Springtime Storylines: Who are the 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 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.

George Springer leaves game after being hit by a pitch

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George Springer has been a dynamo out of the leadoff spot for the high-powered Astros this year, hitting 21 homers and driving in 46. He also leads the league in leadoff homers. Today, however, his leadoff appearance was short and ignominious.

Facing Jesse Hahn and the A’s in the Oakland Coliseum for a matinee, Springer was hit in the left hand on the game’s fifth pitch. Watch:

He went down to the dirt and was attended to by trainers before leaving the game. On the way off the field he threw his helmet in disgust. Oftentimes that sort of frustration comes from a player who knows he’s injured. How serious an injury is unknown at the moment. We’ll keep you posted.

Jake Marisnick pinch ran for Springer and came around to score. The Astros lead the A’s 2-0.

Adrian Gonzalez might retire after his contract is up if his back isn’t any better

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Despite dealing with back trouble for five years, Adrian Gonzalez of the Dodgers recently made his first ever trip to the disabled list. Then he made another trip there. All of it has him contemplating his future. As he tells Bill Plunkett of the OC Register, his baseball future may be a short one if his health doesn’t improve:

“I want to get back this year to help the team and for me to be healthy,” Gonzalez said. “But I’m thinking more long-term about being able to play more years.

“Because if I have to deal with this next year again? That’ll probably be it. My contract will be over, that’ll probably be it. I won’t play any more. If I can heal it and my body feels good? Now I can go out there and do the things I can do. Then I’ll keep playing.”

Backs are one of those things that don’t get better as you get older. At least not without a lot of work and effort and good luck. Gonzalez is 35 now, so he’ll need all of that to keep playing beyond his current deal.