Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Connie Mack managed the Philadelphia Athletics in every season from 1901 through 1950. In the following 35 years, the team employed 25 managers without retaining any of them for more than three seasons. Oakland hired Tony LaRussa in the middle of the 1986 season, and he skipped the team until following McGwire to St. Louis after 1995. Art Howe just completed his seventh season at the A's helm, and he's led them to two Division titles and a Wild Card berth, losing in the fifth game of the Division Series in each of the last three years.
Now Oakland must stop perpetuating the myth that they can win with a manager who doesn't wholeheartedly believe in the current organizational philosophies. With seemingly a fifth of all MLB teams interested in Ken Macha as manager, Billy Beane can preemptively promote Macha to A's skipper once they find a way to move Art Howe to another team. Apparently half the national writers in the country discussed how Beane's May Putsch of Carlos Pena, Frank Menechino, Jeff Tam, and Jeremy Giambi revitalized the team. Few reporters noted how Art Howe didn't begin using Miguel Tejada at the top of the order with Eric Chavez behind him until close to the All-Star break. The A's likely could have started demolishing opponents much sooner in the year if they weren't wasting Tejada and Chavez down in the order for half the season.
Beane's next priority is extending Miguel Tejada beyond 2003, although he does have Mark Ellis able to slide to SS and two potential replacements rising in the system in Freddie Bynum and Bobby Crosby. Assuming he can re-sign Tejada, Oakland will possess the best left side of the infield in the majors for the next half-dozen years. Ellis looks great at second, and Jermaine Dye is solid in right field. The rest of the lineup situation is more tenuous, as while Ramon Hernandez and Terrence Long are signed for the next few years, both players are below average for their position and showing little sign of development. Scott Hatteberg's price is rising at first base, and David Justice appears likely to retire from left field. Current DH Ray Durham also might leave as a free agent, so as many as five lineup slots might change by next spring.
If he wants to conserve salary, Beane should insert Adam Piatt for Justice in left field while promoting Esteban German to DH. While he could replace Hatteberg's production and troublesome defense with any of a dozen capable minor league free agents, I suspect Beane will exercise Hatteberg's relatively inexpensive option. The more intriguing scenario involves acquiring an established bat for center, shifting Long to left field, and perhaps also upgrading at catcher. One of their strongest available moves is signing Ivan Rodriguez to catch and then dealing Hernandez and perhaps German for a rising centerfielder. Piatt could then DH, and they'd be stronger both offensively and defensively.
Oakland's starting staff seems set for the indefinite future. Hudson, Mulder, and Zito are under contract for the next few years, Lilly and Harang aren't even arbitration-eligible, and they possess a half-dozen top starting prospects in the upper levels of the system alone. Cory Lidle, signed at $4.8M for next year, should fetch an attractive trade package, perhaps combining with Ramon Hernandez for Jack Cust and Juan Pierre if Beane's serious about centerfield defense.
I'd like to see them upgrade at closer, although Koch could return for another year. Chad Bradford, Ricardo Rincon, and Jim Mecir provide excellent middle relief, and then they can start filtering some of the rookies onto the major league team in long relief roles.
There's no reason Oakland shouldn't continue competing for the playoffs as long as their core of Chavez, Tejada, and a few top starters remains intact, and hopefully a managerial change will allow for more post-season success based on the franchise philosophies.
Esteban German, 23, 2B-R
German appeared to fall out of the franchise's favor between his spring Visa problems, a weak May debut, and generally slow development. However, while he slipped from a .373/.457/.507 in 150 AAA at-bats in 2001, he also only committed 8 errors in 117 games at second this year. Additionally, his speed indicates great range, so the A's could move him to centerfield as they'd hoped to shift Ray Durham, allowing Terrence Long to head to left, and opening the DH slot for Adam Piatt or a new acquisition. I'm a little concerned about German's 65% success rate and his lack of power development, but any speedy infielder with a 1.18 BB:K, .17 walk rate, and .390 OBP at AAA deserves a long look in the majors. You can comfortably bid a little over $10 if he breaks camp with Oakland, although don't bid much more than that since his SB production dropped from an average of almost 54 over the last four seasons to 27 in 2002.
Jose Flores, 29, 2B-R
Aside from his age and fielding versatility, Flores is a very similar player to Esteban German. Both possess great plate discipline and good speed, decent defense, and very little power. Oakland can likely safely DFA Flores until they protect their needed prospects over the winter, and then re-sign him next spring as the likely replacement for the retired Randy Velarde. While I'm not sure if Oakland will gives Flores this chance, he clearly deserves an extended look as a major league reserve for most of next year, and he's one of the safer available players who should quality at SS given his excellent patience and likely helpful contribution in BA and steals.
