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A's Team Preview: Arms Race

Scott Jenstad

Scott Jenstad

Scott Jenstad is a veteran of both NFBC and CDM fantasy games. He has won three NFBC Main Event league titles and finished twice in the Top 10 Overall. Scott is a hardcore fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A's and Golden State Warriors. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenstad.

The A's entered 2012 as the odds-on favorite to battle the Mariners for the cellar in the AL West. After an offseason where they traded Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey and lost Josh Willingham in free agency, it appeared the A's were headed towards another rebuilding year. In the season's most shocking story, Oakland came truly out of nowhere in 2012 to win the AL West over the talented Rangers and Angels. They took the eventual AL Champion Tigers to a fifth game in the ALDS before succumbing to the dominance of Justin Verlander.

The A's were a true Cinderella story last season and added to the excitement with a remarkable 15 walk-off wins, including a thrilling comeback in Game 4 of the ALDS. After struggling offensively in the first half and hanging around in the AL West due to the success of their young pitching staff, the team exploded in the second half to lead the MLB in runs and home runs after the All-Star break. The question will be whether the young A's can re-kindle the 2012 magic and compete again in what will be a very tough division. The front office certainly appears to be in “win now” mode with offseason trades to acquire veteran depth in Chris Young, Jed Lowrie and John Jaso. For the first time since 2007, A's fans enter the season with an optimistic outlook.

Offseason Moves

Acquired C John Jaso in a three team deal with Seattle and Washington for SP A.J. Cole, SP Blake Treinen and a PTBNL.

A seemingly minor move last offseason turned into a major find for the Mariners in Jaso, who was the team's best hitter last season. His biggest problem was earning manager Eric Wedge's trust behind the plate. He didn't catch his first game until May and played more games at DH than catcher last season. He likely won't have similar problems this year as he was dealt to Oakland in January and had reportedly been on Billy Beane's target list for a couple of years. Jaso makes consistent contact and works the count. His 1.10 BB/K led the Mariners last season, and his 56 walks were only three less than team-leader Dustin Ackley in more than 300 fewer plate appearances. Jaso enters Oakland's camp as the No. 1 catcher, though his struggles against left-handers will likely lead to a platoon with Derek Norris. Even if he can't hit lefties, the A's certainly acquired him to see a lot more than his 294 at-bats from 2012.

Signed SS Hiroyuki Nakajima.

Nakajima was posted after the 2011 season, but he was unable to come to agreement with the Yankees and he returned to Japan. He returned to the Seibu Lions for the 2012 season and hit .311/.382/.451. Though not an eye-popping line, the batting average was one point off the league lead, the OBP was second and his slugging percentage ranked fourth. In the field, Nakajima led the Pacific League in putouts and was second in assists, while committing 18 errors. Despite his solid numbers at the plate and in the field, the MLB establishment does not seem quite sold on Nakajima as an everyday starter. There is some sound reasoning for this: we have yet to see a Japanese shortstop stick in MLB, Nakajima's power projects as pretty low for an MLB third baseman and learning second base at the MLB level is a tall order. But by all accounts, the A's plan on Nakajima being their every day shortstop this season after signing him to a two-year deal in December and dealing Cliff Pennington to Arizona in October.

Acquired OF Chris Young from Arizona for SS Cliff Pennington and IF Yordy Cabrera.

Young made mechanical adjustments to his swing prior to last season and was tearing the cover off the ball before crashing into the outfield wall in mid-April and suffering a slight tear of a ligament in his shoulder. He was never the same after the injury, and Young later admitted that he returned from the disabled list too quickly. The D-Backs started platooning Young in center field with Gerardo Parra, and a quadriceps injury eventually knocked him out of the picture completely in early September. With $10 million left on his contract, the D-Backs traded Young to the A's in October where he'll enter another crowded outfield situation. Keep in mind that while Young should offer a steady supply of power and speed with the risk of a low batting average, he's hit just .224/.311/.409 in his career away from Chase Field, and the league change and new home park could sap some of his power.

Re-signed SP Bartolo Colon.

What started as a feel good reclamation project fell off a cliff rapidly when Colon was suspended 50 games for testing positive for testosterone in August. Before the suspension, Colon had somehow found a way to get hitters out despite a rapidly declining strikeout rate. It is hard to see his smoke and mirrors act working out again, but he did help fantasy owners with a 3.66 ERA in 152.1 innings. The A's have gone back to the well once more with Colon, signing him to a one-year deal for 2013, which means at least his home starts should be useful again for those in deeper leagues. He still has five games left on his PED suspension, so he may miss one start, but by all accounts, he will be one of the A's starting five when the season begins.

