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Posted: Wednesday February 25, 2009 12:40PM; Updated: Thursday March 5, 2009 11:48AM
Lee Jenkins Lee Jenkins >
INSIDE BASEBALL

Spring Postcard: With respectable pop in lineup, A's on the rise again

Story Highlights

There is no way the A's will re-sign Matt Holliday, and it doesn't even matter

Oakland is loaded with hyped pitching prospects

Eric Chavez his first turn in the batting cage this spring left teammates raving

Three observations

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Postcards From Camp
 
Location: Phoenix
 

Matt Holliday
The A's shocked the baseball world by acquiring superstar slugger Matt Holliday.
AP

1) Jason Giambi will not be the last one to complete this circle.
It is a tale as old as Moneyball itself -- player comes up with A's, player turns into a star with A's, player leaves A's in search of millions, player struggles away from A's, player finds that life really was a lot better with A's. Giambi is the lucky one. He returned to Oakland this offseason. But Mark Mulder is still out of a job. Barry Zito is the fourth starter in San Francisco. Tim Hudson is coming off Tommy John surgery in Atlanta. Would any of them, if they were really being honest with themselves, still say they are glad they left the A's? Something about this place -- whether it is the savvy front office or the loose clubhouse vibe -- brings out the best in players. They inevitably leave. But if they are as smart as Giambi, they will try to come back.

2) There is no way the A's will re-sign Matt Holliday, and it doesn't even matter.
This season will play out in one of two ways. 1) With Holliday in the middle of the batting order, the A's are in the division race right until the end, challenging the Angels and furthering the quest for a new stadium. After the season, Holliday leaves as a free agent, and the A's get two first-round draft picks as compensation, at a time when first-round picks have never been more valuable. 2) Even with Holliday in the middle of the batting order, the A's fall out of the race early and trade Holliday to a contender, for a package that is arguably richer than the one they sent to Colorado this winter to get him.

Either way, the A's win and they are well positioned to make a run after the season at whoever the next Holliday will be.

3) It's going to happen again for the A's.
It might not be this year. It might not even be next year. But before Billy Beane goes off to the next phase of his career (solving the world's financial problems, if we're lucky), the A's are going to make one more run. They probably won't have another Big Three. They probably won't win another 100 games. But they will stir up the established order once again. The major leagues are filled with teams that think they are going to be good, swear they are going to be good, and wind up being very mediocre. In the past two years, the A's recognized from the outset that they were going to be mediocre, and made themselves even worse. There was a purpose to their destruction. They were stripping down their major-league team in order to restock their minor-league system, planning for the day that they could be good again. That day is almost here.

Prospect creating a buzz

Pick a pitcher, any pitcher. There is Vin Mazzaro, the power right-hander from New Jersey; Brett Anderson, the wily lefty whose father is Oklahoma State baseball coach Frank Anderson; and Trevor Cahill, the sinker-baller from San Diego who gets the most acclaim of the three. Throw in Gio Gonzalez, one of the favorites to be the No. 5 starter, and you have a future rotation. They know it, too. On a vacation to Cabo San Lucas in January, Anderson told Cahill: "We're going to be linked forever."

Not done yet

Unlike Giambi, Eric Chavez never left Oakland, but it sure feels like he did. Chavez had surgery on his right shoulder in each of the past two years and played just 23 games last season. But he says he is finally back to full strength and his first turn in the batting cage this spring left teammates raving. Chavez, on the other hand, was steaming. "My health is fine," he said. "But my timing still needs a lot of work." With Holliday, Giambi and a healthy Chavez, the A's finally have a heart of the order that demands respect.

Team strength

Some of the numbers put up by the A's bullpen last season border on absurd. Brad Ziegler pitched 39 straight scoreless innings. Joey Devine finished with a 0.59 ERA. Jerry Blevins held lefties to a .193 batting average. Because the A's slid from the race, their relievers did not get a lot of attention, but they helped ease the burden on the young starters and chances are they will do it again. "This year," Blevins said, "we have the feeling of being a contender."

 
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