the ultimate question with Billy Beane every year: Will the A's be buyers or sellers. Beane is, first and foremost, a cold-hard hearted businessman, and if he thinks his team is out of it by the trade deadline, you'd expect him to cut his losses. Does that include Holliday, who he just picked up and -- one would assume -- would like to analyze as much as possible to see if signing him to a long-term deal is a smart option? What about the team's latest crop of young pitchers? Beane has never been afraid to trade an asset as it peaks if he fears future injury or a dip in performance. Who might be on tap for such a swoon this time around?

By Cameron Smith  |  February 23, 2009; 11:22 AM ET
Categories:  Athletics  
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Next: Camp Notes: Giants in Scottsdale

Comments

Billy's making a big push this year because he sees a division ripe for the taking and the ability to get players at a price he won't be able to get for several more years. The Angels ran away with the division last year but have suffered some serious hits to their team, dropping them down a rung or two from their 100 win season to, my guess, an 85-90 win team. Billy has bolstered an 80 win team into a potential 85-90 win team as well, giving them a good shot at the division. And since Billy has admitted the playoffs are a crapshoot, he just needs to get in to have a chance.

The Oakland A's last year were a pathetic offensive team. Jack Cust led the team with an OPS+ of 132, which is dang good. But then the next best was Frank Thomas at 106 (in only 55 games), then Ryan Sweeney at 101. Everyone else was below average offensively.

Garciaparra would be a waste of money. He breaks down, his power has disappeared due to wrist injuries and not playing in Fenway. If they can get him pretty cheap and he'd be willing to play a backup/platoon role, then it might be worth it. But promising him a starting job and expecting a full year from him would be a mistake.

Jason Giambi over the last 4 years has had OPS+'s of 161, 148, 108 and 128. He can regress quite a bit and still be the 2nd best offensive player the A's have (maybe 3rd if Holliday doesn't bomb outside of Coors).

As for the trade deadline, if they're out of it Billy will be selling anything he can for prospects, especially if they're only inked to a 1 year contract.

Posted by: adampschroeder | February 23, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

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