This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Athletics, who are hardly recognizable after general manager BIlly Beane’s latest overhaul. Can the new mix of players come together and actually succeed? Beane has worked near-miracles before, but this seems like a long shot even for him.
Projected Lineup: LF Coco Crisp, 2B Ben Zobrist*, RF Josh Reddick, DH Billy Butler*, 1B Ike Davis*, 3B Brett Lawrie*, C Stephen Vogt, SS Marcus Semien*, CF Sam Fuld
Projected Rotation: RHP Sonny Gray, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Jarrod Parker, RHP Jesse Hahn*, RHP Kendall Graveman*
* new additions
The A’s had a bigger blowout sale than RadioShack this winter (burn!), dealing away everyone on the team who had even the slightest bit of value. What’s left is a strange mix of unproven youth and guys like Coco Crisp who just plain belong in Oakland, no matter how dire the circumstances.
Some question why the A’s would do such a thing. Why would a team, winners of 88 regular season games and owners of the highest run differential in baseball, go into full-on dismantle mode? Evidently, general manager Billy Beane thought his team over-performed last year, and that the best way to avoid regression was to overhaul the entire roster. Better to trade players a year too early than a year too late.
It will be an interesting dynamic. The clubhouse will be a positive environment, because there aren’t any superstars on the team. It’s just 25 guys who are thankful to have been given a shot. Conceivably, that could work in the A’s favor.
Sonny Gray heads up the rotation, and he needs to prove that he can bounce back after a year in which he struggled down the stretch. During last August and September, Gray only managed a 3.83 ERA and lost a bit of velocity on his fastball. It might’ve been caused by his pitching a career-high 219 innings last year, and simply getting tired. But if that’s the case, Gray needs to wake his ass up and throw back a Red Bull—the A’s can’t afford for their ace pitcher to fizzle out late in the season when games matter the most.
The rest of the rotation is a nebulous blob out of which four pitchers will emerge. Scott Kazmir, the great comeback story, seems assured of a spot. The A’s acquired three capable young starters through trades this winter, in Kendall Graveman, Jesse Hahn and Chris Bassitt. They can expect injured pitchers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to complete their rehab from Tommy John surgeries and return midseason. And finally, there’s the most intriguing pitcher the A’s picked up…
Barry Zito. Barry freaking Zito.
Although Zito is far from assured a spot on the staff, I like the move by the A’s for a couple of reasons. First, the familiar face will help ease the pain of the recent fire sale in the hearts of loyal fans. They’ll see his goofy ass at the park, signing autographs and playing the guitar just like old times, and for a moment they’ll forget the A’s traded away half the team.
But also, Zito will prove to be an invaluable mentor to one pitcher in particular—A.J. Griffin. Their pitching styles are so similar, Griffin has often been dubbed “Zito from the right side”. Who better than Zito himself to teach Griffin how to effectively mix an 89-mph heater with a big sweeping curve?
The A’s have also improved defensively, most notably at catcher. Last season, A’s catchers were terrible at throwing out runners stealing. This weakness was exposed in the Wildcard game, in which the Royals ran wild on A’s catchers, going 7-for-8 stealing off of Derek Norris and Geovany Soto. The regular season wasn’t much better: Norris only caught 17% of would-be base stealers, while John Jaso managed just 11%.
Enter Josh Phegley, who will now be part of the A’s backstop platoon. With a 29% career caught stealing percentage, I wouldn’t quite go as far as to call Phegley a savior, but he definitely addresses a big area of need.
The offense is the big unknown.
Brett Lawrie, the main piece the A’s got back in the Josh Donaldson trade, has a huge amount of potential, but he hasn’t played in more than 107 games in a season since 2012. Billy Butler saw a massive power outage last year, hitting only nine home runs and posting the lowest OPS of his career.
The A’s offense has always been built on platoons and matchups, so I trust that manager Bob Melvin will get the absolute best side he can from each of his players. This means that they may not look great at face value, but with the right matchup, their strengths come out. For instance, Ike Davis never setting foot in the batter’s box against a lefty (where he is a career .196/.261/.316 hitter) is probably a good idea.
Although I understand Billy Beane’s plan, that doesn’t mean it will translate to results this season. It will likely take a few years for the end result to take shape, and for the A’s to have another shot at “OAKtober”.
Projected Finish: 69-93, Fifth place in AL West