Better Know A Rival: Oakland A's

Eric Sogard has glasses

In one sense, we're all over exhibition games. We're ready for the regular season to begin. In another sense, the 2012 regular season is going to begin sooner than any of us are ready for. There's meaningful baseball ahead this coming Wednesday. And it's not even really Wednesday since for those of us on the west coast the first pitch is just after three in the morning. There's basically meaningful baseball ahead this coming Tuesday, and you're just going to be up really late.

With the regular season coming, it's dawned on me that I've left you woefully under-prepared. We haven't really previewed the Mariners that much (except for almost every single post in some way), and we've barely talked about the other teams in the division. See, there are three other teams in the American League West, against whom the Mariners will be competing. Perhaps you've heard of them.

In an attempt to bring people up to speed, I'm going to preview the rivals, like I do every year. These previews aren't necessary, and they're hardly insightful, but it's helpful to have an overview. We'll begin with the Oakland Athletics, since they're the team the Mariners see first. They're also the most confusing team in the division so this'll be fun to sort out. I'm just kidding, I'm not even going to try to sort it out. Away we go!

Wait, before we begin, I was just reading over last year's A's preview to remember the format, and apparently there were people who thought they could challenge the Rangers for first place. What was that all about?

Starting Lineup

C Kurt Suzuki
1B Brandon Allen, Kila Ka'aihue
2B Jemile Weeks
SS Cliff Pennington
3B Eric Sogard, Josh Donaldson
LF Coco Crisp
CF Yoenis Cespedes
RF Josh Reddick
DH Jonny Gomes, Seth Smith, Manny Ramirez eventually

OFFENSE

In 2010, the A's had trouble scoring runs, so they added David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui, and Josh Willingham. In 2011, the A's scored even fewer runs than they scored in 2010, and they got rid of David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui, and Josh Willingham. That seems like a recipe for disaster something bad, but the A's done had themselves a busy offseason, and the lineup looks different.

The most well-known acquisition of theirs is Manny Ramirez, who I don't need to tell you much about. It's unclear how well he'll be able to do, and he'll be suspended for 50 games. When the suspension's over, if Manny looks good, he'll come up. If he doesn't look good, or if there's nowhere to put him, he probably won't come up. The A's aren't relying on Manny, as they shouldn't be.

The sexiest acquisition of theirs is Yoenis Cespedes. As with Manny, it's almost impossible to know how he's going to do. The raw talent is fantastic and he's hit the ball hard, but Charlton Jimerson's raw talent was fantastic, and he hit the ball hard, sometimes. If I had to guess, I'd say that Cespedes will be helpful but not quite a star, with good power and a limited OBP. But he could honestly be anything from a wreck to an MVP candidate.

That variability might make you think that the Oakland offense will go as far as Cespedes can take it, but that isn't true. That isn't really true for any offense. Cespedes will get only a small fraction of the plate appearances. Elsewhere...well nobody is demonstrably good. None of these other hitters are bad hitters, but they're underwhelming hitters. It helps to have depth bats like Gomes and Smith. Allen and/or Ka'aihue might finally deliver on their triple-A promise. Every offense has upside, and the Oakland offense has upside. But this doesn't look like a group of world-beaters. This doesn't look like a group of county-beaters.*

* or egg-beaters! lol!

Last year, the A's scored 645 runs. That is a pretty low amount of runs, and the A's should score more than that in 2012. Barring good fortune, however, I doubt they blow that total out of the water. Should be just another Oakland Athletics team offense.

DEFENSE

The outfield looks really good, I think, although the only thing I know for sure is that Coco Crisp is an asset. And I don't even know that for sure, really, since he's moving to left field, and we aren't great at measuring individual player defense. The assumption is that Cespedes is talented - talented enough to bump Crisp, who can really move. Reddick just seems like a guy who's +5 in the field. Has that feel about him. The infield looks less impressive than the outfield, with designated hitters at first base and non-third basemen at third, but Pennington's strong and nothing's more important than shortstop. Pause and consider that this is an Oakland A's team without Mark Ellis. The A's will begin with a second baseman who's actually interesting for the first time since, what, Tony Phillips? Willie Randolph?

Pitching Staff

Rotation

SP Brandon McCarthy
SP Bartolo Colon
SP Tom Milone
SP Tyson Ross
SP Dallas Braden
SP Graham Godfrey
SP Jarrod Parker
SP Brad Peacock
SP Brett Anderson

Bullpen

RP Grant Balfour
RP Brian Fuentes
RP Fautino de los Santos
RP Jerry Blevins
RP Joey Devine

STARTING ROTATION

Yeah, I don't know. There are a lot of starting candidates. Braden isn't healthy now, as he's coming off surgery, but he'll be healthy soon. Anderson isn't healthy now, as he's coming off surgery, but he could be healthy in the second half. Then there's this confusing mishmash of young guys. Younger guys. Younger guys? Other guys. Whatever.

Once again, it's an A's rotation without an in-your-face dominant No. 1. It's also an A's rotation that's without Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. But it's deep and able and likely to outperform the performance you might expect off the top of your head. McCarthy should be very good, even with the extra home runs. Just last year Colon had 135 strikeouts and 40 walks. Milone is that guy with questionable stuff but an unbelievable performance record in the minors. Ross has sharp stuff, Parker's a top prospect, Braden's almost back...

A lot of different pitchers are probably going to start for the A's this season. There are enough interesting possibilities that they shouldn't have to deal with any messes for very long. Injuries, of course, could ruin everything, and the top two starters have extensive injury histories, but for now, this unit's all right.

BULLPEN

Andrew Bailey's gone, and Andrew Bailey was good. Andrew Bailey still is good. So the relief corps has been depleted. Balfour should be a fine closer but he's not going to be a dominant one. Fuentes' strikeouts are way down from his peak, which makes sense given that he's 36. I like de los Santos because he throws hard without pinpoint command and that scares the bejeezus out of me, but he'll walk a better every two innings. There's talent here, but not a lot of it.

Do you remember that year that Devine posted a 0.59 ERA? That was 2008. Since 2008, Devine has thrown 23 innings, all last season. He could be very good, or he could barely pitch at all. Like with the offense and Cespedes, the Oakland bullpen won't rely on Devine, but he could make a big difference. A healthy, effective Joey Devine makes this more of a strength.

OVERALL

I think the consensus is that the A's and the Mariners will fight each other for third place. That's what the projections say, and that's what the talking heads say. I don't know why the A's and Mariners wouldn't join forces and try to topple the Angels and Rangers together, but this is a warring, uncooperative culture we've developed, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised. Like with the Mariners, you can see how the A's could go right. You can see how they could finish .500. Cespedes is fascinating, and you never know what you might get from a young rotation. But this team's a good distance behind the division's top two in terms of raw ability, and it shouldn't take long before the standings reflect that gap. Roughly what you expect of the Mariners, you should expect of the A's, and that's going to make Mariners/A's games hard to watch again, because they'll only highlight how far the Mariners still need to go.

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