Failed to re-sign SP Brandon McCarthy, OF Jonny Gomes, 3B Brandon Inge and SS Stephen Drew.

While the A's managed to keep most of their roster together from 2012, they do lose some of their veteran clubhouse presence, especially with Gomes and Inge. Many players credited Gomes and Inge for keeping the young team loose during the pennant race. Gomes is a local guy and quickly became a fan favorite in 2012. However, the loss of McCarthy will be the one that the A's feel most on the field. Even though he only managed to make 43 starts over his two years in Oakland, McCarthy sported an ERA around 3.30 in that time and gave them a solid guy to go to whenever they needed a strong start. Most A's fans will tell you that what they will really miss is the often hilarious back and forth tweets between McCarthy and his wife, Amanda. McCarthy is fully cleared to pitch again after the scary comebacker he took off his head that prematurely ended his 2012 campaign. McCarthy signed a two-year deal with the Diamondbacks for $15.5 million in December.

Acquired RP Chris Resop from Pittsburgh for RHP Zach Thornton.

A fearless competitor, Resop uses a mid-90s heater to keep hitters honest. That said, he hasn't shown the command necessary to fill a late-inning role. Furthermore, his K/9 rate fell from 10.2 to 5.6 -- his lowest mark since 2007 and two strikeouts per game off his career average. The righty registered a 3.91 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 73.2 innings, totaling just eight holds after collecting 15 in 2011. He'll serve as a middle-inning reliever in Oakland, sitting with Jerry Blevins behind Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle.

Acquired IF Jed Lowrie and RP Fernando Rodriguez for 1B/DH Chris Carter, C Max Stassi and SP Brad Peacock.

If not for (yet another) freak injury (an ankle injury suffered on a collision at second base), Lowrie's first season in Houston would have been considered an overwhelming success. Lowrie showcased his power, looked competent at shortstop and stepped up as a leader in a young clubhouse. When healthy, Lowrie has the potential to be a strong option at shortstop. The hardest part is keeping him healthy, especially when considering conditioning does not really factor into the problem: nearly all of the injuries he has experienced over the past few seasons were of the fluke variety. With the February trade to the A's, Lowrie moves within the division to a better team, but one with a less clear path to playing time. In initial reports, general manager Billy Beane indicated that he loves the versatility Lowrie brings and that the A's plan to move him all around the infield. If Lowrie stays healthy, the A's will certainly find a position for him almost every day, but it may be in different spots on both the diamond and in the lineup. It's also possible he shows too much in the spring and ends up playing full-time at second base or shortstop, but that is not the plan heading into camp.

Although the results were nothing to write home about (5.37 ERA / 1.45 WHIP), Rodriguez was one of the most used relievers for the Astros in 2012. Rodriguez made a robust 71 appearances for the 100-loss Astros after appearing in just 47 games in 2011. He gets plenty of swings and misses when his rising four-seamer is up in the strike zone. He is a fly ball pitcher, a trait that can lead him to occasional trouble, but not as much in his new home park. With the trade to Oakland, Rodriguez will be in a spring battle for one of the last spots in the A's bullpen in 2013.

Projected Lineup (vs RH/LH)

1. Coco Crisp, CF
2. John Jaso, C/Chris Young, DH
3. Brandon Moss, 1B
4. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
5. Josh Reddick, RF
6. Seth Smith, DH/Josh Donaldson, 3B
7. Josh Donaldson, 3B/Scott Sizemore, 2B
8. Scott Sizemore, 2B/Derek Norris, C
9. Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS

Note: Jed Lowrie is not listed in the projected lineup, but he will likely play as much as any of the starters, but in different spots all over the lineup and the diamond.

The A's lineup could look a bit different on a daily basis due to all their inter-changeable parts. Young, Crisp, Reddick and Cespedes will have to find a way to share three outfield spots as well as some at bats at DH. Smith will start against almost all righties and Chris Young will see almost all lefties that the A's face. Young will also spell Crisp in center field and also give Cespedes and Reddick days off to DH. Jed Lowrie will be the super utility guy to start the year, until he forces the A's hand to use him every day at one of the infield positions. Injuries will likely rear their ugly head to make the situation less complicated to deal with, but if the team stays healthy, it will be a juggling act between outfield, middle infield and DH to make sure everyone is getting their at bats. John Jaso and Derek Norris should be a pretty straight platoon with the only deviation to avoid too many starts in a row as necessary.

