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Thursday, December 16, 2004

ONE-ARMED BANDITS
Both the A's and the Mariners have taken some big gambles over the past few days.

First, Seattle. They have signed Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre to corner their infield. Sexson is a big injury risk, obviously; he's coming off some big hurts last year and hasn't demonstrated that he can come back at full strength.

If he's healthy, Sexson should be good for an OPS+ above 120 at the worst, a big improvement over their production last season. Whether or not he can come back healthy is beyond my powers of understanding.

Beltre is a risk because he's had one good year in the last four. But I think this is a pretty good gamble: (1) Seattle will have him for his peak, (2) he's a superb defensive player, and (3) they signed him at a very reasonable price. I have zero belief that he's gonna hit a 163 OPS+ again, but he doesn't have to to earn $13M per year in this market.

I don't know that these moves vault Seattle back into contention, but they should be a lot stronger in 2005. My amateur projections for Sexson and Beltre (and to what small degree, if any, you trust them, realize that the raw totals have not been adjusted for park, but the OPS+ projection has):

         G   AB  H  2B 3B HR SO BB SB CS AVG OBP SLG OPS+

Sexson 105 392 104 19 1 27 99 56 1 0 266 358 529 128
Beltre 154 572 163 29 2 33 91 44 6 2 285 336 513 125
(Remember, Sexson's hitting environments have been much more favorable than Beltre's, so what that means is that raw line would be a 128 OPS+ for Sexson over those years in his environment, where Beltre's would be 125 in his. Given Sexson's injuries, obviously take his with an even larger grain of salt than usual.)

In the meantime, Oakland has dispatched Tim Hudson for Juan Cruz, Dan Meyer, and Charles Thomas. Thomas was a very good fourth outfielder last year, but the prizes here are Meyer and Cruz.

Cruz has been relegated to the bullpen in the past couple of years, but still has the potential to start. Whether the A's see him in the rotation or as a cheap successor to Octavio Dotel is unknown. He is a very intriguing pitcher either way.

Meyer is a fantastic prospect; he had a 2.49 ERA between AA and AAA last year, whiffing 146 batters in 126 1/3 innings against only 37 walks and 7 home runs. A 6'3'' lefty, Meyer turns 24 in July.

So while Cruz and Meyer project well, remember it's only that -- a projection. Young pitchers are very risky, and Meyer has all of two innings thrown in the major leagues.

The A's have dispatched Hudson and Mark Redman from their rotation, and are looking to the group of Meyer, Joe Blanton, and possibly Cruz, Seth Etherton, and Kirk Saarloos to pick up the slack. Replacing Redman shouldn't be too tough, but asking these guys to pick up for the loss of Hudson seems like a tall task for 2005 (though if Rich Harden steps up, maybe they just have to fill in for him).

So I think the A's have been weakened a bit for 2005 (though they're not out of it at all), but have taken a pretty good gamble on the following few years.

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