I feel like I’m knocking on heaven’s door: You won’t often see a .210 hitter touted as a major league prospect. Meet A’s catcher Derek Norris, who hit .210 in Class AA in 2011 but was a big part of the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to Washington. That may seem as if the sequel to Money Ball will be Counterfeit Money Ball, but here’s what else Norris did: he hit 20 homers, his second 20-plus homer season, he walked 77 times and he stole 13 bases in 17 attempts. That’s about as productive as a .210 hitter can be. Norris’ OP was .813, and his career minor-league OPS is .861, far more than Oakland starter Kurt Suzuki’s .686 and .706, respectively. Yes, Norris only had 32 singles among his 70 hits, but Billy Beane didn’t deal for him to hit singles.
What is this man doing here? You could field a pretty good team of players named Gonzalez — Adrian at first base, Carlos in center field, Alex at shortstop, Gio pitching — and it might win a lot of games. Until Edgar Gonzalez got the call from the bullpen. Edgar is in camp with the A’s, who have enough problems of their own doing. Gonzalez has pitched parts of eight seasons in the majors and has a career 5.90 ERA. In 2004, he was 0-9 with a 9.32 ERA, but to be fair, if you take away the 18-7 loss to the Giants where he gave up 10 runs in one inning, his ERA was only 7.42. Gonzalez is a little like the street vendor you don’t trust: whatever he’s offering, you don’t want it.
What he said: Manny Ramirez on his second chance with the A’s: “Nobody’s perfect in this world. I’ve got problems. You’ve got problems. Everybody’s got problems.” What he meant: “Besides my fielding, pouting, positive drug tests and assaulting a senior citizen, what’s the problem?”
Outlook: The A’s are headed south, whether on the map to San Jose or in the standings to the bottom of the AL West. As Arkansas might say about Mississippi, “Thank God for the Mariners.”
And yet there’s a rationale for GM Bill Beane’s latest Dollar Store offseason: he took in more talent than he traded away. Problem is, not much of it is major-league ready, and the A’s fan base is not minor-league ready, which it looks like they’ll need to be to understand 2012.
Beane traded a third of a contending pitching staff in Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey, and in return got six pitching prospects, a catching prospect, a young outfielder, a marginal minor-league first baseman and a lot of savings for owner Lewis Wolff.
Three years from now, some of the players Beane traded for — pitcher A.J. Cole and catcher Derek Norris from Washington; pitcher Jarrod Parker from Arizona; outfielder Josh Reddick from Boston — may form the nucleus of a good team. If Beane doesn’t trade them just as their arbitration year begins.
Accumulating talent doesn’t help if you don’t commit to it, and the A’s have had five straight non-winning seasons since their last division title. Mostly because they trade young players just as they’re about to get good — and expensive. Last year was the worst of them, just 74 wins, which looked like more only by the Mariners winning just 67.
This year is already off to an even worse start: Brett Anderson (elbow), who has barely pitched a full season in the two that followed the extra-promising second half of his rookie season, will miss the first half of this season; Scott Sizemore (knee), a nice platoon piece in an infield that can use them, is hurt worse than even Grady Sizemore, and is out for the year; Joey Devine, whose 23 innings last year were his first since 2008, has a sore arm. It would be simpler and more newsworthy to update Devine’s status when he’s healthy — if he ever is.
The A’s will be fortunate to match last year’s win total, unless their bounty of pitchers performs like Mulder, Zito and Hudson, or Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes is worth the $36 million the A’s are paying (another reason Cahill, Gonzalez and Bailey are gone), or Manny Ramirez can do better than his 1-for-17 2011.
They have a good young infielder (Jemile Weeks) or two, a potentially decent bullpen and a lot of boring possibilities in the outfield. By July, the question won’t be whether the A’s can move to San Jose, but whether San Jose can move away from the A’s.
Team song: John Prine: Crazy As a Loon