Springtime Storylines: Who are the Oakland Athletics?


Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: the Somewhere in the Bay Area Probably Oakland A’s.

The Big Question: Who are these guys?

To say the A’s have undergone a lot of changes since last season is more than a bit of an understatement.  Out are Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, Hideki Matsui, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus. In are Yoenis Cespedes, Bartolo Colon, Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes, Jarrod Parker, Josh Reddick and Brad Peacock.  But more significant than the net value of the changes themselves is what those changes represent.

Mostly, it represents more sadness for A’s fans who bought into the rebuild-on-the-cheap-and-surprise-everyone storylines for the past decade.  It worked pretty well. Pretty darn well, actually. But now, rather than see the big names go when they hit free agency, the A’s are jettisoning players before they actually get expensive.  Rather than saying, hey, we can compete next year with some no-names, the A’s are basically saying that this year, next year and maybe the year after are irrelevant. Call us back in three years. Maybe.

All of this is a function of their stadium situation, of course. Stuck in limbo between Oakland and San Jose, the A’s have decided to basically punt on the here and now and hope that maybe someday they can move into a new park and actually spend some money (though, it should be noted, they didn’t save that much money shipping off all those players this winter due to signing Yoenis Cespedes and bringing back Coco Crisp).  In the meantime, they have done less than the minimum to even attempt to maintain fan excitement in Oakland.

None of which has a ton of bearing on how the team will actually do. More on that below.  But existentially speaking, the Oakland A’s are … no one. A team that is neither here nor there.

What else is going on?

  • The rotation is … different.  With Cahill and Gonzalez gone and Brett Anderson injured, the rotation is Brandon McCarthy and a lot of questions. Bartolo Colon was a pleasant surprise for the Yankees last season, but his durability and effectiveness in 2012 is nothing certain. Dallas Braden is coming off shoulder surgery and won’t be ready until at least mid-May, if that. Tom Milone, Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey are no sure things.
  • The lineup is going to be a weakness, and that’s the case even if Cespedes exceeds expectations and provides some punch in the middle of the lineup. They get Manny Ramirez after 50 games, but what can he really be expected to do after more than a year off and at the age of 40? There’s not much else exciting in this lineup.
  • What about Cespedes? He’s certainly gotten a lot of press — and God knows I was taken by him when I saw him in spring training — but let’s be realistic here: is he going to come from Cuba in his mid-20s and immediately become a serious offensive threat? Or is it more likely that he’ll be a low average, moderate power, lots of strikeouts kind of guy who plays a decent enough centerfield to pass this year and maybe next, but who is really destined for a corner?  If I’m a betting man I go with the latter.
  • The real excitement in this franchise: the farm system.  Those trades of Gonzalez, Bailey and Cahill netted the A’s a ton of minor league talent. That’s great for, say, 2014, but for now it doesn’t help. Still, if you’re a prospect hound, the A’s are a fun team to watch.

How are they gonna do?

The days of the A’s being a surprise contender in a weak AL West are long gone. Even if everything breaks perfectly, they don’t compete with Texas or Anaheim.  This is a third place team if I ever saw one.

2018 Preview: Oakland Athletics

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics.

The A’s have finished last in the AL West for three straight years. If you believe the folks at Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus and anyone else who makes projections, they’ll either finish in last again or come within a game or two of it. There’s not a lot of suspense to my prediction here — I’ll end up picking them to finish fifth — but the prediction is not really what a preview is about. It’s about the shape of the team and what we can expect in broad brushes.

While I can’t foretell greatness for the 2018 Oakland Athletics, I can’t say the broad brushes are bad. At least if you grade on a curve. It won’t be a good team, but they’ll be worth watching because they have a lot of good, fun and interesting players who are likely to be on that next good Oakland A’s team in the way Stephen Vogt and Brett Lawrie were not.

Their lineup is pretty spiffy for a second division team. Khris Davis, Matt Joyce and new acquisition Jonathan Lucroy are known commodities both inside and outside A’s fandom, but people who don’t pay much attention to the goings on in Oakland may not be fully aware of just how good and promising Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are. Olson hit 24 homers in 59 games last year. That’s not a sustainable pace — the league will figure him out to — but even regression from that will be fantastic. Chapman hit 14 in half a season and played superior defense at third base. He also struck out 92 times in half a season but who’s counting? [editor: everyone counts everything in baseball]. Hey, look, dingers! Yonder Alonso and Ryon Healey are gone from last year’s crew and Stephen Piscotty is new in town. Marcus Semien is a decent bat for a shortstop. All-in-all that’s a lineup that will play, and play very, very well if Chapman and Olson are what they’ve shown themselves to be thus far.

At the risk of criminal understatement, allow me to observe that the starting pitching is not as promising. Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman are at the top of the rotation. On good teams they’d be in the middle or the back. The rest of their rotation options — Daniel Mengden, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn, who will miss the start of the regular season with a sore forearm — are less-than-impressive. They just signed Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson from the scrap heap hoping, I guess, to recreate some of that, uh, 2010 magic? 2010 was a long time ago!

Jharel Cotton would’ve been in the mix but he’s now out for the year for Tommy John surgery. A.J. Puk, the A’s top prospect would be a nice midseason upgrade, but he’s hurt. Not seriously, but the A’s will probably be more careful with him now than they would’ve been, which still would’ve been careful. All-in-all, there was a lack of quality arms to begin with, but with the injuries mounting, starting pitching could be a trash fire for the A’s.

The bullpen has a new look with newcomers Ryan Buchter, Yusmeiro Petit and Emilio Pagan joining 2017 in-season additions Blake Treinen and Chris Hatcher. That’s a pretty good and pretty interesting group which was going to see a lot of innings as it was in our new bullpenning era, but now that the rotation looks shaky as hell, they’ll see even more. If you’re curious about the limits of leaning on a bullpen, postseason-style are, Oakland will be running a pretty fun experiment to that end in 2018.

I look at this club’s bats — especially the young guys upon whom its so very easy to project so much promise and optimism, because I’m a sucker for hitting prospects — and think that they can outperform those statsy projections and be better than the Rangers and Mariners. Then I think about how the upside — UPSIDE! — for the rotation is 380 innings from Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson and I sorta wanna cry.

If the A’s get some breaks and some unexpectedly good (or average) pitching performances, they could certainly finish above the cellar. Perhaps well above the cellar. For now, though, I’m guessing that they’ll be in 80-win territory at best and finish last in a division that does not have any teams totally punting, making for a competitive and, subsequently, tough year.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL West