There are special moments for thoughtful reflection about new developments with the Oakland A’s … and then there are moments like these where I only have time for a quick post.
Clearly the biggest news in the land of green and gold is the fact that the A’s got the worst news possible on starting third baseman Scott Sizemore’s knee injury and he’s out for the year.
I was genuinely looking forward to seeing what Sizemore could do in his first full season at the hot corner for the A’s and it’s time for me to go back to the drawing board a rewrite some preseason stuff I was working up focusing on him.
When your breakout candidate breaks down all you can do is roll with the punches and take another look at the roster and the organization as a whole and the picture isn’t pretty. Josh Donaldson has suddenly gone from a candidate to be Oakland’s backup catcher to it’s leading option to be the club’s starting third baseman which has “bad planning” written all over it.
I’ve been frustrated for a couple of years that Donaldson never seemed to get a shot at backing up Kurt Suzuki even though the team didn’t seem to be sold on Landon Powell. If Sizemore’s injury opens the door for Donaldson and he runs with the opportunity, good for him. He’ll finally start to forge a big league career and the A’s will have a decent solution to a major problem. But I’m not sold on him being able to play third on a full-time basis and I doubt if the A’s really think he can pull it off under these circumstances. It’s one thing to groom Donaldson to be a utility player who can cover third in a pinch for small stretches at a time but it’s an entirely different matter to do it for 162 games.
If Donaldson’s bat has never been good enough to force his way into the backup catcher job I think it’s an exercise in wishful thinking to assume he can rake enough to be an everyday third baseman.
But the big letdown in this situation isn’t Sizemore’s injury or Donaldson’s failure to be the perfect solution, the big letdown is that the A’s ended up in this position in the first place. It’s not like the lack of depth at third base from the big league level to rookie ball snuck up on general manager Billy Beane. This is a major need the organization has known about for years and right when they should have a young, long-term solution in place they’re empty handed.
They’ve seen holes like this coming up on the horizon before and handled it adequately by drafting and developing ahead of time.
You can easily see those needs coming and Beane and Co. used to be able to keep the player development machine churning out replacements but clearly things have stalled. I won’t pretend that the players I just threw out there were stellar replacements for their departed counterparts but at least they were ready to step in according to plan.
Over the past several years I can’t imagine a more glaring, obvious long-term need than third base for the A’s. Eric Chavez was falling apart long before his contract was up and Kevin Kouzmanoff was always just a short-term option.
Beane made two failed runs at Adrian Beltre when he was available as a free agent and he briefly traded for prospect Brett Wallace back when he was still viewed as a third baseman so it’s not like the A’s didn’t try to solve the problem on the left side of the infield. But each time they failed to get the job done and years have passed without them finding the solution via the draft. Even this winter’s flurry of trades failed to produce a good, young third baseman.
The last thing the A’s needed was young pitching and outfielders but that’s exactly what they stocked up on. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe they got good value for Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey but every time they made a move I waited to see if a slugging third baseman was in the deal and always came away disappointed. Hopes that Beane might turn around and use the prospects in each trade to set up a package that could bring in a young third baseman never panned out. Even Sizemore, a nice “get” for David Purcey last year was a sign that the organization was failing to develop a homegrown solution to the ongoing third base dilemma.
So here we are with Opening Day in Tokyo less than a month away and the A’s third baseman is a backup catcher. It hurts to write that. But this could be the beginning of an amazing story for Donaldson and I’m pulling for him to surprise everyone and at least be adequate out there.
Unless Beane can work out a trade for a promising young third baseman I think the team is better off with Donaldson or a revolving door of overmatched utility infielders covering for Sizemore. It’s a waste of time signing someone like Miguel Tejada or trading away a decent prospect for a stopgap solution at third.
Unfortunately, there’s no going back to the offseason and acquiring some fringy third base options to stick at the end of Oakland’s bench, stow away in Sacramento, or invite to spring training for some competition in case a situation like this comes up.
The A’s had a chance to draft Brett Lawrie, who looks he’ll be a hard-hitting beast at third for the Blue Jays for the next several years, but went with Jemile Weeks and they were never a player for Lawrie when Milwaukee was willing to move him for a No. 1 starting pitcher last winter. Personally I would have at least entertained the idea of dealing Gonzalez or Cahill, etc. for Lawrie but Beane was busy trying to cobble together an offense to make a run at the AL West title in 2011.
I’m glad the A’s took a shot at winning in 2011 but that didn’t exactly work out as planned now, did it?
Does the Sizemore injury make the A’s worse this season? I’d have to say yes. But I’d also have to say that in the long term they can win for losing. Maybe the difference between a full season of Sizemore vs. Donaldson and Co. is a few more losses which may be just enough to nudge the A’s up the draft board to nab the third baseman they probably should have had developing in the farm system years ago.