2014 MLB PREVIEW: OAKLAND A'S
February 25, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
Somehow the Oakland A’s keep winning. And they do it with very few everyday starters, just role players who have found a home under GM Billy Beane and Manager Bob Melvin. With Beane’s formula, the A’s have won back to back AL West titles and they may be in the position to win another in 2014.
Beane kept the coals hot in Oakland in the off-season by trading pitcher Brett Anderson, pitcher Jerry Blevins, 2B Jemile Weeks, OF Michael Choice and OF Seth Smith. Weeks was considered the second baseman of the future (2008 1st round draft selection), and Choice was Baseball America’s second best prospect in the A’s organization.
Beane signed pitcher Scott Kazmir in the off-season and acquired pitcher Jim Johnson, pitcher Luke Gregerson, pitcher Josh Lindblom, pitcher Drew Pomeranz as well as outfielder’s Greg Gentry and Billy Burns. Beane isn’t content on just winning the division and making the first round of the playoffs, he is looking for much more in 2014.
Kazmir will be the ace of the staff after signing a two-year, $22 million deal. The A’s needed Kazmir after Bartolo Colon left for the Mets and took 18 wins with him. Kazmir went 10-9 last year with the Indians. Joining Kazmir will be Jarrod Parker who was spectacular during a stretch from May 28-September 4. Parker went 9-0 with an ERA of 2.59 in 18 starts. That’s when the A’s knew they had something special. Sonny Gray is another young arm Oakland will count on after getting an audition last August. Gray went 5-3 with an ERA of 2.67 in 12 games. Gray was also dominant in the A’s lone post-season win over Detroit shutting out the Tigers for eight innings. Other’s looking to round out the deep rotation will be A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone. All three combined for 36 wins in 2013.
The Oakland bullpen was one of the best in baseball last season with an ERA of 3.22, third-best in the AL. Despite their success, the save rate wasn’t what Beane was expecting so he got some help. Jim Johnson comes over from Baltimore after saving 50 games in 2012 and 2013. The A’s lost relievers Jerry Blevins and Grant Balfour but Oakland brought in former San Diego RHP Luke Gregersen to go along with RHP Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, Drew Pomeranz and Dan Otero to form a more than capable bullpen.
Platooning will be the name of the catching game again this season with Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt getting the majority of the innings. Last year’s opening day starter John Jaso will see more time at DH because of the concussion he suffered in 2013. The A’s need Jaso’s bat in the line-up because of his on-base percentage over the past two seasons (.394 and .387).
Former catcher turned third baseman Josh Donaldson is on the verge of becoming a star. Donaldson struggled early but by the end of the season he hit .301 with 24 HR’s and 93 RBI. With runners on base, Donaldson hit .364. Oakland will look to Jed Lowrie to play alongside Donaldson at shortstop. The former Houston product led all AL shortstops with a .791 OPS and had 45 doubles. There are question marks at first base and second base. Manager Bob Melvin will have Brandon Moss, Nate Freiman and Daric Barton looking to win the position at first. At second, Melvin will choose between Nick Punto (FA Dodgers), Alberto Callasppo and Eric Sogard. All three will see time as the right-handed DH.
Veteran CF Coco Crisp gets better every year. Oakland’s lead-off hitter had 22 HR’s and stole 21 bases in 2013. Crisp is also an excellent defensive outfielder as he didn’t commit a single error. LF Yoenis Cespedes’ struggled in 2013 following an excellent 2012 campaign. His batting average fell from .292 to .240 and his OPS dropped from .861 to .737. We need to give Cespedes’ a little break because he did have a hand injury that hurt him early in the season. He still hit 26 HR’s and drove in 80. Josh Reddick and Craig Gentry will share duties in RF. Reddick hit only .227 in 2013 and played with a wrist injury that required surgery in the off-season. Former Texas Ranger Craig Gentry gives the A’s a base-stealer (24 in 2013) and hits left-handed pitching (.280 and .392 OBP). Gentry is also a very good defensive outfielder.
The A’s are a playoff-quality team with a shoe-string budget and a crappy stadium, but somehow they just keep winning despite all the odds. Perhaps this will be the year Oakland will find playoff success. They have lost nine of 10 postseason series, dating back to the 1990 World Series loss to the Reds.
PREDICTION: 2ND AL WEST