Along with the Orioles and possibly the Nationals, the Oakland Athletics were the feel-good story of baseball in 2012. After an offseason that appeared to start a rebuilding project -- aside from the signing of Yoenis Cespedes -- the A's shocked the baseball world by winning the AL West over the mighty Rangers and Angels. The run appeared far less fluky than many casual fans might believe, and the A's are well set up for another playoff run. Let's take a look.
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1. Coco Crisp, CF
2. John Jaso, C
3. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
4. Josh Reddick, RF
5. Brandon Moss, 1B
6. Seth Smith/Chris Young, DH
7. Josh Donaldson, 3B
8. Scott Sizemore, 2B
9. Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS
Under-the-radar offseason transaction
I like the addition of Lowrie. He can play any infield position if need be, and he's a quality defensive shortstop in addition to being a capable hitter. If Nakajima struggles, Lowrie could step in as the everyday starter. He hit .244 last season, but his high walk rate (.331 on-base percentage) and power (16 homers in 97 games) make him a productive offensive player. His problem has always been staying on the field, but if he can, he's a good bet to turn into a gem for the A's.
Fantasy sleeper: Josh Reddick
"As a minor leaguer, Reddick was no slouch when it came to piling up extra-base hits, and in his fourth go-round in the majors last season, he finally showed off his power. There's no reason why Reddick can't have another 30-homer season in 2013, and he should be able to improve on his .242 batting average from a year ago. Reddick was a decent contact hitter in the minors, and he could easily cut back on his strikeouts. He may not hit much higher than .260, but that would still be enough to boost his run and RBI totals. Though you probably won't need to draft Reddick among the top 40 outfielders, he should give his owners that level of production." - Al Melchior [Full A's fantasy team preview]
The outfield. Crisp, Reddick and Cespedes form a really good defensive outfield, and the three of them combine to flash almost every offensive skill set imaginable. Chris Young or Seth Smith currently project to be the designated hitter, with the other one on the bench. Either one could be a starter on several different ballclubs, especially Young as a plus-center fielder with a good power-speed combo offensively. So even if there's an injury suffered, Young steps in to play everyday and the A's don't miss a beat.
It's tough to find a glaring one. Though there are few areas where the A's are exceptional, they are pretty well-rounded in not being particularly bad at much. I'll go with the potential downside for the starting rotation for this season. Now, hold on before going crazy. In Anderson, Milone, Parker, Griffin and Straily, the A's have five pitchers with big potential who are all 26 years old or younger in addition to Colon. They could be one of the best rotations in baseball.
But for this season, there are question marks. Straily may not be ready yet. Colon is old and coming off a PED suspension. Anderson's health continues to be a huge concern. With Griffin, Parker and Milone you worry about the dreaded sophomore slump as the rest of the league has now seen enough of them to make adjustments. Specifically with Griffin, advanced metrics like BABIP and FIP seem to indicate he was very fortunate last season and a regression is in order.
Let me reiterate, though, that overall I love this group's potential. There's just a downside for the 2013 season.
The rotation lives up to its potential, while the bullpen again performs beautifully. The defense stays strong and the offense reaches its power and speed potential. The A's have enough talent to prove 2012 was no fluke and win the World Series. Believe it.
On the other hand, there is some downside all over the place here. I've already discussed how the starting rotation could disappoint. We've also seen enough bad from Crisp, Jaso, Reddick, Moss et al in the past to know that a rough year is possible. And while they are improved offensively, the A's ranked 13th in average and 12th in on-base percentage in the AL last year.
In a tough division like the AL West, it's easy to envision lots of bad things happening to the A's and seeing them finish fourth behind the Angels, Rangers and Mariners. I cannot, however, envision any scenario where the Astros can move ahead of the A's, so even a worst-case scenario for Oakland doesn't put it in last.
Most likely scenario
I believe the A's have a good shot at getting back to the postseason but will have to sweat it out. They'll be battling in a group with the Angels or Rangers and a few AL East teams for a wild card, in addition to hanging around in the AL West race. Ultimately, if pressed, I'd predict the A's to finish in third place but have a great shot at the wild card. Remember, three AL West teams won at least 89 games last season and now they get to play a large chunk of games against the hapless Astros. The chance the AL West gets both wild cards is actually pretty high. And while it's awfully tough to say only one AL East team will make the playoffs, I very well may predict that to happen come late March when we submit our official picks.
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