Projected Rotation

1. Jarrod Parker
2. Brett Anderson
3. Tommy Milone
4. A.J. Griffin
5. Bartolo Colon

The re-signing of Bartolo Colon likely leaves the A's with no open spots in the rotation to open 2013. The top three guys are set in stone assuming health and, after his success in 2012, it is hard to see A.J. Griffin not winning a starting job to open the season. Dan Straily will likely be the first called up for an injury, and Travis Blackley will also be available to fill in as needed, but will likely open the year as the A's long reliever.

Closer: Grant Balfour - Balfour was tabbed as the A's closer going into the 2012 season, but hiccupped early and relinquished the role to rookie Ryan Cook. He returned to his role at the end of games on August 11 and sprinted away with the job. He was 17-for-17 in save opportunities in August and September, including appearances in each of the A's last five games as they stole the division title from Texas on the final day of the season. Balfour is very popular with Oakland fans due to his unbridled intensity and figures to be the guy closing games come Opening Day. The A's tend to flip closers if they can get value for them, but in exercising their $4.5 option on Balfour in November, it appears he will be the guy in 2013. He is a nice option to target after the first wave of closers go off the board.

Key Bullpen Members: Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Jerry Blevins will handle the seventh and eighth inning in front of Balfour. Cook filled in as closer in 2012 and would be the first option to fill that role if Balfour were to be hurt or injured. Doolittle is an incredible story as he was drafted as a first baseman and 2012 was his first full year as a pitcher.

Notes of Import, Fantasy or Otherwise:

How will the glut of outfielders work out?

The A's enter 2013 with most of their 25-man roster a formality going into spring training. The biggest question on offense is how the at bats will be parceled out among the outfield and DH. The A's have four outfielders in Chris Young, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick and then also DH Seth Smith. Most of the playing time will be determined by who is pitching, but with five guys for four everyday slots, it will be a challenge for manager Bob Melvin to keep guys happy as well as keep anyone from getting rusty. Depth is an excellent problem to have, assuming the manager can find a suitable role for everyone involved. The trade of Chris Carter to the Astros opened up this glut to the amount where Melvin can now platoon Young and Smith most days and spot start them when the other guys need a day off.

Who starts at second base?

The one starting spot that is wide open for the A's in March is second base. Scott Sizemore is moving back to the keystone, his natural position, after tearing his ACL on the first day of camp last year while playing third base. A year ago, Jemile Weeks looked like the face of a young organization, but after a year of monumental struggles on offense, he finds himself without a locked down job. The dark horse candidate at second base is former first-round pick, Grant Green. Green has been shuffled around multiple positions through his time in the A's minor league system, but the team's front office has been recently quoted saying that Green will receive a long look this spring. The leader in the clubhouse is probably Sizemore assuming he is all the way back from his knee injury, but the guy to watch in March is Green who could be a very sneaky pick in deep leagues where middle infielders become scarce quickly. This spot became even more complicated with the acquisition of Jed Lowrie. It appears Lowrie is going to play all over the diamond, but with a great camp, he may make the answer to this question look quite simple.

Can Hiroyuki Nakajima field well enough to stick at shortstop?

The big question about the A's singing of Nakajima centers around whether he can handle shortstop defensively at the MLB level. The A's seem to be believers, but even the organization probably won't know for sure until seeing him extensively in the spring. Switching to second base would leave the A's with a hole at shortstop and also be difficult for a guy who is already adapting to a new league. He could move over to third, but his bat does not seem to fit for a corner-infield spot and the A's appear happy with Josh Donaldson there. If Nakajima cannot get the job done, recently-acquired Jed Lowrie serves as their Plan B (a very solid one) at shortstop.

Can Brett Anderson stay healthy?

There is no doubt that Brett Anderson can flat out pitch when he is healthy. He has had flashes of absolute brilliance, but each one seems to be followed up by an injury. He came back from Tommy John surgery in August of 2012 and made six starts, only to then suffer an oblique injury. He was able to return in time for the ALDS and teased A's fans, as well as fantasy owners, with a six-inning, two-hit shutout performance against the Tigers. Anderson is a prime target for fantasy leagues if he can stay healthy, and this is about as late as he will go in drafts for many years.

