You still the man, Rick . . . You still the man.

A bold prediction from A's Brand Baseball: By the time "One Shining Moment" ends on Monday night, Barry Zito will have thrown the first pitch of the Oakland Athletics' 2006 season to Johnny Damon, who will still be an idiot. Unless it's raining--we don't predict that boldly.

When we came to you before Opening Day last season, the home nine were in disarray, having traded Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder in December. It was a rebuilding year, and everyone knew it, even for those glorious September days when they led the AL West. Welcome to the season in which the master's master plan expects the team to be rebuilt. The A's spent this offseason adding to the team through (wait for it) addition, an unfamiliar mode for them: they acquired some high-profile players through free agency, and didn't lose their best pitcher or position player for the first time in too long. They're a popular pick, in the sports media both mainstream and not, to win 95 games, the division, the American League, and/or the World Series.

If any of that happens--especially if the A's win a playoff series this time around--we have another bold prediction: that A's fans will end up, against our better judgement, listening to or reading about how whatever success they enjoy is a product of their having repudiated some book by Michael Lewis and reconstructed their team around guys who do the little things. They'll have learned this, we'll be told, from the dual lessons of the White Sox winning the World Series and Team Japan winning the World Baseball Classic. A's Brand Baseball does not have the time or the patience for this particular argument, though, so we'll just say: it is dumb, and it won't be true.

Rather, as usual, if the A's win, it will be because their pitchers have pitched well, their hitters have hit well, and their fielders have caught the ball. After the jump, we'll explore those possibilities in a little more detail.