2003 season ended for the Oakland Athletics like the three seasons before it, with a disappointing game 5 loss in the ALDS. This time to a new culprit, the Boston Red Sox defeated the A's in a series that involved bar fights and improper gestures and if that wasn't enough A's lost their All-Star Closer to the Red Sox. Then they lost Perennial MVP in Miguel Tejada to the Baltimore Orioles. They also managed to trade All Star Catcher Ramon Hernandez to the San Diego Padres and their most consistent pitcher in the second half Ted Lilly to the Toronto Blue Jays. After all these departures why do the A's still feel they are a major contender in a much improved AL West. It is simple because Billy Beane is the best in what he does, he adds by subtracting and this year he was allowed to raise the payroll to over 60 Million dollars by owner Steve Schott. This allowed him to keep the core of the team together which means the big three. There was some early speculation after the World Series that the A's might trade Tim Hudson for a young outfielder but that was quickly nipped in the bud. The A's know they are only as good as the big three, since Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito proved that they are critical for the A's to succeed.
Since the A's offense left a lot to be desired last year, Beane knew he had to address the offense this off-season, A's were second to last in the AL with a .254 BA. A's always have thrived themselves on being a patient hitting team but even that was not their forte` last year as they finished 10th in the AL with a .327 OBP. Outfield defense was also highly questionable with Terrance Long consistently breaking the wrong way on fly balls to center and watching a hurt Jermaine Dye looking like a shell to his formal self. The A's outfielders combined to make 18 errors last year, which was better than only three other teams in the AL.
The off-season began with a trade of a player that was expected, after Terrance Long publicly criticized Manager Ken Macha after the loss in the playoffs, his days were numbered as an A. But to get rid of his contract A's had to include Ramon Hernandez, who happened to have his best year in the major in 2003. The player the A's got in return was Mark Kotsay. Lets take a look at some of the major moves the A's made in the off-season.
Mark Kotsay (CF) : After playing in only 128 games in 2003. Kotsay figures to have a major impact on the A's roster. He brings a great glove into the A's outfield and establishes himself as the everyday CF. He does bring a lot of baggage with him, his health has been a concern for the past couple of years and his contract guarantees him $ 6.5 Million a year for the next three years. The A's were very careful in finalizing the deal making sure Kotsay's back checked out, they seem to be certain that he will produce on the field and remain in the starting lineup. If healthy Kotsay gives the A's one of the best defensive OF in the game, playing alongside with a healthy Dye and newly acquired Bobby Kielty, he gives the A's their best OF defense in the past few years. His bat can't hurt either; he is a career .281 hitter and has shown 15+ homer power. Most likely leading off with the A's he provides above average base running with a knack for stealing bases, he has 65% success rate in stealing bases. The A's are counting on the fact that all the back injuries are behind him and he is ready to enter the prime of his career, at just 28 years of age, Kotsay has just begin to show his full potential.
Bobby Kielty (LF): Ted Lilly was a victim of Billy Beane's fascination with players with High OPB%; Beane traded Lilly to the Blue Jays to acquire LF Bobby Kielty. Last year it was the acquisition of Erubiel Durazo. This year Beane focused on another player he had admired from afar in Bobby Kielty. Kielty who has an OBP of .367 through out his career and he finds himself in a new role, as an everyday player for the A's. A switch-hitter, Kielty has shown patience, knowledge of the strike zone, power potential from both sides and an inane ability to get on base. Kielty also brings a solid glove to the OF which was absolutely horrendous last year. Kielty who was caught in roster shuffle in Minnesota and only begin to scratch the surface with the Blue Jays will be a huge factor on the A's success this year. A's had a desperate need to have a switch hitter in their lineup with power.
Arthur Rhodes (RP): Keith Foulke was so good last year; many observers felt that the A's can't afford to lose him. Apparently the A's brass felt the same way as they made serious bids to keep him with the A's but eventually were outbid by the Red Sox. To find his replacement the A's didn't have to look too far, they signed Seattle's setup man Arthur Rhodes to a 3 year $ 9.2 Million deal. Rhodes who struggled last year as he battled ankle problems with the Mariners is slated to be the A's new closer. While he has the stuff to be a closer, his mental ability can be questioned if he has the demeanor to be a closer. Rhodes struggled last year with the Mariners as their closer but A's are convinced he was their best choice to replace Keith Foulke. "I don't think you can question his stuff," A's manager Ken Macha said during a function at the Oakland Arena. "It's a matter of him getting out there and seeing what he does." For the A's sake lets hope he can close otherwise this contract might come back to haunt the A's.
Mark Redman (SP): Beside the big three, A's have a reputation for having a good # 4 starter. Mark Redman gets ready to take place of traded Ted Lilly. Coming off a World Championship team, Redman became a causality of the money game as the Marlins traded him to the A's for little used Mike Neu. Days after the trade, A's signed Redman to a 3 year deal worth $ 11 Million. He joins Hudson, Mulder and Zito in a rotation that is going to be rounded up with Rich Harden. Redman is a soft tossing lefty who relies on his control more than his speed. He walked only 61 batters in over 190 innings last year. Being a lefty he gives the A's three left handed pitchers in their starting rotation to go along with CY Young winner Barry Zito and All-Star Mark Mulder.
Other players that were added by the A's were:
Eric Karros (1B): Figures to play 1b against left handed pitching and provide some veteran leadership to a young team.
Damien Miller (C) : Will split time with Adam Melhuse, and provide a veteran catcher to replace Ramon Hernandez.
Chris Hammond (RP): Acquired in a trade, Hammond has had two good years with the Yankees and the Braves, he will play a factor in providing some rest to often used Ricardo Rincon.
A's won 96 games last year, and they should come close to that number again this year. Without signing any big names free agents Beane has quietly addressed some major needs. A's expect Bobby Crosby to emerge as an everyday SS and put up some decent numbers in his first full year in the majors. Same can be said about Rich Harden who struggled with his control during his rookie campaign but showed flashes of brilliance during his first year. The outfield defense has dramatically improved which will help the pitchers, the infield defense will take a hit with departure of Tejada but Eric Chavez has shown great range and Mark Ellis will continue to play because of his superb glove. Bullpen expects to be a lot better and deeper but question remains if Rhodes can close effectively. The X factor this year has to be Jermaine Dye who must return to his pre injury levels and put up the same numbers he did when he was in Kansas City. A's did a good job to remain competitive this off-season as they watched division rivals Angels bring in big free agents such as Vladimir Guerrero, Kelvim Escobar and Bartolo Colon.
The A's have a very good chance of defending their AL west crown, especially if Rhodes and Dye perform like the A's hope for them to perform. A's can't afford to get Dye injured or Rhodes to fail miserably as a closer.
Kabir Chahal resides in Fremont, California and is an avid Baseball Fan. Kabir Chahal welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org
A productive winter for the A's?
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