Jason Grabowski, 26, OF-L
While he's not the smoothest fielder in baseball, committing 8 errors in 73 games between catcher and the four corner positions, the combination of his batting ability and position flexibility makes him a fantastic addition to any roster as a 25th man. The A's selected him in last year's Rule 5 draft from the Mariners but successfully passed him through waivers and kept him at AAA. Now he's back on the 40-man roster, and he should remain with the A's for a couple years unless they want to again limit their bench options. While he'll only qualify in the outfield until the year starts, he's an intriguing Dollar Days' pick if you own a good outfield prospect and then can slide Grabowski to catcher once he plays a game there, giving you a stronger $1 catcher than most other teams.
Graham Koonce, 27, 1B-L
After Detroit selected him in the 60th round in 1993 out of high school, he spent three years in the Tigers' system before two years in the Western League, and then San Diego grabbed him, letting Koonce work his way to AAA last year. Oakland picked him in the minor league Rule 5 draft and let him start at AA this season, where he rewarded them with one of the best overall hitting performances in the minors. Koonce finished with the fourth best OBP in the minors, but comparing the league leaders in walks (for players that stayed with one team most of the season) gives us better perspective on his accomplishments. Only two other players, Toronto's Shawn Fagan(102 BB) and San Diego's Marcus Nettles(101) finished with more than 100 walks, while only three others, Hee Seop Choi(95), Rotohelp Favorite Val Pascucci(93) of Montreal, and Oakland's Larry Sutton(93) finished above 90. So Koonce walked 31 more times than anyone else in the minors, and only Barry Bonds(198) and Brian Giles(135) walked more among major leaguers. Not only does Koonce merit a full year starting in AAA, but with a MLE EQA of .291, only .001 below Scott Hatteberg's EQA, Koonce deserves an equal shot at competing for the first base job in Spring Training. As long as the team that signs him allows him to participate in Spring Training before sending him to AAA to start, he'll deserve strong consideration for a minor league pick given his immediate $20 upside.
Jacques Landry, 29, OF-R
While Landry compiled a rather unlikely 30-30 season in 2001 at AA Midland with 36 homers and 37 doubles, he still only managed an .839 OPS while repeating that level. He played a few games for Sacramento at the start of the season before bouncing to AA for several weeks and then returning to AAA. His lack of at-bats continues to diminish his potential even for reaching AAAA status, and despite some capability to stand at second and third, Oakland's mostly left him in the outfield. Landry's definitely earned an extended AAA stay after a 1.012 OPS at Midland this year, however his poor showing at AAA demonstrates that he's not ready for the majors. He remains a marginally intriguing power-speed guy who shouldn't hit for average but could contribute quantitatively if given a shot as a back-up.
Cody McKay, 28, C-L
Completing a gradual rise through the Oakland system over the last seven years, the A's finally promoted McKay to the majors as their third catcher in September. Unfortunately his plate discipline disappeared the last two seasons after a .319/.414/.445 season with 67:54 BB:K in 427 at-bats at AA Midland. He's demonstrated little offensive potential at Sacramento, so while he's apparently a solid defensive catcher and good organization man, I don't see much fantasy future for him unless he regains his batting skills from 2000.
Carlos Mendez, 28, C/1B-R
Mendez spent eight years with Kansas City and two with Detroit before joining Cody McKay to form Sacramento's catching tandem. In five AAA seasons, he's now walked a total of 49 times in 1642 at-bats while trudging back to the dugout after a strikeout 198 times, for ratios of .25 BB:K and .03 walk rate, both slightly below the A's preferences. His overall power upside from catcher makes him a capable AAAA backstop who doesn't seem likely to see much time in the majors without severe injury troubles higher in the depth chart. If he ever earns a regular role in the majors, he'll only help your team with a little power while potentially hurting your BA given his terrible plate discipline.
Jason Arnold, 23, RH Starter
As the other prospect to travel from the Yankees to A's with John-Ford Griffin in the Weaver/Lilly deal, Arnold essentially replaces Jeremy Bonderman, although he's three years older than Bonderman and compiled similar numbers at a higher level. Arnold's future is still amazingly bright considering his excellent across-the-board skill ratios, however an irregular pitching motion and relatively heavy workload leave his health somewhat in question. Fortunately the A's generally take exceedingly good care of their youngsters, and while Arnold's not the brightest pitching star in their minors, he certainly deserves a place in the discussion. Like the other dominant starters in Midland's rotation, he could be ready for the majors by next June but also faces tremendous competition and could be dealt.
