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2013 Preview: Oakland Athletics

Mar 22, 2013, 4:30 PM EDT

Chris Young, Yoenis Cespedes

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 AndersonJarrod ParkerTommy MiloneA.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.

  1. jdl1325 - Mar 22, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    Way to go out on a cliff with the Angels, Rangers, A’s divisional ranking. Not sure I completely disagree, but you spent the entire preface talking about unpredictability and then make the most predictable choice.

    • Old Gator - Mar 22, 2013 at 5:48 PM

      Yeah, I never would have guessed he’d do that.

  2. jlovenotjlo - Mar 22, 2013 at 5:58 PM

    The division winning A’s are older (in a good way) and better on paper than last season. Going to be a great race, but thanks to Houston and Seattle, the competitiveness of of the AL East, and the potential for 3 .500 teams in the Central, the West could send 2 teams to the wild card game.

  3. chill1184 - Mar 22, 2013 at 6:34 PM

    I think the A’s have the ability to repeat but I believe the AL West race will again go down to the wire

  4. bh192012 - Mar 22, 2013 at 6:38 PM

    Oakland was 7th in HR’s just behind the (5th) Rangers and just in front of the (9th) Angels. So HR’s are important for all of the contending AL West teams. I think the offseason changes / upgrades should stabilize the run totals. HR totals could go down some, but I think batting average and on base percentage are just as likely to go up some.

    I think part of the unpredictability of the AL West is also because it was a tight race. It came down to the last day! The A’s success will probably hinge on the young pitching staff. I predict another close race, this time the A’s and Angles fighting for 1st spot until the last day, with the Rangers pulling up a close 3rd. (Seattle and Houston get destroyed in the process.)

  5. markofapro - Mar 22, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    Don’t discount the Mariners. You heard it here first.

  6. scatterbrian - Mar 22, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    Practically everyone is predicting the A’s to be a third place team. While it appears they were lucky with so many walk-off wins, they were actually one of the most balanced teams in baseball. The A’s were over .500 at home and on the road, vs. every division and vs. interleague, in extra inning games, in 1-run games, vs. RH and LH starters, and vs. both sub-.500 and .500+ teams. The only other team to do that was Washington (SF, Cincinnati, New York, and Baltimore all came close.). They improved their lineup over the course of the season, and they appear to have gotten better over the winter. You can’t really say that about their main competition.

    Texas sputtered this winter. They lose Hamilton and Napoli (and Young!) and replace that with Pierzynski (who had a career year at 35) and a couple of rookies, one of whom (Profar) doesn’t have a position. They do have a very good 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation, and a very solid bullpen. However, they also lost Uehara and could move another key reliever into the rotation, further diluting a strength. I’m not sure how the Rangers leapfrogged the A’s.

    Meanwhile, Anaheim did not improve their starting pitching (Blanton, Vargas, and Hanson vs. Haren, Santana, Greinke/J. Williams) or their bullpen that struggled last season. The one big move they made was getting Hamilton, whose 139 OPS+ isn’t much better than the departing Hunter’s 132. I don’t see what the Angels did to jump ahead either.

    • jlovenotjlo - Mar 22, 2013 at 11:27 PM

      Right on. I don’t see why this isn’t the A’s division once again.

  7. APBA Guy - Mar 22, 2013 at 8:15 PM

    There can be no greater proof of Craig’s man-hate for the A’s than his release of the much-anticipated A’s 2013 Preview at the exact moment I was being strapped to the endodontist chair for 2 hours of root canal “therapy”. At the end of it, I confessed, I confessed to everything.

    Anyway, glad Brian was here to present the A’s fan point of view. What he said. And, in addition, the A’s will also have a little crowd bump this year. Last year the crowds at the Mausoleum were swelling noticeably at the end of the year, and despite the unpleasant economy for the lower 90% of us on the plutocrat pecking order, people will come and see this team play. The synergy between the crowd and the team last year (Bernie) may not be duplicated entirely, but the hope is there that the young starters arms won’t fall off, that the outfield will catch everything and contribute even more on offense than last year (Reddick, Cespedes) and that the middle infield will be improved offensively with Lowrie and Sizemore. We’ll see.

    But for the first time in 5 years I have a lot of positive thoughts about the A’s going into the year.

  8. watchfullhose - Mar 22, 2013 at 9:20 PM

    Link to other previews?

  9. digg2000 - Sep 21, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    Just looking back at this… good call, Craig.

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