Just how big is the upside for Yoenis Cespedes?

This is the most exciting question surrounding the A's in 2013 and is a question that no one really knows the answer to. Even the A's had to have been surprised at how quickly Cespedes adapted to MLB in 2012. At the start of spring training, most experts and writers assumed Cespedes would have to start the year in Triple-A for some seasoning, but there he was starting in center field on Opening Day in Japan and homering three times in his first four major league games. After it was all said and done, Cespedes put up a slash line of .292/.356/.505, hit 23 home runs and tossed in 16 stolen bases – and he did all that in only 129 games. The one negative was that Cespedes seemed to deal with a lot of minor tweaks during the year. If he can put that behind him (reportedly he has adopted a new routine of stretching), the sky really is the limit for a guy who is only going to be more comfortable in Year 2 in the US. One must be cautious in projecting the world for Cespedes, but if he were to play 150 games, 30/20 is very much in play for him.

Strengths

The easy answer here is young pitching since the A's were second in the American League with a team ERA of 3.68. However, a closer look reveals just how good the A's offense was in the second half of 2012. They led all of baseball after the All-Star break with 394 runs and 112 home runs. The A's overall depth is their biggest strength heading into 2013. They may not have the star power of the Angels or the Rangers, but they are also more ready to respond to slump and injuries with their depth across the roster.

Weaknesses

The downside of exciting youth is that it usually leads to inconsistency. During 2012, they had stretches where you expected them to win every single day, but also had stretches where it seemed like they would never score another run. Four of their five starters are very young and the fifth may need a new cycle of testosterone to hang around. The A's rode the highs of the roller coaster last year, but they need to learn to avoid the extreme lows because the highs are not likely to be quite as magical as they were in 2012.

Rising: Jarrod Parker - Parker was a very highly touted prospect (ninth pick overall in 2007) in the Diamondbacks organization before he had Tommy John surgery in 2010. He was the main piece of the Trevor Cahill trade in December 2011 and made his debut with the A's in late April. Parker never looked back and was the A's best starter over the course of the season. He faded in the second half with his ratios, but a closer look reveals that his command actually improved dramatically in the second half, a great sign as this was his weakness in the first half. Parker slots into the top half of the A's rotation for 2013 and appears to be on the upswing now being another year removed from surgery. With an arsenal that could generate more strikeouts going forward, Parker is a good mid-round target as he continues to adjust to big league hitters.

Declining: Jemile Weeks - Among all the great surprises and positive contributions on the 2012 A's, Weeks was easily the biggest disappointment in the organization. After getting called up in 2011, Weeks hit .303 with 22 steals in only 97 games. He was slotted into the top of the lineup in 2012 and responded by hitting .221 with an OBP barely above .300. His line drive rate fell and he simply stopped hitting the ball hard. Projecting Weeks is nearly impossible as he has tossed out two absolute extremes in his two seasons in Oakland, and he's not even assured playing time with Scott Sizemore moving back to second base. Weeks should be watched closely in spring training to see if he is able to regain his stroke as he would be a nice source of steals with a full-time job, and he will likely go very late in drafts coming off of such a disappointing sophomore season.

Sleeper: Josh Donaldson - Donaldson was one of many fascinating stories from the 2012 A's season. He began spring training as a catcher, but after Scott Sizemore tore his ACL on Day 1 of the camp, he was converted to third base. Initially, he struggled mightily at the plate while hitting .153 with one homer over 100 plate appearances, and was sent down to Triple-A to concentrate on learning to play third base while not also trying to hit Major League pitching. After Brandon Inge got hurt, Donaldson was called up and hit for a much better slash line of .290/.356/.489 over his final 176 at-bats and helped a number of fantasy teams who were able to use him as a catcher. A's general manager Billy Beane said Scott Sizemore would be moving to second base in 2013 and, by all reports, Donaldson is the undisputed starter at 3B for the 2013 A's.