Heath Bost, 28, RH Reliever
After seven years bouncing around the Colorado system where he never got a shot in the majors despite excellent skill ratios that include a career 4.6 K:BB and 8.9 K/9, Oakland snapped up Bost in minor league free agency and left him in AAA all year. He's now compiled two straight extremely effective years and needs to find an organization that will give him a fair chance to compete for a bullpen job in Spring Training. Wait until he actually pitches a few innings decently before adding him, but he looks ready to provide solid qualitative numbers out of the bullpen at a very inexpensive price.
Justin Duchscherer, 24, RH Starter
Prior to the season he appeared to need only another month or two in the minors before joining a major league rotation. Oakland acquired him from Texas for Luis Vizcaino in a deal both clubs now regret after the Rangers sent Vizcaino to Milwaukee and he immediately demonstrated some of the best skills of any reliever in the league. Even though Duchscherer's ERA was atrocious, his skill ratios remained at good levels that indicated immediate promise for advancement. He missed all of May and almost all of June while on the DL, and then he went back on the DL on August 6th with an unknown injury. Assuming he's healthy for next season, at least a few of the AA studs will join Duchscherer in Sacramento's rotation, reducing his potential value for Oakland from intriguing injury replacement when necessary to trade bait. Avoid him until we know he's healthy and regained his effectiveness.
Rich Harden, 20, RH Starter
While he spent slightly more time at Midland than Visalia, his ratios remained roughly the same after the promotion with only a jump in his walk rate from 3.8 to 5.5 BB/9 appearing somewhat troublesome. A 17th round draft-and-follow in 2000 who signed last summer, Harden finished second in the minors in strikeouts, and with an 11.0 K/9, 6.8 H/9, and .4 HR/9, he could emerge as the A's closer in 2004 if his control struggles continue as a starter. Although he could spend another two years in the minors refining his repertoire, he should be ready by September and could play an important role in Oakland's future. Harden may be the best selection in a minor league draft out of all the A's pitching prospect, although like the other dominant starters in Midland's rotation, he faces tremendous competition and could be dealt.
Chad Harville, 26, RH Reliever
Harville missed time with rotator cuff tendinitis last year before returning to the DL for most of this summer with more arm problems. He looked ready to compete for a middle relief job after a great 2001 when he posted a 55:12 K:BB in 40.2 AAA innings, and only a 1.5 homer rate from this season worries me at all. I'll need to see some spring stats before wholeheartedly recommending him, but if he breaks camp with the A's, I'd be surprised if he didn't earn positive value.
Frank Lankford, 31, RH Reliever
Although Lankford spent several days with the Dodgers back in 1998 in the majors, he never pitched for them in the minors, splitting his 10-year career between the Yankees and Oakland. He spent his third straight summer in Sacramento in 2002, and while his command finally jumped over an acceptable level, I don't expect him to receive a long look in Spring Training. Lankford's established himself as a viable short-term injury replacement but I don't believe he'll deserve much fantasy consideration.
Matt J. Miller, 30, RH Reliever
If Oakland never had any intention of recalling him no matter how well he pitched this year, the A's shouldn't have used him to close out a few games in the spring. Like many other River Cats' pitchers, Miller allowed too many hits, but he also owns career AAA ratios of 2.2 K:BB and 8.6 K/9. Miller deserves some major league time next season and needs to find an organization willing to give him the necessary opportunity in Spring Training to earn a spot on the roster. I can't see him finding many saves although he shouldn't hurt you for a minimal investment.
John Rheinecker, 23, LH Starter
As he's suffered some injury problems in the past, pitching 178 innings in his second professional season might impact his long-term growth. However he demonstrated the best overall skills of any of Midland's starters, posting combined ratios of 4.8 K:BB, 8.2 K/9, 9.0 H/9, and .5 HR/9, and the first two demonstrate the upside of this 6'2" lefty who owns five usable pitches. Rheinecker, Harden, and Jason Arnold seem like the primary threats to compete for spots behind the A's big three, and while Rheinecker faces the same extreme competition as the others, he's also the pitcher most likely to stay in Oakland if healthy since he could essentially replace Zito or Mulder if necessary.
Bert Snow, 25, RH Reliever
Snow looked ready to break camp with Oakland in the spring of 2001 when he needed Tommy John surgery and spent all year on the DL. Back in 2000, he'd compiled an amazing 98:36 K:BB in 68 AA relief innings, so he certainly appeared capable of succeeding in the majors. His 2002 numbers again place him in line for a bullpen role if he pitches well in the spring, however he also could use some AAA time since he's only pitched a few innings above AA. Snow's a risk, but he could also develop into the A's closer in a year or two, so while you should ignore him if heads back to AAA, consider a Dollar Days' slot for Snow in deeper leagues.
