Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2015 Pre-Season Profile: Oakland Athletics

What happens when Billy-Ball goes all in for a World Series run last year?  The team looks like this the next year...  That's not a good thing...

Last Season
88-74, 2nd in AL West, WILD CARD, Lost to Royals in Wild Card Game

For the first half of the season, the A's looked like an unstoppable force destined for the World Series.  Then, the front office got in the way, going on an unnecessary spending spree and disrupting the chemistry of the ball club.  After trading for players like Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Adam Dunn, Jonny Gomes, and Geovany Soto, the team went into a tail spin.  They went from the best record in baseball to barely beating out the Mariners for the last Wild Card spot on the last day and losing to the eventual AL Champs in the Wild Card game.  Was this decline inevitable no matter what moves they made?  Maybe, but I do know it didn't start until trades started happening.

2015 Additions / Subtractions

The better question for this spot might be who didn't they lose this offseason.  It was obvious that the A's went all in last year as they continued to uncharacteristically make Blockbuster trade after Blockbuster trade.  What we didn't know then is they that would be their only shot with that group of players.  As what happens with a small market team governed by Moneyball, they build a few years for a big run, then hit the reset button.  This year was the reset button.  Every player they traded for last year is gone, along with Jed Lowrie, Alberto Callaspo, and All Stars Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, and Josh Donaldson.  Donaldson is probably the toughest loss for them.  This former catcher switched positions to third base to find the field and became one of the best players at his position in the league.  He and Moss are the perfect examples that Moneyball works.  The list of additions is much less impressive than the list of subtractions.  Ike Davis, Billy Butler, and Brett Lawrie are solid players, but nowhere near the level of what they lost.  The biggest addition is super-utility man Ben Zobrist, who can literally play any position on the field and hit at an All Star level.  Too bad he can't play every position at once...

Most Important Hitter
Brett Lawrie

When the A's traded Donaldson to the Blue Jays, one of the primary pieces they received in return was Brett Lawrie.  Lawrie had never fully realized his potential in Toronto, but Oakland is now counting on him being the player his skill set says he should be.  With so many pieces leaving town, Lawrie is one player that has the upside to lessen the blow some.

Most Important Pitcher
Jarrod Parker

Before Sonny Gray broke onto the scene in 2014 as the latest guy to come out of nowhere to be the ace of the A's, Jarrod Parker had done the same thing in 2013.  Tommy John surgery in last spring derailed his 2014 season, and he was practically forgotten about during the A's roller coaster run last year.  Now he is eyeing a June return to the club and could be a pivotal piece to the A's having a successful season.  If he can come back and show the ability that put him at the top of the rotation in 2013, then the A's may have a rotation that can overcome the many struggles they will have at the plate.

Player to Watch
Marcus Semien

Of the many prospects the A's received in the litany of trades they made this offseason, Marcus Semien seems most ready for a breakout year.  He also will get the best opportunity as he is penciled in as the Opening Day starter at shortstop.  Coming over from the White Sox in Samardzija Trade 2.0, he is not at the level of Addison Russell, the shortstop prospect the A's gave up to the Cubs to get Samardzija initially.  However, the A's need a player like Semien to develop into a superstar, and a place like Oakland tends to elevate players above their potential ... so they can be traded for more prospects in five years.

5th in AL West

Billy Beane has pulled off some miracle seasons in the past, but there is are just too many unknowns in 2015.  They are only returning three starters from last year, and they downgraded at every position with the exception of Zobrist.  Their closer is most likely starting the season on the DL, and although they have some quality young arms in their rotation, it is not the sure thing it has been in the past.  I have predicted bad years for the A's recently and have been wrong before.  I could be wrong this time too, but I just don't see a winner this year from this roster.  With that said, they will probably win the division.  Who knows...

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