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.

Dodgers, Cubs could be interested in Justin Verlander

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Jon Morosi of MLB Network said yesterday that the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs have been engaged in trade talks involving starting pitcher Justin Verlander and catcher Alex Avila. Morosi also noted that the Los Angeles Dodgers have shown interest in Verlander as well. Whether this is idyl chitchatting of serious dispute is unclear, of course. Everything is unclear in the leadup to the deadline.

The veteran right-hander is carrying a 4.50 with a 120/57 K/BB ratio over 124 innings. Verlander impressed last year, finishing second in AL Cy Young Award balloting, but he has fallen back to Earth in 2017. His velocity remains high, however, and it’s not hard to imagine him going on a solid run in a way that could help a contender. He is owed $56 million over the next two seasons, however, and has a $22 million option that could vest for 2020, so negotiations for him could be tough. If the Tigers want talent back, they’ll have to eat salary.

Verlander got an ovation from a Detroit crowd last night which seemed to sense that, yes, it’s possible he pitched his last game for the Tigers. Given that he has 10/5 rights, allowing him to veto any trade, that decision is ultimately up to him. It’s not hard to imagine him accepting a trade to a contender, however.

We wait see.

A 30-year-old rookie won his major league debut

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The Dodgers beat the Twins last night thanks to a Cody Bellinger three-run homer. But Bellinger was not the only Dodgers rookie who had a notable game. A far more unconventional one is worth mentioning as well.

That rookie is reliever Edward Paredes, who made his big league debut last night. What makes him unconventional: he’s 30. Turns 31 in September, actually. Paredes pitched professionally for 12 years before making it to The Show. Most of that time was in the affiliated minors in the Mariners, Indians, Angels and Dodgers organizations. He spent time in the independent Atlantic League in 2013-15 as well.

Paredes did not do anything heroic last night. It was more of a right place/right time kind of appearance, retiring the side in order with a fly out, line out and a ground out and remaining the pitcher of record while Bellinger hit that three-run homer. That’s enough for a W, though. A W that Paredes waited a lot longer for than most pitchers who notch one in the bigs.