Clubhouse Chatter: Mission Impossible?

General Manager Billy Beane, this is your mission, should you choose to accept it: find a middle of the order hitter for the Oakland A's by the start of the 2006 season. This mission will be difficult and risky. Here are a few suggestions on how you can navigate this tenuous situation.

Now that you have navigated that sticky managerial situation, your attention must turn to the Oakland A's most glaring need: a middle of the order hitter to pair with slugger Eric Chavez. Although you have done an admirable job putting together a line-up filled with fine hitters, it was clear last season that the A's were missing a big hitter who could take the pressure off of Chavez. With nearly the entire roster from the promising 2005 squad returning, the 2006 season should be a golden opportunity for the A's to push for a playoff appearance. This off-season is a time to be bold. Below are my parameters for how you may complete this most important mission:

The Requirements

Although many pundits have suggested that the A's need to acquire a potent right-handed bat to complement the left-handed hitting Chavez, I don't believe that you need to limit your search to right-handed hitters. The A's hit left-handed pitching very well last season, so I don't believe the right-handed part of the equation is all that essential. After all, most great hitters are effective against both left and right-handed pitching, so it would be better to get the best hitter available, regardless of "handedness".

Where your situation gets complicated, Mr. Beane, is when it deals with the type of contract this hitter should come with. As you are well aware, the A's have salary restrictions that force you to be extremely careful with your money. The A's have already committed a lot of money to Chavez and will have to make a decision about how much money to give to starting pitcher Barry Zito. Most of the rest of your young players are locked up at a reasonable rate for the next several years, but you still don't want to put too many eggs in one basket or too much money in one player.

It is also important for you to keep an eye on the future. Although 2006 could be a golden opportunity for the A's to make a push for a World Series appearance, that appearance shouldn't come at the expense of the future. You have some very talented players coming up in your system who should be ready to play in 2007 or 2008. Be mindful not to block those players' tracks to the major leagues with a long-term (more than three years) contract to a mid-30s superstar.

With those requirements laid out, here are some suggestions for players you could look at as part of this mission. I'll give you the plusses and minuses for each player. What you choose to with the information is up to you.

The Free Agent Targets

Brian Giles, OF/DH, San Diego Padres

Many national pundits have already linked Giles to the A's and it isn't hard to see why. Giles has made a career of being exactly the kind of player you, Billy Beane, covets. The Southern California native has a great eye, power to all fields and a tenacity of a tremendous competitor. He is no spry chicken, but at age 35, Giles is still performing at a high level and playing every day. Giles had a .423 OBP last season and his 906 OPS would have led the A's offense. He also runs well for an older player, having swiped 13 bases last season.

The Reasons It Might Work

- Giles wants to win and the A's would present a chance for him to get back to the playoffs with a competitive team.
- Giles is a California native and he has expressed an interest in staying on the West Coast. He is also very close with A's catcher Jason Kendall, who would likely recruit Giles to Oakland if asked.
- Although Giles hits right-handed pitching better then lefties, he hits lefties better then average.
- Giles plays corner outfield, a position that the A's could use more offense at. He could also save his legs by DHing a third of the time.
- Giles, like recent acquisitions Kendall and Mark Kotsay, is a strong competitor and would be a positive veteran presence on a young ballclub.

The Reasons It Might Not Work

- Like any premier free agent, Giles will be a coveted commodity and he will demand a premium price tag. The Padres will make a push to keep him and the Angels, Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox figure to make some bid for his services. You will likely have to convince Giles to take a discount to join the A's. Giles isn't likely to take less then the $8.5 million he made this season.
- Giles hasn't been in the American League since 1998 and there can often be an adjustment period for players switching leagues. Giles' old teammate Kendall had a rough time with the adjustment last season and the A's would be counting on Giles to have a great season.

Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox

Everyone's man of the moment is making a big case for being the premier free agent on the market this season with every post-season homerun. In many respects, Konerko is the perfect fit for Oakland. He is right-handed and has 40 HR potential. He is also younger then Giles, as he won't turn 30 until March.

The Reasons It Might Work

- Like Giles, Konerko is a West Coast-guy who has expressed some interest in playing closer to home.
- Konerko plays first base and he could split time at first and DH with Dan Johnson.
- Konerko will have post-season experience that could be valuable to a young team.

The Reasons It Might Not Work

- Konerko's post-season performance has put him in a stratosphere all his own. As we all learned with Carlos Beltran last year, post-season heroics can often artificially inflate the value of a player.
- Like Beltran, Konerko will have some deep pockets lined up waiting to make him a very rich man. The A's would have to out-bid teams like the Red Sox to get Konerko to sign on the dotted line.
- Konerko will also be looking for a long-term contract and that could potentially create a long-jam at first base/DH in Oakland. Although Konerko could share time at first and DH with Johnson in 2006, by 2007, both players would need to share time with Daric Barton, who figures to be ready to compete at the major league-level by then. If you signed Konerko, you would either have to trade Johnson or Barton or you would have to commit to having Barton play catcher. Playing catcher could stunt Barton's growth as a hitter, which is where he will most benefit the A's.

