Team Preview: Oakland A’s
By: Josh Wasserman – Chief MLB writer.
In the coming weeks leading up to Opening Day, FSLR will be previewing the 30 MLB teams and their respective chances for the 2014 season. Starting with the AL West, the Oakland A’s are up next…
Day 1: Seattle Mariners
Day 2: Oakland A’s
Day 3: Los Angeles Angels
Day 4: Houston Astros
Day 5: Texas Rangers
2013 Record: 96-66 (1st)
2014 Projected Record: 94-68 (1st)
Despite the doubters who believed the A’s division crown in 2012 was a fluke and penned them to land behind the Rangers and the Angels in 2013, the A’s somehow managed to improve upon their stunning 2012 campaign. Once again, there was a magic in Oakland that even their owner, Lew Wolff, could not negate. They’ve retained most all the integral pieces of their past two tremendous seasons and have even deepened their roster this winter with a few major additions. Now, it will be no surprise when the A’s reach the playoffs, especially after they brandish their third straight division title.
1) Coco Crisp, CF
2) Jed Lowrie, 2B
3) Josh Donaldson, 3B
4) Yoenis Cespedes, LF
5) Brandon Moss/Daric Barton, DH
6) Josh Reddick, RF
7) Nate Freiman, 1B
8) Derek Norris/Stephen Vogt/John Jaso, C
9) Nick Punto, SS
Writing a projected lineup for the Oakland A’s is about as futile a task as convincing Allen Iverson he isn’t the greatest basketball player of all time. They employ a tactic rarely used around the league, but they utilize it at several positions: the platoon. Very few positions are set in stone in the lineup, with the exception perhaps of Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson. The rest of the lineup, however, is mobile and versatile. Craig Gentry, acquired from the Rangers for Michael Choice in December, offers speed, fielding ability, and on-base percentage and can definitely push for a starting role if Reddick hits another cold streak as he did last year or Crisp is plagued by injuries. The two positions most subject to change on a daily basis though are catcher and first base. As of right now, the A’s have a litany of options at both, with Derek Norris, Stephen Vogt, and John Jaso battling it out behind the plate, and Brandon Moss, Nate Freiman, and Daric Barton dueling for the spot at first. Jaso is still recovering from a concussion so he is not likely to receive the Opening Day start. But Norris has exhibited all the characteristics his coaches have wanted him to display this spring: plate discipline, quick throwing release, and a better approach against righthanders, all while maintaining his power. Vogt, a respectable option behind the plate, would have to have a monstrous spring to beat out Norris for the Opening Day start. But throughout the year, the starter will vary depending on the opposing pitcher, Vogt and Jaso handling righties and Norris tearing apart southpaws (if he doesn’t improve enough to play against righthanders as well). The same will go for the first base position battle. Though Daric Barton has been steadily increasing his favor among A’s management, Brandon Moss should be the starter against right-handed pitchers because his 30 home run year simply cannot be ignored, as Barton has struggled his entire career in the majors. Nate Freiman, the 6’7” animal who came on the scene last year, will face lefthanders. The A’s have lots of different options, which helps give them an advantage over opponents, but not all of their options are as effective as squads fielded by the Rangers or Angels. That being said, whatever group Bob Melvin fields on a given day should be enough due to the A’s incredible pitching staff.
1) Jarrod Parker, RHP
2) Sonny Gray, RHP
3) Scott Kazmir, LHP
4) AJ Griffin, RHP
5) Tommy Milone, LHP/Dan Straily, RHP
The A’s lineup is good. Ok, perhaps just decent if we’re looking statistically. But their rotation is incredible and that statement can be supported. Their team posted an ERA of 3.56 in 2013, 2nd best in the American League, allowed the 3rd fewest walks in all of baseball, and held opponents to a .242 average, 4th best in the league. Though Cy Young candidate Bartolo Colon left for the Mets, the A’s have plenty of arms with which to replace him. On the brightest stage for a debut, Sonny Gray shined even brighter than anyone could have expected. In the ALDS, he shut down the Tigers in Game 2 for the win, and nearly carried the A’s to the deciding win in Game 5. His offspeed pitches are devastating and scouts, opponents, and coaches gush over his potential. Jarrod Parker, although he is no Felix Hernandez, is a talented ace and can compete with anyone at any time, as shown by his 19 game unbeaten streak last year. New acquisition Scott Kazmir was a bit of a reach, especially in the financial aspect, and I’m unsure whether I agree with the A’s decision to splurge on him. AJ Griffin is a solid fourth pitcher and the fifth spot, whether it goes to Tommy Milone or Dan Straily, should be fine. Neither of those two are standouts. I find Straily to have a better “best” than Milone, but Milone is less streaky than Straily. Either way, the A’s rotation rounds out to be a dangerous, albeit unpraised, crew.
MR: Sean Doolittle, LHP
SU: Luke Gregerson, RHP/Ryan Cook, RHP
CL: Jim Johnson, RHP
Now we arrive at what separates the Oakland A’s from the rest of their division: their nasty bullpen. Grant Balfour was a menacing closer while he was in Oakland, but the A’s might just have picked up someone better than him in Jim Johnson. Adored in Baltimore, Johnson racked up more saves the past two years than anyone in the league. He has his occasional mistake games, but on the whole, he is one of the best around at his job. Furthermore, the A’s were able to pick up shutdown reliever Luke Gregerson from the Padres for an exorbitant piece, Seth Smith. In combination with proven setup men Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook, Gregerson will help make the final few innings against the A’s a nightmare for many teams. Before those four, the A’s can look to Evan Scribner, Jesse Chavez, and possibly rookie phenoms Raul Alcantara and Michael Ynoa. Many baseball fans overlook the importance of a great bullpen, and the A’s have one of the best in the league, making them a more fearsome team than others give them credit for.