Supersleeper: Dan Straily - Straily came out of nowhere (he was drafted in the 24th round and was not even in the Top 30 of the Baseball America A's prospects entering 2012) and absolutely destroyed the minors in 2012, cruising through two levels while striking out an insane 190 batters in 152 innings. He generated a lot of buzz in Oakland and in fantasy leagues upon his callup, and while he was not dominant, he did pitch well in his seven starts, with an ERA under 4.00, but with a more modest 7.3 K/9. Straily is not as overpowering with his fastball as his strikeout numbers indicate, but he has an excellent changeup to go with a solid curveball and slider. Keep an eye on the A's rotation depth and health during spring training, as Straily could emerge with a rotation spot to begin the season.

Top Prospects

Michael Choice, OF - Choice was the A's first-round pick in the 2010 draft (10th overall). After tearing up High-A in 2011, he took a bit of a step back in 2012 at Double-A as his power dropped significantly (he did, however, cut down on the strikeouts at the same time) which quieted some of the talk to fast track him to the majors as soon as possible. He is still the crown jewel in the A's farm system and projects as a starter in their outfield for many years, but it likely will be in 2014 instead of 2013 as some had hoped. The glut of outfielders on the roster in Oakland should enable Choice to spend most - if not all - of the season at Triple-A Sacramento.

Dan Straily, SP - (See Above)

Grant Green, 2B - Green was a first-round pick for the A's in the 2009 draft and his slow development was especially evident last year as the player who went 12 picks after Green (Mike Trout) tore up the American League. The major issue with Green is that he has not found a position to stick at in the minors and has jumped between multiple infield positions before finally moving to the outfield in 2012. However, Green went back to the Arizona Fall League in 2012 and played second base exclusively. Green has hit well across all levels, hitting both for average and some power, but the lack of a steady defensive position is slowing his arrival to the big leagues. The A's moved Green to the 40-man roster in November and Assistant GM David Forst said that Green will be given an opportunity to earn an Opening Day roster spot. He is definitely one to watch in March as a hot run in Phoenix could lead to him stealing the A's 2B job.

Addison Russell, SS - The A's used their first-round pick (11th overall) in the 2012 draft on Russell, a high school shortstop from Florida. Russell had an exceptional season after signing in July, hitting .415 in 26 games in the Arizona Rookie League and then .340 in 53 at-bats in the New York-Penn League. After those performances, he earned a promotion to Low-A for the end of the year. It is possible he may get too big for shortstop and have to move over to third base, but Russell was drafted for his bat. Scouting reports indicate that he has a lot of raw power and drives the ball to all fields. Russell will likely start the year back at Low-A Burlington after holding his own there during a small 16-game sample in 2012.

Miles Head, 3B - Head is a prospect who came over to the A's in the Josh Reddick - Andrew Bailey swap. The knock on Head, a former 26th-round pick, is that he is too small to be a power-hitting corner infielder. He is listed at 6-foot exactly, but that is generous by all accounts. However, all Head has done is hit in the minors the last two seasons. In 2012, Head had an OPS of .968 and hit 23 homers in 124 games between High-A Stockton and Double-A Midland before suffering a left shoulder strain in the first game of the Arizona Fall League and getting shut down. He also introduced himself to the A's organization with hits in his first 19 games. Head should be the starting third baseman to start the year in Double-A with a chance for a quick jump to Sacramento if he keeps raking. Without a long-term option ahead of him (that may change if Josh Donaldson continues his 2012 second-half success) on the depth chart, he's an interesting prospect to target in keeper formats.

Sonny Gray, SP - Gray was selected 18th overall in the 2011 draft out of Vanderbilt. In his first full season in the minors, Gray had some growing pains compiling a 4.26 ERA in 27 starts, all but one of which were in Double-A. He has a live fastball and also possesses a curveball that was ranked as the best in the 2011 draft. Gray's strikeout rate fell way off from his six-start debut in 2011 as he only struck out 5.9 K/9 in 2012. Going into last season, it was assumed that Gray would be in the A's rotation at some point in 2013, but it looks like more seasoning is in order. For his development, 2013 will be a big year to put some results together and justify his first-round selection.

Daniel Robertson, 3B - The A's drafted Robertson 34th overall in the 2012 draft. Robertson played 55 games in the minors after signing his contract and did not do much on offense. Robertson is only 18 and clearly is a long-term project. Robertson projects as a third baseman with a huge arm (reportedly throwing in the low-90s), but lacking enough range to stick at shortstop. Scouting reports indicate that he has a great eye with a short, compact swing. Robertson will likely begin the year at Low-A with his first full season as a professional.

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