Reggie Sanders, OF/DH, St. Louis Cardinals

The ageless Sanders is once again proving skeptics wrong and performing at a high level. For six seasons, most have expected Sanders to fall apart as a player. As a result, he has hopped from team to team. Sanders appears to have found a home in St. Louis, but the Cardinals may look to get younger this off-season and could part ways with Sanders.

The Reasons It Might Work

- Sanders still swings a powerful right-handed bat, having hit 21 homeruns in only 93 games.
- Sanders tends to sign with teams that have a chance to win the World Series and the A's would fit that criteria.
- Sanders indicated that he enjoyed his time in the Bay Area when he was with the San Francisco Giants and would be open to a return to the region.
- Sanders could be interested in joining an AL team that could give him DH-time to save his legs.
- Sanders is a "winner", having appeared in the playoffs every year but one since 2001.

The Reasons It Might Not Work

- Sanders could be Eric Karros-part two, a career National Leaguer who makes the switch to the AL at a late age and can't adjust to the different style of play.
- Sanders has lost a lot of time to injuries this season and, at age 38, he isn't getting any younger. He made $4 million this season and that would be a lot of money to risk on a player who could be injury-prone.

Mike Piazza, DH/C, New York Mets

The future Hall of Famer will be looking for a new team this off-season and that team will almost certainly be in the AL, as Piazza's catcher's legs are wearing out. Piazza isn't the player he once was, but he is still an intimidating presence – and a right-handed one at that.

The Reasons It Might Work

- Piazza is nearing the end of his career and he isn't likely to sign a contract longer then one or two years, which would work perfectly with the A's future plans.
- Piazza should also be less expensive then most free agents with his pedigree and will more likely be looking to find a winning situation over a lucrative situation.
- Although Piazza is an aging super-star, he is still a super-star and could bring some cache at the box office for the generally low-profile A's line-up. His chase for 400 homeruns would create some drama to the start of the A's season (Piazza sits at 397 career blasts).
- Piazza would give the A's some added depth with his ability to catch in a pinch. He could serve as an emergency third catcher, which would allow the A's to use Adam Melhuse as a pinch-hitter without fear that they would have no catching options if Kendall got hurt.

The Reasons It Might Not Work

- Piazza is aging and his bat appears to be slowing. Although he has decent homerun power, he doesn't have the explosive power he once had. His OPS was 778 this past season and it has been falling for a number of years.
- Like Sanders, Piazza is a career National Leaguer who could struggle to make the transition to the American League and the life of a designated hitter.

Frank Thomas, DH, Chicago White Sox

Another future Hall of Famer, Thomas could be looking for a new home if the Chicago White Sox choose to part ways with their all-time greatest slugger. Thomas has missed much of the last two seasons with a foot problem, but he still managed to hit a homerun roughly every 10 at-bats in his limited playing time this season.

The Reasons It Might Work

- Thomas will be looking for a short-term contract and would be a full-time DH; therefore, he wouldn't interfere with the development of Johnson or Barton.
- Thomas' power is still very real. His OPS has been greater than 900 from 2003 through 2005, and he has always been one of the best at combining a power bat and a disciplined eye at the plate.
- Like Piazza, Thomas will be chasing career milestones that could generate additional interest in the A's season.

The Reasons It Might Not Work

- The foot injury Thomas has been fighting is a very serious one and it isn't clear that he will ever be healthy enough to play more than a handful of games.
- If he does appear to be healthy, it is likely that the White Sox will push to keep Thomas and he would probably prefer to stay with the only team he has ever played for.

The Trade Targets

Trades are usually more of your bailiwick, Mr. Beane, so here are a few potential targets:

Jeff Kent, 2B/1B/DH, Los Angeles Dodgers

It is unclear what direction the Dodgers will go this off-season, but if they choose to rebuild, they may be willing to move the mercurial second baseman. No one knows the A's farm system better then the man who helped build it, Dodgers' GM Paul DePodesta.

The Reasons It Might Work

- Kent may be getting older, but his level of play hasn't dipped with age. He hit 29 homeruns in the spacious Dodger Stadium, and he'd be the right-handed bat the A's have been looking for.
- Kent is also in the last year of his contract. Although it would be an expensive investment, it would be only a one-year commitment.
- Kent has been remarkably healthy. He hasn't played fewer than 130 games since 1997.

