Despite finishing behind the Texas Rangers in the standings, the Oakland A’s played better collectively than they did a year ago. The team displayed a great amount of growth and maturation, and the team has the potential to surprise a lot of people next year. With a young pitching staff, that led the league in quality starts with 103, set to remain the same for next season, the A’s are just a few pieces away from competing in 2011. For right now, however, I’d like to highlight some of the players who had a terrific year this season for Oakland. So, take a look below as Swingin’ A’s hands out some awards to some very deserving players.
Let’s start with pitching.
CY YOUNG:TREVOR CAHILL– Oakland’s CY Young would have to be Trevor Cahill. Cahill, 22, won 18 games this season after having only won 10 last year. Even more impressive is his improved command, as he had a 2.97 ERA through 30 starts. As a result of his improved command, Cahill also kept hitters off-balance, as opposing offenses hit .220 against Cahill. Last season, the then-first year rookie allowed an Oakland-rookie record 27 home runs. This season, however, Cahill cut that number down to 19. Heading into next season, the A’s seem to be perfectly happy with their rotation (although the fifth spot is still questionable), and they definitely should be. With Cahill, Gio Gonzalez who won 15 games this year, and Brett Anderson, the A’s could have the foundation set for a second-coming of the ‘Big Three.’ Oh, and let’s not forget about Dallas Braden, who finished the year with 11 wins and a 3.50 ERA (and also threw the MLB’s 19th perfect game). But back to Cahill, who had a terrific season this year with the A’s. He was the team’s ace this year.
Honorable mentions: Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden…
BIGGEST SURPRISE: GIO GONZALEZ– Perhaps the biggest surprise on the pitching staff this year aside from Trevor Cahill, was Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who turned 25 this year, struggled mightily last season when he went 6-7 with a 5.75 ERA in 17 starts. The south-paw entered Spring Training with a big “IF” by his name, and for the most part did not know whether or not he’d get the chance to open the season in the A’s rotation. Once Trevor Cahill, who was also competing for the fifth-spot in the rotation, went down with an injury, the door was opened for Gonzalez. Throughout the course of the season, Gonzalez had to endure a slew of personal problems, but did not let them affect his play on the field. Gonzalez, who finished this season with a career high 15 wins, also had a 3.23 ERA. Gonzalez still walked his share of batters (92 in 200.2 IP), but he really never resembled the Gonzalez of 2009, who often found his emotions get the better of him on the mound. Not easily shaken as he has been in the past, Gonzalez showed tremendous growth and maturation, and I believe he’s here to stay. The A’s have another ‘Big Three’ in the making, and Gonzalez is part of the trio.
Honorable mentions: Trevor Cahill
BEST RELIEF:ANDREW BAILEY– The ‘pen was for the most part solid in 2010 for Oakland. The last month or so, however, did not bode well for the A’s core of relief. The A’s were without their young closer Andrew Bailey, and the A’s in general looked beat up in the ‘pen. However, there’s no denying that Bailey is going to be a part of the A’s plans for the future. This season, following his 2009 AL Rookie of the Year Award, Bailey recorded 25 saves and a 1.47 ERA in 49.0 innings of work. Sure, the work-load was much lighter than last year’s 83.1 IP performances, but Bailey still remained dominant when healthy. Aside from the young closer, another player who stood out for me this year was Craig Breslow, who did a fantastic job this season working out of the ‘pen. In fact, I’d be perfectly content with saying that Bailey & Breslow should split the award. In 74.2 innings, Breslow went 4-4, with 5 saves and a 3.01 ERA: All in a day’s work for baseball’s smartest player.
Honorable mentions: Brad Ziegler, Bobby Cramer, Jerry Blevins
Now, let’s shift the focus to offense.
MVP: DARIC BARTON & KURT SUZUKI & KEVIN KOUZMANOFF (3-way tie)- Okay, now this one was tough. All three of the players aforementioned above are, in my mind, deserving of the award. Daric Barton, who showed a ton of growth this year, played extremely hard this year. I mean the dude played in a whopping 159 games this year, and hit .273/.393/.405 with 10 home runs and 57 RBIs. Now, these numbers may not seem too impressive—especially for a 1B—but for the A’s, Barton was extremely valuable (both offensively & defensively). Compared to two seasons ago, when he hit just .226/.327/.348 with 9 home runs and 47 RBIs, Barton has come a long way. Heading into the season, it was unclear as to what the A’s were going to do with Barton. The A’s originally had Eric Chavez, who was battling back from injuries, sharing time at first with Barton. The A’s also had highly-touted prospect, Chris Carter, penciled in at first during Spring Training. But Barton battled all the way through spring training, and did quite a job this year for the A’s at first-base. Kurt Suzuki, who was locked-up during the season with a four-year deal, did have a disappointing offensive year, but he did help lead the team in RBI’s with 71. 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, who arrived in Oakland via trade with the San Diego Padres, did a commendable job as well this year. Both Suzuki and Kouzmanoff had injuries at some point during the season, and both players didn’t have quite the season many expected them to have. The A’s, however, didn’t have much of an offense to begin with, so guys like Suzuki and Kouzmanoff looked particularly good. Hopefully next season the A’s will have a new bat or two to help alleviate some of the pressure on offense.
Honorable mentions: Ryan Sweeney, Rajai Davis, Mark Ellis, Coco Crisp, Jack Cust…
BIGGEST SURPRISE: DARIC BARTON– Okay, enough already about Daric Barton. But seriously though, Barton’s 2010 campaign was an impressive one. Considering how clouded his future was with the organization heading into this season, and what kind of seasons he had put together in the past, Barton’s 2010 season was a bit of a surprise. Though he might not that 20+HR hitting prototypical first-baseman we’re all accustomed to seeing nowadays, Barton does play the game well overall. Defensively, he’s good. Offensively, he’s good. This season was a vast improvement on his 2008 season, where he played in 140 games and hit .226. I’ll admit, I even lost faith in Barton after that. Especially last year, when the A’s signed 1B Jason Giambi to assume the every-day role at first. This season, however, restored my faith in Barton, and I’m sure many of you fans out there are happy with the way Barton rebounded this year. While the A’s do have Chris Carter, who appeared to be locked in during his last 20 at-bats or so, the A’s will likely keep Barton at first and Carter in the OF. 2010 belonged to Daric Barton, who surprised me in every way imaginable.
Honorable mentions: Adam Rosales, Cliff Pennington, Coco Crisp
**Overall I’d have to say my favorite players to watch this year were Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Daric Barton and Gio Gonzalez. I really like the A’s young core of pitching, and I feel that the team is just a bat or two away from really becoming a dangerous team. The A’s in 2011 will be a more competitive team, and hopefully they’ll close the gap between themselves and the well-balanced Texas Rangers.