Oakland A's Inside Pitch: Looking Ahead to '05

The Oakland A's finished the season one game short of their fifth straight playoff appearance. As was the case each of the past four years, the A's will be faced with numerous roster changes this off-season. Find out what some of them might be in this edition of <i>Inside Pitch</i>...

In his third-to-last start of the season, Barry Zito was removed after six innings and 106 pitches. The A's were leading 3-1. The bullpen allowed five runs and Zito lobbied for a longer leash.

"Pitch counts are important in that you want to keep guys healthy," said Zito, adding he averaged 120-130 pitches in college. "But I think there should be less attention on pitch counts when you are in a pennant race in late September."

Eleven days later, with the season looming in the balance, Zito had thrown 114 pitches through seven innings. The A's were leading 4-2.

But when the eighth inning started, the crowd of 42,832 fans at Network Associates Coliseum booed when reliever Jim Mecir entered the game. They wanted Zito to remain in the game.

What they didn't know is that after the seventh inning, pitching coach Curt Young checked with Zito, and the lefty said he was done.

"I trust these guys when they tell me they're done," manager Ken Macha said. "You need to put a guy out there when he's at his optimum, or try to anyhow. He's got a good idea of what he's capable of doing."

Macha said "oh yeah" when asked if he would have let Zito begin the eighth inning if the pitcher hadn't said he was done.

"Physically, my legs were tightening up a little bit," Zito explained. "I was starting to labor. I was getting guys out, but I didn't feel that fluidity you want to feel. It had nothing to do with my pitch count. It felt like I was wearing down."

The bullpen blew the lead and lost the game, and that ended the A's season.

Zito's voice cracked as questions persisted about his decision to come out.

"My legs were tightening up, that was it," Zito said. "I don't want to debate this. That's what I felt in my heart. Trust me. Don't you think I'd want to go out there and bust my (butt) for the team? It shouldn't be an issue.

"If you feel your stuff is starting to wear out, it's up to you to decide if I'm going to be able to go out and help the team or not. That's the decision I made."


--RHP Jim Mecir was non-committal on his future following the A's elimination from playoff contention. Mecir has previously said he was leaning toward retirement when the season was over. If this is Mecir's final year, he won't remember the final performance fondly. He allowed two hits with a 4-2 lead, and both runners scored.

--INF Mark McLemore is expected to retire this offseason. McLemore turns 40 on Monday (Oct. 4) and was hoping to be in the playoffs, but that didn't occur. McLemore, widely respected for his personality and knowledge of the game, is considered to have a future in baseball -- as either a coach, manager or general manager.

--LHP Chris Hammond strained a groin in the third-to-last game of the season. Hammond is a free agent this offseason, and it's doubtful the A's will try to bring him back. Hammond is on record that he would like to continue pitching but will consult with his family in the offseason.

--RF Jermaine Dye returned from his sprained thumb and was a hot hitter his final two weeks of the season. But with a $14 mutual option for next season, it's doubtful the A's will pick up their portion of the option, which means Dye will be a free agent.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 -- Number of games the A's had in which they were three outs from winning and couldn't get the final out. They had two last year and one the year before.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "To me, we should have run away with the division. People are going to look back on the last month and criticize that. But to me, it shouldn't have even been a factor." -- Third baseman Eric Chavez.



--Decision on Zito: Trade rumors swirled around Barry Zito for three months this season, and the general consensus is the A's were gauging his trade value. The A's can't afford to sign Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Zito to contract extensions. Hudson has just one year left, and it's likely the A's will try to sign him. Mulder and Zito are signed for 2005 with team options for 2006. If the A's sign Hudson, they might need to trade Zito. If they trade him, the A's should look for a right-handed power-hitting outfielder with 2-3 years left before he's eligible for free agency. But with the shaky end to Mulder's season, the A's can't assume he'll be one of the league's best pitchers, and that complicates their thinking.

--Closer concerns: The A's had a Midas touch with closers over the last four years, hitting gold with Jason Isringhausen, Billy Koch and Keith Foulke. The run ended this year with Arthur Rhodes, although the June acquisition of Octavio Dotel solidified the bullpen. Still, Dotel converted 22 of 28 saves, not counting giving up the base hit that scored the winning run in the game that eliminated them. Also, the way he slings the ball from the side makes his elbow vulnerable to tendinitis. Dotel is eligible for salary arbitration this offseason. If the A's can find a better closer, especially one who's cheaper, they will get one.

--Catching up: Veteran Damian Miller indicated he would like to return to Oakland, but it isn't a certainty. Miller's has a reputation as a great defensive catcher, but his catching ERA was higher than backup Adam Melhuse's catching ERA. Also, the A's thought Melhuse was much better at executing a game plan. They grew frustrated with Miller's pitch calling at times. Whether Melhuse is ready to catch every day, or even four days a week, is also a question. The A's best catching prospects are still a year away (John Baker/ Jeremy Brown) or were just drafted (Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell). The A's could seek a veteran for a year, before their minor leaguers are ready.

STATE OF THE FARM SYSTEM: As usual, the A's farm system is loaded with talent that can either help the major league team or be used as trade bait to help the parent club. Four of their top five affiliates made the playoffs, and two won championships (Triple-A Sacramento and High-A Modesto). The A's also had three Most Valuable Players in the league -- 1B Dan Johnson of the Pacific Coast League, OF Brian Stavisky in the California League and OF Javier Herrera in the Northwest League.


--1B Dan Johnson has nothing left to prove in the minors. Johnson, a seventh-round draft pick in 2001, hit .299 with 29 home runs and 111 RBIs for the River Cats and was named league MVP. The problem is, Johnson is a left-handed hitter. The A's already have a lefty playing first base in Scott Hatteberg (who is signed for 2005) and a lefty as the designated hitter in Erubiel Durazo (who is arbitration eligible). Johnson's bat is ready for the majors. The question is where.

--RHP Jairo Garcia was the talk of the A's organization for five months as he skyrocketed from low-A Kane County to the majors in one season. Garcia struggled at the major league level, however, with his control and command. Garcia could probably use a full season in the minors. He's only 21, has just four years of minor league experience in this country and 2004 was his first full season. But if his numbers approach this year's (102 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings, with a 1.46 ERA combined), he will be in Oakland next year.

--RHP Huston Street made a similar meteoric rise in the system, but his background contains more experience. Street was the closer at the University of Texas and thrived in the role. Drafted in June by the A's, he moved from low-A Kane County to Double-A Midland to Triple-A Sacramento and had combined numbers of a 1.38 ERA, 30 strikeouts in 26 innings. The A's decided not to call him up in September, but don't be surprised if he's competing for a job in the majors in spring training and is in Oakland in 2004.

MEDICAL WATCH: 2B Mark Ellis will continue his rehab from a separated shoulder and torn labrum through the offseason. He will play in instructional league games and perhaps in winter ball. He should be cleared by spring training of next year. RHP Kirk Saarloos will have some type of surgery on his right elbow. One of three options is "Tommy John" surgery, which requires a 12-15 month rehab. Saarloos could compete for a fifth starter/long reliever role in the majors next year if it's only a cleanup surgery. No other A's players have significant injuries that will require surgery. However, since more than 15 players had either back spasms or oblique strains, the A's will need to re-evaluate their offseason conditioning programs and spring training plans to negate a similar rash of the same injury.

Oakland Clubhouse Top Stories