Chris Young, Yoenis Cespedes

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.

Terry Francona isn’t sure how long his health will allow him to manage

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 19:  Terry Francona #17 of the Cleveland Indians reacts during batting practice before a game with the Boston Red Sox on August 19, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Terry Francona just won the American League pennant, the Manager of the Year Award and his Cleveland Indians will likely be among the favorites to win it all in 2017. Between that and his 17-year track record as one of the best managers in the business, he will have a job, somewhere, for as long as he wants one.

He said yesterday, however, that his body will likely limit how long he manages:

“It gets harder and harder physically. It really does. It takes me longer to recharge every year . . . I’ve had a lot of surgeries, a lot of health problems. It just takes a toll on you. I love [the game of baseball]. I really do, but I can’t see myself doing something else. But there is going to come a day when I feel like I’m shortchanging the team or the organization. That’s not fair.

“Even now, during batting practice, I’ll come in and get off my feet a little bit. I think everybody understands. But when there comes a day when it gets in the way, I’m going to have to pull back, and it’s not because I don’t love managing. You have to have a certain amount of energy to do this job right.”

Francona experienced some chest pains and had an elevated heart rate that caused him to leave a game early last season. In 2005 a similar episode caused him to miss three games while managing the Red Sox. He also has a history of embolisms and blood clots, some of which have hospitalized him.

With multiple World Series rings there isn’t much more in baseball that Francona can accomplish, but here’s hoping he sticks around and accomplishes a lot more before he trades in his baseball spikes for golf spikes and calls it a career.

David Ortiz could be in the Red Sox TV booth this season

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 02:  David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox tips his cap to fans during the pregame ceremony to honor his retirement before his last regular season home game at Fenway Park on October 2, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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A month or so ago it was reported that David Ortiz was going to meet with the Red Sox and NESN to discuss, maybe, spending some time in the broadcast booth in 2017. He’s retired now, of course. Gotta keep busy.

Today we read that, yes, Big Papi may take the mic. Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said that Ortiz may be in the booth on a limited basis, and that Ortiz has talked about wanting to “dip a toe in that water.”

I’m quickly becoming a fan of ex-players who want to, as Kennedy puts it, “dip a toe” in broadcasting as opposed to those who want to make it a full-time job. Former players who become full-time broadcasters tend to start out OK, but eventually burn all of their good anecdotes from their playing days and just become sort of reactionary “back in my day” dudes. There are some exceptions to that of course — guys like John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley have kept it fresh and Tim McCarver never rested on his playing laurels as he forged a long career in the booth — but for any of those guys there are just as many Rick Mannings Bill Schroeders.

The part time guys who dip in and dip out — I’m thinking Pedro Martinez, Alex Rodriguez and even Pete Rose, who did a good job this past fall after a rocky 2015 postseason — tend to be more fresh and irreverent. They really don’t give a crap on some level because it’s not their full time job, and that not giving a crap allows them to say whatever they want. It makes for good TV.

If Papi can hold off on the F-bombs, I imagine he’d be a pretty good commentator. If he can’t, well, at least he’ll be a super entertaining one for the one or two games he gets before getting fired.