When Jim Mecir grooved a 3-1 pitch in the top of the ninth inning to Jose Valentine last night, no one could have imagined the devastating effects Valentine's game-tying home run would have on the A's season. Not only did it continue a disturbing trend of A's relief pitchers blowing saves, but it also cost the A's the heart of their offense and infield defense. By allowing the game get into extra-innings, it allowed Eric Chavez to face Damaso Marte with a runner on first and no one out in the bottom of the 11th inning. What unfolded in that at-bat could result in the undoing of the A's season. Marte, who up to that point had shown decent control, seemed to lose it with the last two pitches of his appearance. The first one flew over Chavez's head, requiring a nifty leaping save by catcher Miguel Olivo. Then the second pitch came screaming inside, too quickly for Chavez to get out of the way. It clanked off his hand and with Chavez's very audible yelp of pain, it quickly became apparent that this would keep him out of the line-up, at least for a few games. The injury was initially diagnosed as a bruised hand, but x-rays taken later that evening revealed that Chavez had indeed broken his hand. MLB.com reported that doctors gave Chavez a timetable of being out "at least three weeks", but as Manager Ken Macha indicated in the same article, these injuries generally take six weeks to heal.
So what now for the Oakland A's? Over the next four weeks, the A's take on the Chicago White Sox for two more games, then Toronto for three, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and the Chicago Cubs for three a piece, the Anaheim Angels for four on the road, the Giants for three, Anaheim again for three, then the Giants for three more, Boston for three and Cleveland for three. After completing that stretch, the A's get the All-Star break and, hopefully, Chavez will be ready to return. However, with that daunting schedule in front of them, the A's are in real danger of being out of the race by the time Chavez is back in the line-up. The A's offense hadn't been generating a lot of runs with Chavez in the line-up; it is difficult to imagine how they will be able to score runs without him hitting in the third spot.
That said, the schedule stops for no team, so the A's are quickly going to have to re-group and figure out who they will call on to replace Chavez. Below are some of the options:
Mark McLemore: McLemore is likely the best option for the A's to use, at least in the short-term, to replace Chavez at third on a day-to-day basis. McLemore is a wiley veteran who has shown great dexterity around the thirdbase bag in his limited appearances there this season. He is also a switch-hitter who can provide the team with a little bit of speed and flexibility either at the top or bottom of the order. Unfortunately, McLemore is battling injuries of his own (a knee problem which will likely hamper him all season) and can't be counted on to play every day.
Esteban German: German, who has played primarily at secondbase in Sacramento this season, could be called up to fill Chavez's spot. German is a solid fielder who can play multiple positions in the infield and runs extremely well. He is also a patient hitter who routinely hits .300 or better in AAA. However, he has shown a lot of jitters in his previous appearances in Oakland and hasn't hit well in the big leagues. He has been on the cusp of a big league roster spot for two seasons now and it may be time for the A's to give German an extended look in the big leagues. If the A's brought German up, they could hit him lead-off which would allow them to move Mark Kotsay to the second spot, where he could drive in more runs.
Mike Edwards: Edwards has played the bulk of the RiverCats' games at thirdbase this season. He has hit well, sporting a .881 OPS with 7 homeruns and 21 RBIs. Edwards also hit well in spring training. However, he played mostly in the outfield in the spring and has committed ten errors in Sacramento already this season. Edwards would be a good choice if the A's were looking more to add offense at the third spot rather than defense.
Adam Morrissey: Morrissey, the Australian infield prospect the A's picked up in the Mark Bellhorn trade with Chicago a few years back, has played the second-most number of games at third for Sacramento this season. Morrissey has also hit well, compiling an .847 OPS. He would give the A's infield depth, as he plays secondbase in addition to third and has only committed four errors this season. Morrissey has no major league experience, however, and it may be asking him a lot to jump from his first tastes of AAA to the starting line-up in Oakland.
Wild Card - Mark Teahen: There is little chance that the A's will go in this direction, but seeing as how Teahen is arguably the best offensive prospect in the A's system, there is a chance the A's would take a flier on bringing up Midland's hot hitting thirdbaseman. Teahen has ripped the cover off of the ball since the start of the season in Texas. However, he had struggled with his power numbers until this season and could stand for more development time in AA and AAA before making his debut.
Trade Route: The most likely long term scenario for the A's is to look for a solution through a trade. While it will likely be difficult to find a solution at thirdbase via a trade (especially with Anaheim also looking), the A's may be able to fill the hole by acquiring a secondbaseman and moving Marco Scutaro to third. Some available secondbasemen include Baltimore's Jerry Hairston and Seattle's Brett Boone. Hairston would be the easier target to obtain because 1) he isn't a super-star and has already lost his position to Brian Roberts, 2) the Orioles need young pitching and the A's have an abundance of pitching to offer, and 3) his salary is small, so it wouldn't be hard to fit him into the A's payroll. Hairston is a good top of the order hitter with excellent speed and a good glove. The A's will most likely be looking to manufacture runs in Chavez's absence and someone like Hairston would give the A's the ability to do just that. Hairston would also help replace the defensive range at second that the team has missed since Mark Ellis went down with a shoulder injury in the spring.
The second option, Bret Boone, is more difficult for a number of reasons: 1) Boone plays for a division rival who, despite being mostly out of the race, would have a tough time answering to their fans if they traded their best hitter to Oakland, 2) makes too much money and has a contract that runs past this season, and 3) is having a rough, injury-plagued season himself. That being said, acquiring Boone would be the bold kind of move that Billy Beane has become famous for over the past five years. Boone would greatly reduce the pressure on the rest of the A's hitters in the middle of the line-up and would also bring a Gold Glove to secondbase.
The final option would be to try to acquire Joe Randa from Kansas City, who have announced that they are looking to move many of their impending free agents. However, there wouldn't be anywhere for Randa to play once Chavez returned to the line-up so I doubt that the A's will look in that direction. Other names such as former A Tony Batista of Montreal might also be considered.
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