Sports

A's perseverance impressed Beane

OAKLAND -- In recent years, the A's have remained remarkably consistent in promoting promising young talent, filling the disabled list and making an annual second-half charge toward playoff contention.

Well, two out of three isn't bad. The A's developed outfielder Travis Buck, catcher Kurt Suzuki and first baseman Daric Barton, and augmented the rookie trio with surprise retreads such as Jack Cust, Chad Gaudin and Lenny DiNardo.

They also kept the doctors and trainers busy by using the DL a club-record 22 times, including injuries to key position players such as third baseman Eric Chavez, center fielder Mark Kotsay, shortstop Bobby Crosby, designated hitter Mike Piazza and Buck. The latter perhaps explains why the second-half surge never materialized. After sporting a 44-41 record shortly before the All-Star break, the fractured A's went 32-45 in the second half.

Instead of doom and gloom, general manager Billy Beane accentuated the positive while forecasting a bright future for the club.

"What we've accomplished under the circumstances, I couldn't be happier," general manager Billy Beane said. "If we were healthy, we would have been right where we always have been. With the club we had to play because of injuries, it's arguably the lowest payroll in the game. We had to go with so many young players and guys filling in.

"I'm as proud of what we've done as any year I've been here."

Beane cannot be blamed for taking moral victories, especially in a year where the inordinate number of injuries planted the seeds for some encouraging developments, including surprising pitchers Gaudin, DiNardo and Alan Embree.

The team somehow held up for much of the season as far as fielding and pitching, ranking among the AL leaders in each category. On offense, however, only the Chicago White Sox were more inept.

For one half, at least, Gaudin and DiNardo neutralized the loss of injured starters Esteban Loaiza and Rich Harden. Embree took over for injured closer Huston Street and posted a career-high 17 saves.

"If we had finished over .500, it would have been an incredible accomplishment with 22 guys on the disabled list," Beane said. "We've lost over 1,100 days to injuries, and that's overwhelming to any team, particularly one in our (low budget) situation. I'm really pleased with the effort. We've created opportunities for guys."

Buck and Barton are two of the best young hitters in the game.

Beane is optimistic about going forward with a roster that likely will not include free-agent outfielder Shannon Stewart (too expensive) or Piazza, whose designated hitter production Cust can match at a much lower salary. Cust, a career minor-league slugger, struck out 164 times, most ever for a player with fewer than 125 games. But he led the team in home runs and has a penchant for getting on base.

Among the pitchers, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton ranked among the league's best. Haren (15-9) started the All-Star Game and Blanton (14-10) logged 230 innings. Haren blossomed as ace, a distinction once reserved for the brittle Harden, who with A's management would be content to log a full season so his enormous ability can flourish.

"Our top priority this winter is getting healthy," Beane said. "If we're healthy, it's not an overhaul situation. The bullpen is solid with Huston healthy and (Justin) Duchscherer back for a full year.

"We're always looking for low-risk guys, but we won't dive heavily into the free-agent market. We won't spend unless we think it will help the club."

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