2013 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 2013 season. Up next: The Oakland Athletics.

The Big Question: How in the heck did the A’s do it in 2012, and can they do it again?

I hate to look back in a preview, but I think everyone is still sort of wondering what in the heck happened in Oakland last season. The odds-in favorite to finish in the AL West cellar after totally revamping their pitching staff the previous offseason, the A’s shocked everyone by winning the division. Fourteen walkoff wins helped, but so did everything Billy Beane and Bob Melvin tried going right. Plugging in rookies. Trading for Brandon Inge and seeing him, for a while at least, become an RBI machine. Great bullpen work. Seeing Chris Carter and Brandon Moss combine fo 37 homers. Really, the entire power display was impressive and kinda unexpected.

Which is what makes guessing what these guys will do this year so hard. Just about all of the guys who performed so well last season have just as long a track record of, well, not performing as well.  Given their ages we may very well have seen a logical and sustainable step forward. But we also could have seen everyone having career years which will be followed by regression. So much was dependent on the home run last year and unsupported by strong on-base numbers. That’s a hard trick to pull from year to year.  As a result, I feel like the A’s are a near impossible team to predict heading into 2013.  Which, as frustrating as that may be, is kinda fun.

So what else is going on?

While everything broke right for the A’s last year, Billy Beane was not content to rest on his laurels. He made multiple moves this offseason to address weak spots at catcher, acquiring John Jaso, infield, getting Jed Lowrie and  Hiroyuki Nakajima, and outfield/DH, acquiring Chris Young. I like the moves for the most part and feel like this team will need that kind of plate-spinning in order to keep up last year’s momentum.

The rotation shapes up thusly:  Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin and maybe Bartolo Colon or Dan Straily. Colon is old, has been using PEDs and has gotten beat up this spring, but the rest of them are young, good and promising. One worries about health — Brett Anderson has not exactly been an Iron man — but this is a great young core and a possible source of strength for the team, even if a lot of people have gone nuts, broke and have been driven to dispair depending on young pitching in the past.

Yoenis Cespedes exceeded expectations last season. Now, with a year of comfort and familiarity with the league under his belt, and with a weight off his mind now that his family has made it to the United States after an extended period of uncertainty in their lives, you have to figure he’s gonna settle in and rake.

A prospect to watch: Shane Peterson. He hit the cover off the ball in 87 games between the Texas League and the PCL last season, tattooed it again in winter ball and has been killing it in Phoenix this spring. If there is trouble in the outfield or at DH, Billy Beane has some extra ammo he can call on.

So how are they gonna do?

Man, that’s hard to say. If everything breaks right I can see them winning the division again, and quite easily. If everything breaks wrong I could see them landing in fourth place (though maybe third is their floor, realistically). That can be said about any team, but with Oakland, that break right/break wrong thing seems way harder to anticipate. I feel like I’m underselling them and falling back into the same habit that had everyone else underselling them last season, but here goes:

Third place, AL West.

Orioles acquire Alec Asher from the Phillies

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The Phillies announced on Tuesday that the club traded pitcher Alec Asher to the Orioles for a player to be named later.

Asher, 25, was the victim of a roster crunch. He was not going to make the 25-man roster and the starting rotation at Triple-A Lehigh Valley was already full. The Phillies acquired him from the Rangers in the July 2015 Cole Hamels trade.

Asher had good results in 27 2/3 innings in the big leagues last year, posting a 2.28 ERA with a 13/4 K/BB ratio. While it didn’t show in those stats, the right-hander sometimes struggles with command and he doesn’t miss bats often enough to make up for it. The Orioles, however, are happy to add some pitching depth.

Ervin Santana gets Opening Day nod from Twins again

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Ervin Santana will once again start on Opening Day for the Twins, MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger reports. He’ll face the Royals at home in a day game on Monday, April 3.

The last pitcher to start back-to-back Opening Days for the Twins was Carl Pavano in 2011-12.

Santana, 34, is entering the third year of a four-year, $55 million contract signed in December 2014. Last season, the right-hander finished with a solid 3.38 ERA and a 149/53 K/BB ratio over 181 1/3 innings.