Is Holliday enough to lift A's?

November, 11, 2008
As I write this late Monday night, we're still waiting for details of the trade that's going to send Matt Holliday to the A's, but there's little doubt that it's going to happen. And while it's a deal that nobody seems to have expected, the early reviews are positive, at least from Oakland's side. Here's Athletics Nation:

    Holliday will be a nice shot in the arm for the A's stagnant bats. If anything, at least you finally get a "hitter". The A's haven't had very many of those.

    The other thing it does do, I believe, is send a clear message to A's fans that the A's are going to try to compete in 2009. You don't acquire a guy of Holliday's caliber with one year left on his contract to wallow in the basement of the AL West. I also think we could see the A's also sign someone like [Rafael] Furcal as well to try and drastically reduce the pressure on the A's young staff. You add someone like Furcal to the A's lineup and suddenly you have a lineup that looks like this:

    [Ryan] Sweeney
    [Jack] Cust
    [Eric] Chavez (if healthy)
    [Kurt] Suzuki
    [Travis] Buck / [Aaron] Cunningham
    [Mark] Ellis
    [Daric] Barton

    Now that is not going to set the world on fire, but it does certainly look like it could put up its share of runs.

Oakland's hitters were horrible last season. There are 14 teams in the American League. The A's finished 14th in runs, hits, doubles, batting average and slugging percentage. They finished 13th in on-base percentage. Thanks mostly to Cust, they finished fourth in walks, but walks are largely irrelevant if you've got the lowest batting average in the league.

All of which leaves a great deal of room for improvement.

Holliday in left field would represent a massive upgrade over Emil Brown. Furcal at shortstop would represent a massive upgrade, both offensively and defensively, over Bobby Crosby.

Barton, who was one of the worst players in the majors this year, will either wind up higher in the lineup or in the minors, because if you've got a first baseman batting ninth you have to find a new first baseman. Given his professional track record, I expect him to get better. Ryan Sweeney and Kurt Suzuki are both young and should improve, while Travis Buck and youngster Aaron Cunningham have the makings of a strong platoon in right field.

Really, that leaves just one obvious hole: third base. Eric Chavez is not going to be healthy, and Jack Hannahan, though probably not as bad as his 2008 numbers suggest, is not the answer.

But even good teams have a hole or two. I can't believe the A's are counting on signing Furcal, even if they can afford him. But they won 76 games last season. Considering the huge upgrades Holliday and Furcal would give the A's, I think 85 wins would be a reasonable target.

Still, 85 wins doesn't get you into the playoffs … But 85 lets you dream about 90, and 90 might get you in. My guess is that Billy Beane believes something that most don't: the Angels can be had. Most look at the Angels and their 100 wins in 2008 and see a team that can't be beaten in 2009. Meanwhile, Beane may see a team that outscored its opponents by only 68 runs in 2008, could just as easily have won 85 games as 100, and figures to struggle to score runs again, especially if Mark Teixeira's not back.

Beane punted last season when it was apparent that the Angels couldn't be caught and there were deals to be made. But he's as nimble as any GM in the game, and in 2009 the American League West may be up for grabs. The Angels are obviously the favorites at this point. But let's see what Beane comes up with next.


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