After reaching .500 for the first time since 2006, the ’11 A’s fell back to 74 wins. They had their customary offensive struggles, but also played poor defense and had injury trouble on the pitching staff. As always, it’s a rebuilding year for Oakland, having traded away two top starters and their closer, and losing their top power bat in free agency. They got good returns, but it will likely be another tough year by the bay.
The infield will be the most stable area of the team, with all their starters returning from last year. Jemile Weeks had a strong debut, posting a .303/.340/.421 slashline. His 5% walk rate was well below his minor league normals, and he hits more flyballs than his lack of power warrants. Cliff Pennington will start at shortstop again, with a low-risk, low-reward bat and average defense. Scott Sizemore came over in a trade from Detroit, providing a 118 wRC+ with a high-walk, high-strikeout approach. However, his defense was well below average, limiting his value. Brandon Allen is the frontrunner at first base with his massive power, but he’s had a 35% K rate so far in the majors, making him a big risk. Luckily for him, the competition is very weak. Chris Carter has just as much power, but has the potential to show even worse contact rates. Daric Barton has great discipline, but does not have much power and doesn’t square up the ball well.
Coco Crisp returns in centerfield after an average season last year, his only asset being his speed. The corners see possible platoon partners, with Seth Smith and Josh Reddick as the lefties and Jonny Gomes and Colin Cowgill from the right side, all of which were acquired during the winter. Reddick has the most potential, showing good power and defense last season with Boston. Smith, moving from Coors Field, will almost certainly have a platoon partner, probably Cowgill due to Gomes’ horrid defense. Kurt Suzuki begins his fifth straight year behind the plate trying to raise his BABIP, which has been below .250 the last two seasons. The DH position will likely be manned by Kila Ka’aihue and Gomes, though Carter could also find time there.
With the trades of Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, and Guillermo Moscoso, there will be new faces in the Oakland rotation. Brandon McCarthy, one of last year’s new faces, should lead the rotation. Resurrecting his career, he used great control and a good GB rate to post a 2.86 FIP, but his SIERA of 3.49 shows that some regression is likely. Brett Anderson is possibly the best pitcher remaining, but he won’t be ready until mid-summer due to Tommy John surgery last July. Dallas Braden is another lefty coming off of arm surgery, making three starts before shoulder problems ended his season. He may not be ready for Opening Day, but he should provide consistent average production when on the mound. Another surprise success from last year, Bartolo Colon leaves New York to join the A’s rotation. His first decent season since 2005, Colon regained some of his old velocity, leading to his second-best K/BB ratio of his career. With his weight, injuries all still a huge concern, but any above-average innings Oakland gets from him will be appreciated. Brad Peacock and Tom Milone, both acquired from Washington in the Gonzalez trade, will likely be in the Opening Day rotation. The 24-year-old Peacock is the better prospect, while Milone is a standard soft-tossing lefty. Tyson Ross will likely get some starts early, while top prospect Jarrod Parker could get starts towards the end of the season.
The bullpen also saw a major overhaul, with Andrew Bailey, Brad Ziegler, and Craig Breslow being traded. This leaves Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes, and Joey Devine as the only established veterans remaining. Balfour is the most likely to close, due to his strikeout ability. After missing ’09 and ’10 with injuries, Devine finally made it back to Oakland last year, struggling with control. Fautino de los Santos is also likely to get important innings, especially if he gets his 96 MPH fastball under control.
Oakland is faced with the same problems again this year, no above-average position players and a lot of injury concerns on the pitching staff. Billy Beane may have revolutionized the evaluation of players, but now that most teams have caught up, he has been stuck in a rut of mediocre teams. The payroll isn’t helping, but the Tampa Bay Rays are showing that teams can win with a low payroll. If the prospects from the Cahill and Gonzalez trades pan out, the A’s will take a step in the right direction.
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