The Reasons It Might Not Work

- Kent, to put it mildly, is a difficult personality and his addition to the team could potentially disrupt the A's amazing clubhouse harmony.
- Kent would have to be willing to be the A's DH. He hasn't been willing to move from second in the past and the A's shouldn't be willing to move Mark Ellis' glove off of second to accommodate Kent.
- Like many of these other targets, Kent has played most of his career in the NL and would have to adjust to the AL and a whole new set of pitchers.

Carlos Lee, OF/1B/DH, Milwaukee Brewers

Although many may remember Lee as the man who was traded for "sparkplug" Scott Podsednik, Lee actually had a much better season then Podsednik in 2005. The burly outfielder helped Milwaukee have one of its best seasons in a number of years and he made the All-Star team.

The Reasons It Might Work

- Lee has been a virtual lock for 30 homeruns since 2003 and he has proven that he can do it in the American League (Lee was a career White Sox before being traded in the off-season).
- Lee plays all of the positions that the A's need offense and he is right-handed, for whatever that is worth.

The Reasons It Might Not Work

- The Brewers will be pushing for a playoff spot next season and will need major league contributors in return for Lee and the A's may not have a match for Milwaukee. A three-team trade will likely be needed to bring Lee to Oakland.
- Lee is a free-swinger and may not be a good fit for the A's offense in that respect.

Aubrey Huff, 1B/OF/DH, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Huff has been a target for many teams looking for a middle of the order hitter for a number of years. The Devil Rays have resisted moving Huff thus far, but they may be willing to make a move now that they have a glut of major league outfielders/DHs. Tampa will be looking for pitching and the A's will be competing with a number of teams to put together the right package.

The Reasons It Might Work

- Huff is a powerful hitter who won't turn 30 until the end of the 2006 season.
- Huff is used to carrying the load as the best hitter in a line-up and has performed well under that pressure.
- He is coming off of a down year, so his market value might not be as high as it would have been last off-season.
- Tampa Bay will be hiring a new GM this off-season and that GM should be easier to deal with then the notoriously difficult Chuck Lamar.

The Reasons It Might Not Work

- Huff did have a poor season last year, due in part to a back problem. The A's have had their share of back troubles and might not be interested in another.
- Huff is a free agent at the end of the year and the A's could give up a lot for what might amount to a one-year rental.

Troy Glaus, 3B/DH, Arizona Diamondbacks

Glaus was Arizona's big free agent signing last off-season, but there are rumblings that the D-Backs are ready to move Glaus. He played in 149 games last season, so he appears to be completely recovered from the shoulder injury that limited his 2003 and 2004 seasons.

The Reasons It Might Work

- Glaus is arguably one of the top ten right-handed power hitters in baseball and he is not yet 30 years old.
- Glaus is familiar with the American League West and may be extra-motivated to play well against his old team, the Angels.
- Glaus has struggled with knee pain and could welcome a switch to DH to save the knees.

The Reasons It Might Not Work

- Glaus would have to agree to move from third base either to first or DH, and it isn't clear that he would be willing to do that.
- Glaus has struggled with injuries throughout his career and he has a hefty contract. The A's could be devastated salary-wise if Glaus were to have a season-ending injury.
- Glaus, like Konerko, could block the development of Johnson or Barton because of the length of his contract.

Mike Sweeney, 1B/DH, Kansas City Royals

It seems that not a year can go by without a Sweeney to Oakland trade rumor, so why should this year be different from any other year? Sweeney is coming off of a solid season where he hit .300 with 21 homeruns in only 122 games played. It has also become clear that the Royals are more likely to move Sweeney then they were in year's past and Sweeney has indicated that he would be willing to approve a trade to a West Coast team with a chance to win.

The Reasons It Might Work

- Sweeney's contract has become an albatross for the Royals, who need to add more young talent and would likely be interested in a package of prospects similar to the one they received for Carlos Beltran.
- You work well with KC GM Allan Baird, Mr. Beane, and Baird has shown a propensity for being willing to work with you on creative, three-team deals that might get this deal done.
- Sweeney, like Kendall and Kotsay before him, is a veteran desperate to win and he could help lead the young A's to the promised land.

The Reasons It Might Not Work

- Sweeney is an expensive injury risk, and that isn't something the A's are normally interested in. Sweeney hasn't played more than 130 games since 2001.
- The Angels have also been interested in Sweeney and the LAAAAA's have a deeper farm system to deal from then the A's do.

Mystery Young Slugger

The ideal fit for the A's, of course, would be a young slugger who would be under the A's control for at least two or three more seasons. A slugger in this mold will likely only be had for a major league star of similar caliber. For the right player, you may consider trading a star like Barry Zito to bring the A's more offense. But with Zito's value to the team, that player will need to be special for you to move him.

Godspeed, Mr. Beane. Your mission will be a difficult one, but I am confident that you are up to the task.

Yours truly,
The Chattering Fool

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The opinions in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or the network

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