Three months into the 2012 season, the Athletics appeared to be on their way to a sixth straigth season without a winning record, as they stood at 37-42 heading into July. And why would anyone have expected the A's to be any better than that? Their lineup lacked recognizable stars, their rotation consisted of Bartolo Colon, Brandon McCarthy and a collection of unproven arms, and they had already gone through three closers by midsesaon.
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As it turned out, some members of that no-name lineup -- namely, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Brandon Moss -- produced like the middle-of-the-order hitters that they were. Colon and McCarthy both recorded ERAs below 3.50, rookies Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin were solid as well, and even journeyman Travis Blackley held his own over 15 starts. Grant Balfour settled into the closer's role over the second half, stabilizing the bullpen. It all added up to a 94-68 record, a first-place finish, and a five-game tussle in an American League Division Series that ultimately went in favor of the Tigers.
McCarthy, shortstop Stephen Drew and designated hitter Jonny Gomes departed via free agency, and second baseman/shortstop Cliff Pennington and part-time first baseman Chris Carter were dealt away, but by and large, the 2012 squad has remained intact. Cespedes, Reddick and Moss will comprise the meat of the order once again, while John Jaso was acquired from the Mariners to take over the catching duties shared by Derek Norris, George Kottaras and Kurt Suzuki a year ago. Hiroyuki Nakajima was brought in from the Seibu Lions of the Japanese Pacific League to replace Drew, though there will be a competition to determine who his double play partner will be. Scott Sizemore, who missed last season with a torn ACL, Jemile Weeks and rookie Grant Green are the leading candidates to open the 2013 season at second base. Chris Young and Jed Lowrie, both acquired via trade this offseason,.will give the A's some bench depth and the luxury of sitting their regulars with more frequency.
Brett Anderson, who came back from Tommy John surgery late last season, is the likely opening day starter, and Parker, Milone and Griffin are expected to line up behind him in the rotation. Colon won't be on the roster for opening day, as he has five games remaining on a 50-game suspension for a positive test for testosterone, but he should join the rotation soon after. Balfour will return to close out games for the A's, while Ryan Cook will fill the setup role that he held for most of last season.
While Moss and Blackley fit the "misfit toys" mold of the Moneyball-era teams, much of the A's current roster is comprised of young talent that could only get better. In order to contend, they will need Reddick, Parker, Milone and Griffin to at least match last season's level of performance, and hope that Anderson and Cespedes can stay healthy. The team may enter the coming season with plenty of question marks, but for the first time in years, they will offer Fantasy owners a wide array of tempting options to consider on Draft Day.
Sleeper ... Josh Reddick, outfield
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.
Bust ... Jarrod Parker, starting pitcher
With a solid 3.47 ERA and 13-8 record, Parker turned in a rookie season that matched the hype he earned as a prospect. Finishing the year as a top 50 starting pitcher in Fantasy, owners may be tempted to view him as such again for 2013. While Parker's Fantasy stats were better than average, his skill indicators, such as strikeout, walk and ground ball rates, were the definition of average. Only six percent of Parker's flyballs left the yard, and even thoughg he gets the benefit of pitching home games at O.co Coliseum, that rate should be at least a couple of percentage points higher this year. Look for Parker's ERA and WHIP to rise high enough to make him a risky pick any earlier than in the late rounds in standard mixed league drafts.
Late-round flyer ... John Jaso, catcher
January's three-team swap involving the A's, Nationals and Mariners got attention mainly because of Seattle's acquisition of Michael Morse, but Oakland made an impact move of its own. In getting John Jaso from the Mariners, the club added an experienced catcher, which allows them to put young Derek Norris in a backup role. Unlike Norris, Jaso isn't known for his power, but he hit 10 home runs in just 294 at-bats last season. Having put up some decent power numbers at some points during his minor league career, there is reason to think that Jaso could sustain his newfound home run prowess. He has always exercised good plate discipline, so owners should expect a decent batting average and very good on-base percentage. He is a must-draft in two-catcher leagues, and as someone who should last until the late rounds of standard mixed league drafts, Jaso could turn a nice profit for the owners who draft him.
Grant Green and Dan Straily have the best chance to make an impact in the majors in 2013, but both will enter spring training having to compete for a starting role. Green could be the A's regular second baseman, but he will have to topple the more established Sizemore and Weeks first. Straily has an even tougher road to make Oakland's rotation, though he could be a short-term fill-in for Colon in early April ... 2012 first-round pick Addison Russell will be in major-league camp this spring, but the 19-year-old will have time to develop in the minors while Nakajima holds down the starting shortstop job. He's a top target in long-term keeper leagues ... Outfielder Michael Choice's season ended prematurely due to a broken hand, but the on-base and power threat could arrive in the majors within a year ... Pitching prospect Sonny Gray didn't wow owners last season, but he was still plenty good at inducing grounders. He has shown enough skill to remain on the radar of owners in long-term keeper leagues.
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