The Athletics had another down season this year, posting a 74-88 record while suffering through a string of injuries to key players. But there were some bright spots, and Nico Pemantle of Athletics Nation was kind enough to answer our questions about the team.
On the Team's Offensive Struggles:
MLBDD: While it was somewhat expected that the offense might struggle this season, it seems like the Athletics' offense was worse than expected. What do you think the organization should do to try and help the offense to improve on 2011?
NP: To me it ultimately comes down to player development from within. The A's will not be able to sign the types of free agents who are guaranteed to hit great and they don't currently have the talent in their farm system to trade for much offensive help.
They need to focus on producing more position players like Jemile Weeks, while also grabbing blocked players like Scott Sizemore and Brandon Allen, because the Adrian Beltres won't sign and the current farm system does not show many "impact hitters" on the horizon. What the A's don't need to do is re-sign Hideki Matsui, but I suspect they will.
My Thoughts: Matsui is definitely rumored to be back for 2012, and I'm not sold it's what they need either. At this point, the team seems like it needs to take its lumps with some of the players, and have them show whether or not they can do it at the Major League level. Matsui seems likely to block one of Chris Carter or Brandon Allen in the short-term if they do bring him back though. Carter, Michael Taylor, and Brandon Allen provide some hope, but not a massive amount.
Read about Nico's thoughts on the pitching staff, the unresolved stadium situation, and the minors after the jump...
On the Ongoing Stadium Drama:
MLBDD: The biggest story looming for the A's remains the unsettled stadium situation. Do you foresee a resolution in the next year, and if so, what do you think it will look like?
NP: Billy Beane seems to think a resolution is finally on the horizon, but even if a decision were to come down today the A's won't be moving into a new ballpark anytime very soon. And a decision isn't coming down today. So until we hear something definitive, it's just "business as usual" -- which in the A's case means "being stuck in mediocrity".
My Thoughts: They've been waiting for an answer for nearly 2 years, and to me the best solution currently out there seems to be the San Jose relocation. How they can ever convince the Giants to cede that territory is the question there, as they have been adamant that they won't. Nico is right that until they get some sort of resolution, they're just stuck there. The really hard part comes to what happens in two years, when the Atheltics' lease with the Coliseum expires, and it appears that they won't be able to get an extension.
On the Injuries to the Pitching Staff:
MLBDD: It seems like every season, the pitching staff has an inordinate amount of injuries compared to the rest of the league. Do you think this is just bad luck on the A's part, or do you think there may be an underlying problem related to this?
NP: I would not agree that the A's have had an inordinate number of pitching injuries compared to the league. Pitching is just really bad for your arm, and many, many teams each year suffer from multiple injuries to their pitching staff. For example Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill have been quite healthy, and Brandon McCarthy just had his healthiest season in the big leagues so far, while Dallas Braden's and Brett Anderson's poor health hardly came as a surprise.
The best predictor of future injury is past injury, and the A's tend to gamble with health risks as a way to get players who are talented but not expensive. Overall, I'd say the A's are in the middle of the pack when it comes to keeping their pitchers healthy.
My Thoughts: I am sure that my own fandom has to do with why I thought they had a high amount of pitching injuries. Nico is right though that they tend to take chances on the high-risk types, and sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don't. McCarthy definitely worked out, and Rich Harden gave them more than I honestly thought he might. It's tough seeing injuries to Anderson and Braden though.
On Finding Diamonds in the Rough:
MLBDD: That said, the team continues to find solid starters who give the team great outings. Is there one pitcher who really surprised you with their performance this year?
NP: Brandon McCarthy. He had never been healthy and as a result had also never really been effective, yet he wound up not only throwing 170 innings but he actually led the league in FIP while posting an extremely solid 3.32 ERA. He was arguably the A's best pitcher and by some metrics was one of the top pitchers in the league, period.
My Thoughts: McCarthy showed the skills that made him the key piece in the John Danks trade years ago, and he should be able to be reasonably similar to that in 2012. It is nice to see what happens when good health meets with the skills that appeared previously.
On the Athletics' minor leaguers:
MLBDD: The minor leagues have generally been a strength of the Athletics in the past, but the system seems pretty bare of high-ceiling talent at the moment. Are there any prospects who you think took a big step forward in 2011? Were there any who you felt took a major step backward?
NP: Michael Choice (OF, #1 pick in 2010) had an excellent season and is probably the A's best chance at a "star" among those currently in the minors. Jermaine Mitchell (CF) had a breakout season at AA/AAA but is also 27 in November, so he's either a late bloomer or a guy thriving because he is now old for his leagues. Also, despite being drafted just this June (2011) #1 pick Sonny Gray (starting pitcher) could be in the majors very soon.
On the flip side, Chris Carter has made little to no progress defensively and the sample size for looking totally overmatched by big league pitching just keeps getting larger, while Adrian Cardenas has gone from being a 2Bman who can "hit .300 in his sleep" to being a LFer with "no power".
My Thoughts: Choice and Gray seem like the best the system has to offer right now, and I'm inclined to agree that the top level is pretty barren. I attended a number of Sacramento's games this past season, and the thing that stood out to me is that a majority of the players currently in AAA don't seem likely to advance past AAA or the "AAAA" type players. The best players in Sacramento this past season, to me, were Weeks, Taylor, and Carter. Josh Donaldson, Anthony Recker, and Jermaine Mitchell also had good seasons, but Donaldson and Recker both seem like backup catchers at the Major League level.
Thanks to Nico for taking the time to answer our questions.