So we start this 30 team journey with what may be, not only the worst team in the American League West, but all of baseball. As I did my research on the A’s for this piece, it was jarring to see the difference in perspective and expectations for Philadelphia’s former baseball powerhouse that has a payroll somewhere around the league minimum. I’ve grown accustomed to the World-Series-or-bust attitude that now consumes most Phillies fans and the win at any cost approach that has led to the 3rd highest payroll in baseball. Meanwhile, the Athletics are trying to finance a new stadium, preferably in the San Jose area, so they can escape the worst facility in the sport and try to elevate their payroll to a respectable level. However, that new stadium wouldn’t likely open before 2016; instead of talking about acquiring Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols to help their moribund offense, I actually read multiple pieces anticipating the pursuit of Jason Heyward, Mike Stanton, Mike Trout, and Bryce Harper. So being an A’s fan these days entails dreaming of a new stadium sometime in the next five years and maybe landing a player that has just finished their rookie season (or who still hasn’t had a major league at bat in Harper’s case) if they ever happen to make it to free agency. Fun.
As is often the case in Oakland, there is more conversation about who is no longer on the roster than the current group of A’s. Oakland spent the offseason trading three starters and their closer, as they followed GM Billy Beane’s formula of spinning assets for future assets in the hope the team is ready to contend by the time those prospects are ready to have an impact. Often injured closer Andrew Bailey was dealt to the Red Sox for a serviceable outfielder and two lower level prospects. Starter Trevor Cahill and reliever Craig Breslow were shipped out for promising starting pitcher prospect Jarrod Parker. Starter Guillermo Moscoso was swapped for Rockies outfielder Seth Smith, who should help the offense a bit. But starter Gio Gonzalez pulled in the biggest haul, as Washington sent back top pitching prospect A.J. Cole, solid catching prospect Derek Norris, and two pitchers who will likely be in Oakland’s rotation this season, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone. While I won’t get into how Oakland fared in the trades, regardless of the results, Oakland will be a less talented team THIS season, after dealing most of their starting rotation.
That rotation will be led by ESPN the Magazine cover boy Brandon McCarthy, who finally lived up to the promise he showed as a White Sox prospect, by mastering a two seam fastball, throwing less pitches, and inducing more ground balls. He will be joined by perhaps the biggest surprise of last season, Bartolo Colon, who resurrected his career with the Yankees after undergoing an experimental stem cell treatment on his elbow in the Dominican Republic. Both pitchers are signed to very reasonable one-year deals and could fetch Oakland more prospects the trade deadline if they perform as well as they did last season. The rest of the rotation will likely feature a competition between Peacock, Milone,Parker, Tyson Ross, and injury prone Rich Harden. The Oakland rotation could receive a boost from the return of Dallas Braden (shoulder surgery) in mid-April, and Brett Anderson (elbow surgery) in July or August. In Oakland’s spacious park, this motley crew could keep the Athletics in some games, but unfortunately their offense will likely once again be among the worst in baseball.
You know you have offensive troubles when the marquee name in your lineup is Manny Ramirez – who will not play in the first 50 games due to his second drug suspension. While some see Manny as an odd addition to a team that is likely going nowhere, I like the move for Oakland. For less than $400,000, they can see if Manny has anything left in the tank. If he can’t play anymore, he’s likely gone; if he starts acting like….well, Manny, then he’s likely gone. But IF Manny can still hit, he provides Oakland with some much needed offense, and more importantly, another trade chip at the deadline. If you think no team in their right mind would trade for Ramirez at this point, get back to me if he’s hitting over .280 with any power come July; there would be plenty of interest, even if that is an unlikely outcome. Also, as loony as he may be, from all reports, Manny has had a positive effect on young hitters in the past. Either way, he certainly can’t make the Athletics any WORSE than they already will be.
The real problem is that Oakland doesn’t really have any good young hitters for Manny to influence either way, at least at the major league level. First base will be a competition between Brandon Allen who has some power, but doesn’t make enough contact, and Daric Barton, who makes some contact but has little power. 3B Scott Sizemore has already gone down with a knee injury and the A’s really don’t have another capable third baseman on the roster. The outfield will feature solid but underwhelming veterans like Coco Crisp, Jonny Gomes, Smith, and Reddick, all of whom are average players at best. Oakland signed promising Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to play center field, but he will likely need quite a bit of seasoning in the minor leagues. The strength of this team is up the middle, where SS Cliff Pennington and 2B Jemile Weeks form a very good double play combination and Kurt Suzuki is a solid catcher. Unfortunately, this “bright spot” says more about the Oakland lineup than anything else. Suzuki had a down year both at the plate and behind it, and the A’s are simply hoping he rebounds enough to be attractive trade bait. Pennington is no more than solid, but Weeks did show real promise, batting .300 in his first season with good speed. This offense will likely be the worst in the majors, after Seattle made strides to improve their hitting woes in the offseason.
Oakland does have a couple of decent veteran arms remaining in the bullpen in probable closer Brian Fuentes, and Grant Balfour. But the rest of the spots are likely up for grabs. Fautino De Los Santos is seen as the potential future closer, and could assume that role at some point this year if the veterans are moved.
Overall, this is a team with a putrid offense, injury question marks throughout the rotation, and very little promise for the foreseeable future. I could easily see the A’s losing 100 games in a division in which the Rangers are still excellent, the Angels have improved again, and even Seattle should be better. Don’t worry A’s fans, 2016 will be here before you know it.