2016 Preview: Oakland Athletics

Associated Press

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 2016 season. Next up: The Oakland Athletics. 

The A’s were poised to win the 2014 Wild Card game before they got all Kansas City Royal’d. We’ve all since learned how #Relentless the Royals are, but the Athletics were their first high-profile victim. It’s all gone downhill for Oakland since then.

OK, that’s overstating things. But 2015 was a disaster for Oakland. They were particularly bad in one-run games last year, suggesting that they were, perhaps, better than their 94 losses suggested (and, indeed, their Pythagorean record was a significantly better 77-85). In order to fix that Billy Beane and new GM David Forst completely remade the bullpen, getting rid of everyone of note apart from Sean Doolittle and bringing in Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks, John Axford and Mark Rzepczynski. Bullpens being what they are (i.e. unpredictable) this could either be a significant improvement or, well, not, but it’s definitely an attempt to fix a problem area. Given the talent acquired, the pen should be better.

The lineup was pretty lackluster last year and they may have actually been worse than their rank in runs scored — ninth in the AL — suggests given some decent luck with runners in scoring position. There have been changes here as well, with the addition of Khris Davis, who slugged 27 homers last year for Milwaukee. Davis does not a walk a ton and his overall value is dependent on how many of his non-homers find holes in the infield, but the pop is a welcome addition. Beyond him: no great shakes but no real problem areas either. There is some nice upside potential from Billy Burns and Marcus Semien. It could be a good, consistent offense, even if it’s not a particularly scary one.

Sonny Gray leads the rotation and he’s a Cy Young candidate. After him it’s a lot like the offense: nothing spectacular, nothing terrible, though a bit more potential for downside than the lineup has. Rich Hill caught lightning in a bottle for four starts in Boston. Spring is a time for optimism so I suppose we can forgive A’s fans from thinking that’s indicative of something for a 36-year-old, but he’s been pretty bad this spring. The A’s rotation may be a work in progress all year, in fact. Jesse Hahn is probably starting the season in Nashville. Henderson Alvarez and Sean Manaea may be back/up at some point. Felix Doubront — thought to be in the ready reserves early in the offseason — could break camp in the rotation. Lots of arms but beyond Gray not much certainty.

It’s hard to get excited about the Athletics’ upside. They should be a better team than last year simply by improving their luck, improving their bullpen, bringing in Davis and seeing some young(ish) players mature a bit, but there do not appear to be any impact players here. It doesn’t feel like a team that has much if any chance to put a scare into Houston or Texas. Or, for that matter, Anaheim.

Prediction: Fourth place, AL West.