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Springtime Storylines: Who are the Oakland Athletics?

Mar 26, 2012, 10:00 AM EDT

Chicago Cubs v Oakland Athletics Getty Images

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 2012 season. Up next: the Somewhere in the Bay Area Probably Oakland A’s.

The Big Question: Who are these guys?

To say the A’s have undergone a lot of changes since last season is more than a bit of an understatement.  Out are Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey, Gio Gonzalez, Hideki MatsuiJosh Willingham and David DeJesus. In are Yoenis CespedesBartolo Colon, Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes, Jarrod Parker, Josh Reddick and Brad Peacock.  But more significant than the net value of the changes themselves is what those changes represent.

Mostly, it represents more sadness for A’s fans who bought into the rebuild-on-the-cheap-and-surprise-everyone storylines for the past decade.  It worked pretty well. Pretty darn well, actually. But now, rather than see the big names go when they hit free agency, the A’s are jettisoning players before they actually get expensive.  Rather than saying, hey, we can compete next year with some no-names, the A’s are basically saying that this year, next year and maybe the year after are irrelevant. Call us back in three years. Maybe.

All of this is a function of their stadium situation, of course. Stuck in limbo between Oakland and San Jose, the A’s have decided to basically punt on the here and now and hope that maybe someday they can move into a new park and actually spend some money (though, it should be noted, they didn’t save that much money shipping off all those players this winter due to signing Yoenis Cespedes and bringing back Coco Crisp).  In the meantime, they have done less than the minimum to even attempt to maintain fan excitement in Oakland.

None of which has a ton of bearing on how the team will actually do. More on that below.  But existentially speaking, the Oakland A’s are … no one. A team that is neither here nor there.

What else is going on?

  • The rotation is … different.  With Cahill and Gonzalez gone and Brett Anderson injured, the rotation is Brandon McCarthy and a lot of questions. Bartolo Colon was a pleasant surprise for the Yankees last season, but his durability and effectiveness in 2012 is nothing certain. Dallas Braden is coming off shoulder surgery and won’t be ready until at least mid-May, if that. Tom MiloneTyson Ross and Graham Godfrey are no sure things.
  • The lineup is going to be a weakness, and that’s the case even if Cespedes exceeds expectations and provides some punch in the middle of the lineup. They get Manny Ramirez after 50 games, but what can he really be expected to do after more than a year off and at the age of 40? There’s not much else exciting in this lineup.
  • What about Cespedes? He’s certainly gotten a lot of press — and God knows I was taken by him when I saw him in spring training — but let’s be realistic here: is he going to come from Cuba in his mid-20s and immediately become a serious offensive threat? Or is it more likely that he’ll be a low average, moderate power, lots of strikeouts kind of guy who plays a decent enough centerfield to pass this year and maybe next, but who is really destined for a corner?  If I’m a betting man I go with the latter.
  • The real excitement in this franchise: the farm system.  Those trades of Gonzalez, Bailey and Cahill netted the A’s a ton of minor league talent. That’s great for, say, 2014, but for now it doesn’t help. Still, if you’re a prospect hound, the A’s are a fun team to watch.

How are they gonna do?

The days of the A’s being a surprise contender in a weak AL West are long gone. Even if everything breaks perfectly, they don’t compete with Texas or Anaheim.  This is a third place team if I ever saw one.

  1. hushbrother - Mar 26, 2012 at 10:27 AM

    I think the A’s were smart to sell off Cahill and Gonzalez while their value was high. Those guys were helped an awful lot by their home park. I doubt they pitch nearly as well for their new teams. It’s a sucker’s game to trade for Oakland pitchers.

  2. El Bravo - Mar 26, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    Distant third….very distant.

    • antlerclaws - Mar 26, 2012 at 10:52 AM

      I have them so distant third that they’re fourth.

      • El Bravo - Mar 26, 2012 at 11:36 AM

        …so distant that they finish behind the Stros next year…

  3. stex52 - Mar 26, 2012 at 11:26 AM

    I guess it’s a race with the Astros to see who becomes respectable first. What a change from the 2000-2005 years. Sad, really.

    • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Mar 26, 2012 at 11:49 AM

      Yeah, teams that unhealthy aren’t good for baseball. I hope the Astros reform and the A’s get their new stadium. Baseball’s at its best when everyone’s thriving at least moderately.

      • stex52 - Mar 26, 2012 at 1:35 PM

        Certainly the Astros’ metropolitan base is large enough that they can rebuild as much as they are willing to. And one tries to be optimistic that the new management is going to allow them to catch up to state of the art in player analysis and statistical tools. But four years of Ed Wade could be enough to discourage anyone. You can say the right things and plan the right things and still get nowhere.

  4. APBA Guy - Mar 26, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    The tough thing about predicting the A’s finish this year is that either option, third or fourth, is by definition disappointing. But the in difference in how they play will determine whether fans show up and stay awake, or whether last year’s attendance looks good compared to 2012. There are a lot of young, athletic, energetic players competing for jobs on the team. Add a few veterans who are naturally energetic (CoCo) and have something to prove (Manny) and this could be fun to watch.

    But…this all goes “poof” if they start every game behind by 3 or 4 runs, and that’s a real possibility. Their number 1 starter is Brandon McCarthy. Think about that. With 5 teams in CA, only SD has a “who’s that again?” at number 1. The other guys you may have heard of: Weaver, Lincecum, and Kershaw. Worse still, after McCarthy, you have a 4 guys the best of whom has only shown flashes of major league acceptability (Ross) until Braden returns. And all the guys with major league experience have injury histories. The two guys the A’s traded (Cahill and Gio) were 200 innings guys. The 2012 pitching could go so bad and so quick that the Sacramento bullpen could easily become the foundation for the team’s August and September pen, with the A”s locked in a death struggle for dead last in the West. Recall the Orioles and their 0-21 start. Those games tell us what happens when a team is always behind at the start of a game.

    But if the rotation can hold to a collective ERA around 4.00 and deliver 5 plus innings a game, with the energy in the lineup you might see people coming out to see the team play.

    People who’ve not been to the Mausoleum during the day really can’t appreciate how pretty it is once you are seated. The NorCal weather is fabulous, the sun bright but not scorching, temps are at most low 80′s and humidity is always low. And the field itself is immaculate, at least until the Raiders start to play, by then season is defined.

    If by May 1 the rotation is effective, there will be hope. If by June 1 it continues to be effective this will be a successful 3rd place year. If the rotation collapses then the there will be increasing calls for new ownership, since this ownership group is responsible for the increasingly unimpressive on-field product.

  5. cmutimmah - Mar 26, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    Behind the Stros? Not unless there’s a Bill Beane directive for them to get a higher draft pick…

    Let’s face it, this is where baseball is headed. Low market teams are going to have huge lulls in talent. They can only trade players that need to be paid and then WAIT for talent to seep up through the minors.

    Cahill is over rated, but he went to AZ where pitchers seem to thrive. Gio will be OK in his new park too. Not sure why OAK is such an anti-Coors, but you need that as a small market team. Same goes for today’s team, Seattle.

    Cespedes better pan out so Beane can parlay him into prospects (come on, why else would he sign this guy for that amount of money?) or that might set them back another two years…

  6. Gamera the Brave - Mar 26, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    Looks like Gertrude Stein was finally vindicated…

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