The A's have been one of the more active teams in baseball this winter, and just when you think they're going to slow down a bit, they make two big moves that help shape the makeup of the ball club. Just days within signing one of the better left-handed DH's in the league in Hideki Matsui, Billy Beane brought back former A's ace Rich Harden, and outfielder Josh Williangham from Washington.
Billy Beane is quietly leading the A's on one of the most successful, under-the-radar offseason's in baseball. I absolutely love both of these moves for the Oakland. Sure, Harden is a huge injury risk, but he's done some great things here in Oakland, and if they can squeeze 20-25 starts out of him in 2011, he'll be well worth the 1.5 million he's set to make this coming season. He has never thrown a complete injury free season, but he can give you 15-20 solid outings, with the potential to dominate, and has the flexibility to pitch in late relief if need be. The A's can either use him as a 5th starter, where he'd only asked to throw 5-6 innings per start, or they could use him in relief, and I just think it's a great, low-risk/high-reward signing for Beane. Not only does Harden still bring a talented right-arm, he's also a seasoned vet who can help nurture and extremely young A's pitching staff. They have Trevor Cahil, Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez who are all younger than Harden and are guaranteed spots in the rotation, so it would be Harden vs. Brandon McCarthy for that 5th spot and I tell ya', if Rich Harden and co. are healthy, the A's have the best staff in the American League. Yeah, I said it, and I'm not even a A's fan!
Onto Willingham, who is a guy I was really hoping the Giants would get in kind of a Cody Ross role during the middle of the year last season. He's got 30-HR potential if given a full playing load and even as a part-timer in Washington, he was still able to able to manage a 20/60 line in under 400 at-bats per season. He's a good fielding right fielder who's been overshadowed by playing in Washington, and I think the A's may have found themselves a diamond in the rough. So now with Willingham aboard along with Matsui and DeJesus, the A's have themselves a glut of outfielders. Remember, they still have Coco Crisp and Conor Jackson out there as well. My guess is that DeJesus goes to left and Willingham to right while Conor becomes the 4th outfielder and rides the pine with Ryan Sweeney. This A's outfield is much, much better than the one they ended the year with last season and if their young infield can keep maturing, they should keep improving. Beane also mentioned they haven't ruled out talks with 3rd basemen Adrian Beltre, and the fact they steered clear of Iwakuma could indicate they may have other plans for that money. Whether that's Adrian Beltre or not remains to be seen, but I'd say no on Beltre, especially at Scott Boras' prices, though adding him to this A's team makes them the AL West favorites in my mind.