Saturday, November 15, 2008

2008 Final A'ssessment – Outfielders

Jack Cust – LF

.231 BA .375 OBP .476 SLG

The Good News: Led the A's in every single meaningful offensive category and all for the low, low price of $410,000. I was in attendance at a game in Anaheim when Cust went 4 for 6, kicking off a white-hot month of May (1.004 OPS) and after a mid-season slump, he finished strong (.947 OPS in August/September, combined). In an otherwise miserable season, his atrocious glovework in the outfield provided some much needed comic relief. Honestly, in more than 25 years of watching the game, I've never seen more balls clang off of someone's glove. Hilarious!

The Bad News: If someone were to create one of those newfangled eight-character alphanumeric stats showing the inverse proportion between the intelligence of a team's front office and that of its fanbase, my A's would lead the league. Cust is absolutely a flawed player. He struck out 197 times in 2008, his slumps lasted months, not weeks and he's an abysmal outfielder. Unfortunately, A's fans – by and large – pointed to Cust as THE problem, when he was our best player last year.

2009 Outlook: All indications point to Cust sticking around for at least one more season with a permanent move to DH. Look, I'll concede that Cust has no business playing on a deep-pocketed contender that can afford a more complete player, but that ain't the A's. Cust is what he is and the things he can do on the diamond are more important than the things he can't.

Carlos Gonzalez – CF

.242 BA .273 OBP .361 SLG

The Good News: Heavily-hyped rookie made his Major League debut on May 30. Of Gonzalez's first 24 hits, 15 of them were for extra bases – including his first home run in the bigs, which turned into quite the soap opera for those of us who had nothing better to watch this summer. His defense was the real deal, as Gonzalez has crazy range and a terrific arm.

The Bad News: After his first full month in the Majors, Gonzalez was all kinds of awful at the plate (.232/.266/.318) the rest of the way. He really scuffled against southpaws, putting up a .454 OPS in 88 plate appearance. On the season, he walked just 14 times and was actually demoted to AAA-Sacramento just before rosters expanded in September. He came back after a three-week run through the Minor League playoffs, but the move was most likely a message that's since been punctuated with a ticket out of town.

2009 Outlook: Gonzalez was the centerpiece of the A's acquisition of Matt Holliday from Colorado. He alternated between raw phenom, overmatched bust and could-be greatness on almost a nightly basis, so your guess is as good as mine regarding where he ends up.

Ryan Sweeney – LF

.286 BA .350 OBP .383 SLG

The Good News: For whatever it's worth, Sweeney was probably the team's most exciting player last year. After coming over from the White Sox in the Nick Swisher trade, he played with a chip on his shoulder all season after CWS anchored him in Triple-A for two straight seasons. He hit RHP to the tune of .307/.369/.429, looked solid in the #2 spot and ran the bases better than any young Athletic in a long time.

The Bad News: After just one season in green and gold, Sweeney might be the most overrated player on the team by A's fans. The knocks on him in Chicago were a lack of power and low offensive ceiling. In '08, he didn't swing for power (.383 SLG) and was otherwise just barely a league-average hitter. LHPs gave him fits (.517 OPS), as he's probably going to need to be platooned if he can't turn that around.

2009 Outlook: As long as fans don't set the bar too high for this kid, I think he'll be a solid outfield stopgap for a few years. He reminds me a lot of a young Mark Kotsay, who didn't really come into his own until his mid-to-late 20s. Sweeney's got limitations and he'll never be a superstar, but he's fun to watch.

And, the Rest… In my write up on the A's infielders, I mentioned how vindictive A's management can be towards players who mouth off publicly. Well, Emil Brown drove in an insanely fluky 33 RBI through early May, before his luck evened out. He blasted the club over lack of playing time in early September and barely played the rest of the year. Rajai Davis is nothing more than a fifth outfielder, but he did hit close to .300 over the final two months of the season. He's a pinch-runner and defensive sub, nothing more. Travis Buck is a clone of Ryan Sweeney, who slumped horribly to start the season and spent most of '08 at Sacramento.

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