30 Clubs in 30 Days: Oakland Athletics

Posted: March 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

athletics1Yesterday, we previewed the 2014 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. A free spending team with few wins to show for it, Anaheim has been precisely the opposite of the Oakland Athletics over the last two years. In that time frame, the A’s have won back-to-back AL West division titles, raising their win total to 96 in 2013. Despite a payroll in the bottom tier of the league, Oakland continues to soar in the regular season. GM Billy Beane has made a mockery of his fat wallet wielding brethren by piecing together a young, cost controllable roster jam packed with talent.

Last year, Oakland relied on a breakout year from 3B Josh Donaldson (.301-24-93) and the ever steady emergence of veteran 1B Brandon Moss (.256-30-87). Their power, coupled with that of Cuban phenom Yoenis Cespedes (.240-26-80) was enough to propel Oakland’s offense above that of Texas and Anaheim. The A’s would love to see more out of Josh Reddick (.226-12-56), who regressed after a breakout 2012 season. But, all in all, this is a solid if unspectacular lineup that should only get better in the future. Role players like Jed Lowrie (.290-15-75), Coco Crisp (.261-22-66), and Derek Norris (.246-9-30) will be relied upon once again to produce in a supporting role to the previous players mentioned.

The A’s rotation is where the real magic lies. Last year, the combinaton of AJ Griffin (14-10, 3.63), Jarrod Parker (12-8, 3.97), Tommy Milone (12-9, 4.14), and Dan Straily (10-8, 3.96) was majestic. Even better, none of those pitchers are above the age of 27. Uber-prospect Sonny Gray also emerged as a prime time performer a year ago, beginning his career 5-3, 2.67 while also starting a postseason game. Bartolo Colon, who won 18 games as the resident veteran in the rotation a year ago, is now gone via free agency. He’s been replaced by Scott Kazmir, who returned with a vengeance last year by going 10-9, 4.04 in 29 starts for Cleveland after missing nearly two years due to injury. If healthy, Kazmir promises to be just as good if not better than Colon was a year ago. That makes for one phenomenal unit with solid upside and the potential to be among the best in baseball by season’s end. Beane acquired some depth at the position as well, landing Drew Pomeranz from the Rockies. A former top prospect, Pomeranz was the key cog acquired by Colorado when they dealt Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland in 2011.

The Oakland bullpen continued to impress in 2013 and could be even better this season. The loss of former closer Grant Balfour was tempered by the acquisition of Jim Johnson, who led the league in saves for the Orioles in 2012. Beane also landed some right handed relief assistance by trading for San Diego’s Luke Gregerson. Those two, coupled with young but experienced arms in Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, and Fernando Abad, should make for one of the best ‘pens in the American League.

Manager Bob Melvin has won back-to-back division titles with a roster that few believed better than the others in their division. A truly impressive accomplishment, Melvin and Beane now set their sights on postseason success. Despite their run to the playoffs the last two years, Oakland has yet to win a postseason series, running into the gauntlet that was the Detroit Tigers both times. If those two want to cement their status among the best talent evaluators in baseball, they’ll need to win Oakland their first playoff series since 2006.

Key Acquisitions

OF Craig Gentry (Rangers)
LHP Scott Kazmir (Indians)
LHP Drew Pomeranz (Rockies)
RHP Jim Johnson (Orioles)
RHP Luke Gregerson (Padres)

Key Departures

OF/DH Seth Smith (Padres)
OF Chris Young (Mets)
RHP Bartolo Colon (Mets)
RHP Grant Balfour (Rays)
LHP Jerry Blevins (Nationals)

Projected Lineup and Rotation

OF Coco Crisp – .259-18-49
3B Josh Donaldson – .277-21-70
SS Jed Lowrie – .269-15-76
OF Yoenis Cespedes – .263-25-85
1B Brandon Moss – .245-30-76
OF Josh Reddick – .248-19-64
2B Alberto Callaspo – .274-7-40
DH John Jaso – .244-7-40
C Derek Norris – .245-7-25

RHP Sonny Gray – 11-6, 3.39
LHP Scott Kazmir – 7-5, 3.60
RHP Dan Straily – 8-8, 4.30
LHP Tommy Milone – 6-7, 4.53
RHP AJ Griffin – 5-5, 4.34

RHP Jim Johnson – 3-3, 3.46, 33 Sv

Outlook

athletics2Oakland won’t surprise anybody anymore. They’re the favorite to win the division this year based on talent and past performance. While the A’s offense should be solid once again and certainly strong enough to defend their divisional crown, the pitching staff has begun to show some cracks during the spring. Jarrod Parker will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Meanwhile, AJ Griffin is expected to miss several weeks due to discomfort in his throwing elbow (though no surgery is needed at this point). Oakland still has a solid rotation and a brilliant bullpen. But, some of that signature depth that they expected to roll into the season with is now gone before the first page of the story has even been turned.

Relying on power and pitching is one way to win the West, and the Athletics have mastered that over the last few years. If they can stay healthy enough from here on out, they should be in good shape to at least contend for a playoff spot. Still, the fragile state of their young rotation coupled with the volatility of their high-power, high-strikeout offense leads one to believe that they’re not necessarily the best bet to take home the crown come October. I foresee Oakland winning between 84-90 games to contend for a playoff spot once again.

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