A's general manager Billy Beane didn't sugarcoat things during his season-ending media address Monday afternoon at the Oakland Coliseum.
He likes the young core of talent the A's have. But he sees a long road ahead to climb back to the top of the American League West.
"We have a long way to go," Beane said. "Using the (division champion) Angels and that type of team as a goal, there's still a long ways to go. I expect that that's going to take time. "... One thing we have to have is the discipline and guts to continue to go with these young players."
It's hardly the type of message that marketing slogans are built around. But the A's saw positive steps from several young players during a 75-87 season, and they want that development to continue.
The challenge that Beane and his staff face heading into the offseason: Balancing that commitment to youth with the urge to go outside the organization to fill needs for 2010.
The A's have top-shelf hitting prospects such as Chris Carter and Brett Wallace. But will they be ready next season? The team can pursue hitters through free agency and/or trades. But will that stunt the growth of some of the young talent?
The A's are just starting to map out their winter plans, so Beane didn't offer specifics on many roster issues. But he did share some thoughts:
Although the young starting pitching is considered a strength, Beane thinks
"We had a phenomenal bullpen," Beane said. "But it also led the league in innings pitched. These young guys need to take a step forward and get deeper in games. Whether it comes internally with them improving, or whether it comes in the form of augmenting it, that's a concern."
To Beane's thinking, the late-season loss of Dallas Braden, Vin Mazzaro and Brett Tomko to injury exposed a lack of depth.
The A's have two veteran starters of their own hitting free agency in Justin Duchscherer and Tomko. Duchscherer currently is being treated for clinical depression, but he could generate heavy interest among other teams if and when he's ready to return to the mound.
Beane gave a hearty endorsement to Rajai Davis as next year's starting center fielder. Davis began this season as an extra outfielder before blossoming in an everyday role, hitting .305 with 41 stolen bases.
"He deserves it," Beane said. "You think about the connection. When we've played really well, it's usually when Raj has played really well."
But Beane also acknowledged the need for more power, and that the corner outfield spots must be a source of it. Expect the A's to shop for outside help in left or right.
The A's obtained left fielder Scott Hairston in a July trade to help solidify the lineup, but Beane added: "The opportunity will be there for him, but in the same sense it's one that he's going to have to grasp. Until that happens, you always have to look at ways to strengthen yourself."
Beane is optimistic about right fielder Ryan Sweeney's power potential, but as for getting consistent production from the corner outfielders, "we haven't gotten there yet with any of our players."
The A's are hopeful Carter, a first baseman who's been one of the minor leagues' top sluggers, gets some outfield time during winter ball in Mexico.
"But we still think highly of Daric and we're also cognizant of the fact he's very young," Beane said.
The A's are more sold on Cliff Pennington as their shortstop, based on what they saw after he took over for Orlando Cabrera.
"Let's put it this way — I don't think (shortstop) is going to be at the top of the list of things we need to address," Beane said.
Discussing whether third baseman Adam Kennedy will be an early priority to re-sign, as Kennedy is a free agent.
The A's are hopeful Eric Chavez can return to health in the final season of his six-year deal. That's a shaky proposition.
But they also have a near-ready prospect at third in Wallace, who will get a good look in spring training.
"I think he's done a great job under very difficult circumstances," said Beane, citing the A's numerous injuries and trades during Geren's tenure.
Beane and Geren will meet this week to discuss the status of the rest of the coaching staff.