Mike Wood, 22, RH Starter
As I'm somewhat concerned that his dominance dropped to a 5.4 K/9 and his K:BB fell to 2.2 after an astonishing 8.3 K:BB in 51.1 innings at Modesto, Wood is the logical target to repeat AA. Harden, Rheinecker, Arnold, and Duchscherer should fight with Oakland's normally solid collection of minor league free agents for AAA starts. Wood's future appears nearly as bright as his fellow Rockhound starters, although his AA skills didn't quite match the excellent numbers of the others. I wouldn't rate him any higher than the fourth best starting pitcher to draft in the system, and I might avoid Wood altogether given he may be the most logical trade bait among his peers at the moment.
Jeremy Brown, 22, C-R
Even Oakland's young pitchers reportedly loved the work of Brown, who the A's selected from the University of Alabama with the 35th overall pick of this year's draft. He negotiated his $350K bonus without an agent, the third lowest bonus of any of the top 100 picks after Notre Dame outfielder Steve Stanley($200K), also with Oakland, and Harvard's Ben Crockett, who signed with the Rockies for $345K. Now Brown will challenge San Diego's Khalil Greene and Toronto's Russ Adams, respectively the 13th and 14th selections from this year, to be the first position player to reach the majors from the 2002 draft. To put his debut into perspective, he displayed superior offensive skills at A+ to Joe Mauer, who spent this season at A Quad City(Mid). He should start 2003 at AA, and if he continues this pace, he could break camp with the club in 2004 as Ramon Hernandez's replacement. I hesitate to suggest drafting someone with only a little over three months of playing time, but you might be able to pick up a future catching stud near the end of your minor league draft instead of gambling on a pitcher or college prospect.
Bobby Crosby, 22, SS-R
Crosby's likely the closest middle infielder in the system to replacing Miguel Tejada if they lose him after next season and decide not to slide Mark Ellis to shortstop. However aside from moderate power and a .10 walk rate, he didn't even appear ready for his mid-season promotion to AA. All scouts seem to agree that he has amazing baseball instincts, and an 88% SB success rate attests to his abilities. Unfortunately in the current offensive climate a .775 OPS isn't overly wonderful for a middle infielder without fantastic speed, so I suspect the A's will give him another full year in the minors. He's a promising hitter with a bright future, so you can consider drafting Crosby in deeper leagues.
John-Ford Griffin, 22, OF-L
Griffin only played in two games after arriving in the Weaver/Lilly trade. Before departing Norwich, a pitch struck his hand, and the swelling caused him to miss the last two months of the season to rest his hand. Oakland assigned him to the AFL, and while he's showing little plate discipline, he's holding a .324 BA in 37 at-bats through the first two weeks. Most scouts considered Griffin to own the best pure hitting stroke in last year's draft after Mark Teixeira, and he also demonstrates excellent plate discipline and good power potential. Griffin might start next year at AAA and arrive in the majors this September, so if he's available in your draft, he's worth a high pick even if he needs over a full year of additional development time.
Jeff Bruksch, 22, RH Starter
A 6'4" righty out of Stanford, Bruksch finally signed last September, over three months after Oakland selected him in the 5th round. Even without his excellent pedigree and promise, anyone compiling these numbers in the California League in their debut season would rank among the best prospects in any other organization. With the Athletics, Bruksch is merely another in their assembly line of top pitching prospects with promising futures. His skills indicate he will reach the majors in the next year or two, although Oakland may not have room for him, so he's only a strong pick in leagues using players from both leagues.
Neal Cotts, 22, LH Starter
Chosen by Oakland last year in the second round out of Illinois State, Cotts posted a 78:28 K:BB in 66 IP over 14 GS between A- Vancouver(NWL) and A+ Visalia(Cal). While his control slipped this year, this 6'2" lefty posted a stunning 11.6 K/9, along with a respectable 8.0 H/9 and very solid .3 HR/9 in a good hitters' league. Cotts might just settle into middle relief unless we see some improvement in his 5.7 BB/9, however the thought of another hard-throwing lefty joining the A's should make the rest of the AL quake in fear. He's a reasonable low draft pick despite the standard caveats on the organizational depth in front of him.
Matt Allegra, 21, A+ Visalia(Cal) OF-R
Shane Bazzell, 23, AA Midland(TL) RH Swingman
1. Minnesota Twins(M.Cuddyer, M.Restovich, T.Sears, L.Ford, J.Mauer, J.Morneau)
Although since Rich Harden is their strongest pitching prospect and follows the trend of "pitchers with a last name beginning with H", consider taking him while avoiding 11th round pick LHP Justin Crowder of Rice despite his incredible 50:3 K:BB in 40 IP with 31 H and 2 HR at A- Vancouver(NWL).
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