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Saturday, March 1, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Oakland Athletics

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Oakland Athletics
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Dorman

2013 Overview:
2012’s surprise playoff run looked like an outlier, but it turned out to be merely a prologue to 2013’s swifter steamroll of the AL West, as Oakland won 96 for an easy first-place finish. Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie broke out in the infield, and Bartolo Colon had one of his finest seasons at age 40. For the second straight season, the A’s look lucky, but luck is the residue of design. Billy Beane continues to successfully identify and patch holes through the trade market and acquire underappreciate assets.

Winter Grade: B+ 

Coming: Scott Kazmir, Craig Gentry, Luke Gregerson, Jim Johnson
Going: Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour, Seth Smith, Brett Anderson, Michael Choice (minors)
Usually spending the winter upgrading the bullpen is a sign of an uncreative GM, but successful reshuffling of the bullpen is a skill Billy Beane is particularly good at. This winter, closer Grant Balfour is replaced by a pair of solid arms who come at the low cost of a fourth outfielder (Smith) and a AAAA second basemen who fell out of favor with the organization (Jemile Weeks). Losing Bartolo Colon will hurt, but it was a tough decision considering how old he is, and the big geezer is likely to regress. Kazmir is a risky signing, even for just two years, but he offers upside after putting together an impressive rebound. Similarly, Gentry could get 450 at-bats roving around the outfield as a defensive specialist/platoon partner. The four-player deal with Texas could be a rare trade that works out well for everyone, as Michael Choice is a good fit for the ballpark in Arlington.

Wild Card(s):
Yoenis Cespedes found that pitchers had adjusted to him the second time around, striking out more and making weaker contact, although defensive improvements made him a similarly valuable player overall. He has more than enough talent to rebound into a solid offensive threat again.

Key Contract Years:
Jed Lowrie will try to prove that the first healthy season of his major league career wasn’t a fluke. If he can repeat his 2013 line, he’s due for a big payday, which will probably price him out of Oakland’s future plans.

Rookies:
Nobody, probably. There’s not much room on the big league roster, anyway; Oakland has few holes, and they’ve broken in quite a few players over the past two years, so the team is still relatively youthful.

Key Questions:
Are last year’s breakouts sustainable?
Can Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes rediscover their 2012 utility?
Is there any room for growth among Oakland’s young starters?

Farm System Overview: RED (below-average)
…but shortstop Addison Russell is definitely a keeper. He will debut in AA this year and should replace Lowrie by Opening day 2015 at the latest. There’s a possibility he’ll debut at years end. Russell may not immediately hit for average but he offers a good power/speed combination, plate discipline and should play defense well enough to stick at shortstop. After him, there’s not much left in the system, as Oakland traded or graduated everyone else close to the majors last year. There’s some talent in the lower levels, but every team can say that. The future status of Oakland’s farm system mostly rides on the development of some of their toolsier picks from last year’s draft.

2014 Prognosis: Likely Contenders
Their roster is deep and solid across the board, but Oakland doesn’t have a lot of star talent, unless Josh Donaldson’s breakout turns out to be a new level of performance for him. The current Oakland A’s look like a “classic” Moneyball team, with patient, defensively strong players around the diamond, the likes of which are often undervalued by teams with more wealth and less astute management. The only roster spots that are truly questionable, shortstop and first base, also happen to be the only places where Oakland has minor league depth. Billy Beane is a smart guy.

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