Impending Athletics Free Agents: Who To Keep And Who To Let Go?

Next up on the AL West list is the Athletics. Here we go…

Josh Willingham – Despite playing for the A’s and at the Coliseum in home games, he managed to hit a career-high 29 homers, a career-high 98 RBIs (the most any A’s player has hit since Frank Thomas in ’06-, winning the team’s Catfish Hunter award (which goes to the team’s most inspirational player). However, he had his lowest batting average (.246) since his rookie year. He was paid $6 million this year, and is currently 32.

Thoughts/Prediction: Despite a mediocre batting average, he did manage to be in the top 15 in both home runs and RBIs. He’s also pretty effective when in the outfield, only having 2 errors in 96 games in left field. Considering his career-highs, he’ll likely ask for a bit more with his new contract, probably somewhere in the $7.5-9 million vicinity. If it was any other team besides the Athletics, he’d probably be kept (and even with a .245-.260 average, he should, considering the team’s overall lack of power). But because he’ll likely be asking for more than $6 million, and because the A’s have Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney, both of which are cheaper replacements, I can’t see him staying.  I can certainly see him going to the Twins, depending on whether they keep Jason Kubel and/or Michael Cuddyer. Blue Jays would be another team to add to the mix, if they’re looking for additional power alongside Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, and J.P. Arencibia.

Wherever he goes, he'll certainly provide both power and defense to his team. But are teams willing to overlook the mediocre batting average and frequent strikeouts?

Rich Harden – Three years and god knows how many trips to the disabled after his last start for Oakland, he returns to that very same team on a 1-year, $1.5 million deal… only to begin at the disabled list yet again. He returned in the second half of the season and in his 15 starts, he went 4-4 with a 5.12 ERA.

Thoughts/Prediction: You know, the sad thing is, Harden is a very effective pitcher when healthy; he’s able to throw a fastball near 100 mph, and has a splitter that acts like a knuckleball (thus some people call it the “ghost pitch”). I really like the way this guys pitches, and have been a fan of his for years. Unfortunately, the problem is that he isn’t healthy, and that hurts his overall value. He’s only 29, though, so if his body can hold up, he still has several years of playing time left. His next contract will likely be the last one he had (but hopefully, not the last in general): a 1-year, low-money, low-risk, but possibly high-reward (provided he can last the whole year) and will serve as part of the back end of the starting rotation. Think like the Yankees did with Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon this year, but with a much younger pitcher. Actually, now that I think about it… could the Yankees make a move?

Coco Crisp – The Athletics picked up his club option last year worth $5.76 million, despite playing in only 75 games in 2010. This year, he was able to last the year, having his best year since 2007, hitting 8 homers, 54 RBIs, and stole a career-high 49 bases.

Thoughts/Prediction: I can’t see why the Athletics wouldn’t sign to him a new contract.  His small-ball playing style, ability to steal bases, and long range at center field make him a perfect fit for the team. In addition, he’s a switch-hitter, which is always a plus. What sets him back though is a lack of throwing power in his arm and that his batting average isn’t as high as I think it should be. That being said, I think he’ll stick with the A’s and earn right around the same salary ($5-7 million) for 2-3 years.

Dig that crazy afro, Coco! But in all seriousness, his small-ball playing style and ability to steal bases is a perfect fit for the A’s.

David DeJesus – Ouch. He was traded last offseason from the Royals for Vin Mazzaro and minor-leaguer Justin Marks, only a month after the team picked up his club option (Royals signed a 5-year/$13.5 million contract extension in 2006, with a $6 million club option for 2011). In 131 games, the power stayed the same as it has been throughout the career, but he hit career-lows in batting average (.243) and OBP (.323).

Thoughts/Prediction: Not sure what happened to him; I guess that tendon tear in his right thumb last year did something to him? His batting average dropped like a rock from .318 in 2010 to .240 this year. At the same time, he’s typically great on defense; though last year, he had 4 errors in 122 games in the outfield, those were his first errors since 2008. In terms of where he goes, it’s a mixed bag; his low on-base percentage will surely be frowned upon by GM Billy Beane and the A’s staff, but does he have great defensive abilities. Considering his prior salary and the fact the A’s have Conor Jackson and Ryan Sweeney within the depth chart, my guess is DeJesus will be playing somewhere else. My guess is the Indians, as the team could possibly lose both Kosuke Fukudome (and his ridiculous $14.5 million salary) and oft-injured Grady Sizemore, provided they don’t pick up his club option ($500,000 buyout).

Brandon McCarthy – McCarthy signed with A’s last offseason on a 1-year, $1 million deal. After injuries plagues him in 2007 and 2008, and spending time in the minor leagues in 2010, the Athletics were looking at a cheap, low-risk guy in McCarthy. And it worked! Despite a 9-9 record in 25 starts, he threw 5 complete games (including 1 shutout), and posted a 3.32 ERA over 170 2/3 innings.

Thoughts/Prediction: It appears that McCarthy’s career is on the right track. Ignore his mediocre record; I blame that on the team’s anemic offense rather than his pitching abilities. He was in the top 15 in ERA in the American League, and his 5 complete games were tied for fourth-most in the majors (behind Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and James Shields). His ability to throw two-seam fastballs and cutters helped attribute to his low ERA, which interested teams will certainly take a look at. My only gripe is that he seems to lack composure when there are runners in scoring position. That being said, he’s due for a much better contract, so no, he won’t be with the Athletics next year. He will definitely be looked by teams; I can see him playing for the Rockies, with Aaron Cook likely out the door (there is a ’12 mutual option, but I see no chance of that happening considering how he’s played the past 2 years) and Millwood possibly out as well (though he did a decent job as a midseason pickup). Cubs are another possibility if they don’t pick up Jeff Samardjiza’s club option, and considering Zambrano’s inevitable end with the team (you really think they’re going to pick up his monster 2013 club option? Ha!)

Hideki Matsui – After putting up good numbers as DH for the Angels last year, the A’s signed him for $4.25 million last year. The batting average and HRs slipped (though in the case of home runs, it’s understandable when you play at Oakland’s vacant coliseum 81 times a year), but the rest of his numbers were still there. He hit his 2,500th career hit (combined in Japan and U.S.) and 500th career home run (again, combined) during the year. Also, he stole a base for the first time in 4 years, if that means anything to you.

Thoughts/Prediction: Again, while he hit only 12 home runs this season, he did have to play half the season in Oakland, so I still think the power is still there. He also has a knack for driving walks. My two concerns about him though are the continuously declining batting average and the possibility of his knees break down when going for extra bases. If a team is interested, it’ll be an AL team, and he’ll be used as a full-time DH, as he was with the A’s. If not, he’ll likely finish his career in Japan or retire.

I don't think there was a Yankee player that my father and grandmother loved watching (other than Jeter) than Hideki Matsui, and boy, were they upset when the Yankees front office made no offer to him. I certainly enjoyed his tenure there. But his knees...

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About Michael Desjardins

I am a sports writer for The Quinnipiac Chronicle, a panelist for the Q30 television show, "Bobcat Blitz" and a men's soccer beat writer for the newly-founded Quinnipiac Bobcats Sports Network. I am currently a junior at Quinnipiac University and am pursuing a degree in Broadcast Journalism.
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