Good, not-so-good moments for A's

Good, not-so-good moments for A's

OAKLAND -- The idea behind bringing Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Orlando Cabrera and Nomar Garciaparra aboard was to give the previously anemic offensive enough juice to make the kids on the mound relax a little.

Things didn't quite work out that way.

Holliday never got on track offensively and was traded in July, as was Cabrera. Giambi was even worse, his once-prolific bat making less noise than his creaking 38-year-old body. Only Garciaparra finished the season with the team, but his chronic calf condition limited him all year, turning him into a high-profile pinch-hitter.

A's general manager Billy Beane doesn't regret his attempt to expedite his rebuilding of the team by adding the aforementioned foursome, though. He still says the notion was sound, and so does Garciaparra.

"In my experience," says the veteran infielder, who will again consider retirement this offseason, "when a pitcher feels like he has some room to make a few mistakes, he doesn't make as many."

Rookie left-hander Brett Anderson, one of the pitchers Beane was trying to protect, doesn't quite buy that line of logic, insisting that all pitchers should take the mound in every inning trying to put up a zero and worry not about whatever the offense is up to.

"That's out of your control, anyway," Anderson said. "The only thing you can control is the ball in your hand."

Like most baseball arguments, there is no real right or wrong here. The bottom line is that the young pitchers, for the most part, did develop enough to justify the organization's high hopes for them.

Anderson and Trevor Cahill, both 21, reached double digits in wins as rookies. The rest of the rotation, anchored by Opening Night starter Dallas Braden, the old man of the bunch at 26, was similarly green; the A's set a club record by starting a rookie pitcher an MLB-high 115 times.

"Look, we're only going to go as far as our pitching takes us in any given year; you can say that about the other 29 teams, too," Beane said. "And when you look at guys like Brett and Trevor and [23-year-old Vin] Mazzaro, we're talking about guys drafted out of high school. If they'd gone to college, they'd just now be Draft-eligible this year. Given that and the strides that they made and that we made as a team as the year went on, we're pretty pleased."

Record: 75-87, fourth place in American League West.

Defining moment: On Aug. 7, Giambi was released after a hugely hyped -- and even more disappointing -- homecoming stint with the A's, who brought him back as a free agent and built part of their marketing campaign around him. No news conference, no comment from Giambi, just a massive reminder that the season had gone south.

What went right: After limping into the All-Star break with one of the worst records and offenses in baseball, the A's went on a spirited run in the second half that offered hope for a brighter future. Pitching was something of a bright spot all year; the bullpen was outstanding throughout and the rookie starters all showed fairly frequent flashes of brilliance, with Anderson and Cahill leading the way.

What went wrong: Holliday, Giambi, Garciaparra and Cabrera had little to zero impact on the team's on-the-field fortunes, and the A's used the disabled list 17 times. Ace starter Justin Duchscherer (elbow surgery, back, clinical depression) and projected closer Joey Devine (elbow surgery) never threw a pitch, third baseman Eric Chavez (back surgery) lasted all of 30 at-bats, emerging star lefty Josh Outman (elbow surgery) was limited to 14 games, and second baseman Mark Ellis (left calf) spent two months on the DL, to name a few.

Biggest surprise: Rajai Davis' impact on the A's after taking over in center field can't be understated. His exciting, aggressive style energized the offense and made the team infinitely more fun to watch in the second half than it had been in the first. Not bad for a guy who was cut loose by the Giants early last season.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.