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AL West Preview: Oakland Athletics

The Athletics were busy this offseason, completely overturning their roster.

Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

AL West Previews: Seattle MarinersLos Angeles Angels

At a Glance:

Athletics (2014)

Batting (wRC+)

102 (6th in AL)

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-2.5 (5th)

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

102 (8th)

Bullpen (FIP-)

94 (6th)

Key Additions: IF/OF Ben Zobrist, IF Brett Lawrie, IF Marcus Semien, IF Ike Davis, DH Billy Butler, RHP Jesse Hahn, RHP Tyler Clippard

Key Losses: C Derek Norris, C John Jaso, IF Josh Donaldson, IF Jed Lowrie, IF/OF Brandon Moss, LHP Jon Lester, RHP Jeff Samardzija, RHP Jason Hammel, RHP Luke Gregerson

If the early 00's Athletics were built through developing young cost controlled players who fit a certain market-breaking mold, the early 10's Athletics' rosters are marked by a relentless churning in an attempt to leverage every single ounce out of the entire organization. This offseason, that churn was even more apparent. The entire infield has been replaced with new acquisitions and three starting pitchers are out. It's best not to get too familiar with these new additions because they're likely going to be churned up at the trade deadline.

To give Billy Beane credit, he's built an incredibly deep roster. The addition of Ben Zobrist gives the A's the flexibility to have major league quality backups at every position around the diamond. So, despite losing a huge amount of offensive production, the Athletics are still projected to have an above average offense. That's what the rest of the roster looks like too—not excelling in any one area but above average production across the board. When you compare that kind of production to some of the other recent Athletic teams, it's just more of the same. But those teams found ways to make the most of their shortcomings and have three straight postseason appearances to show for it. FanGraphs is projecting an 83-79 record for the A's, good for third in the division and sixth in the American League. They may not look like much, but they're better than the sum of their parts.

Projected Lineup

C Stephen Vogt
1B Ike Davis
2B Ben Zobrist
3B Brett Lawrie
SS Marcus Semien
LF Coco Crisp
CF Sam Fuld
RF Josh Reddick
DH Billy Butler

The Athletics offloaded three All-Stars from their lineup and replaced them with a 30-year-old catcher who hasn't played a full season in the majors, a reclamation project, and a post-hype former prospect. It's surprising, then, to find that the combined WAR projection for these replacements is just 3.9 WAR below the combined WAR projection for the departed stars. That gap is covered by the acquisition of Ben Zobrist. He gives the Athletics the ability to mix and match their lineup based on platoon matchups or the whim of Bob Melvin. The outfield is mostly unchanged and should see a boost in defense as Coco Crisp moves from center to left field. If there's one area on the A's roster that could keep Billy Beane up at night, it's the outfield. All three starting outfielders and the likely fourth outfielder (Craig Gentry) aren't the picture of ideal health—all four have dealt with a variety of injuries over the past few years. Zobrist seems to be the backup plan if more than one of them goes down with an injury as there aren't many reinforcements ready in the high minors.

Projected Rotation

#1 Sonny Gray
#2 Scott Kazmir
#3 Jesse Hahn
#4 Drew Pomeranz
#5 Jesse Chavez

The story is the same with the starting rotation—a deep pool of starting pitchers covers any individual deficiencies. With Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel gone, the Athletics' starting rotation is much less top heavy but it's really no different than the starting rotation the A's cobbled together at the start of last year. The top two spots haven't changed from that initial rotation in 2014. Sonny Gray is entering his second full season in the majors. He blew by his previous innings ceiling by almost 40 innings last year and it showed down the stretch. Scott Kazmir flourished in Oakland last year. Yes, his strikeout rate dropped by three points but he also was able to lower his walk rate and benefitted from the friendly confines of O.Co Coliseum.

The back of the rotation gets a little murky. There are five candidates competing for three spots in the rotation, three new acquisitions (Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman, and Sean Nolin) and two holdovers (Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Chavez). Of these five, Jesse Hahn has the highest upside. He should be guaranteed a rotation spot and will likely hold on to it for the whole season. The other two spots may just be treading water until Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin return from their injuries midseason. But since there are so many starting options, the A's have the luxury of bringing Parker and Griffin back slowly and mixing and matching the hot hand as they see fit.


The Athletics are the biggest mystery in the AL West. They could easily compete for the division title if they're able to stay healthy and get above average production across their roster. But they could just as easily sink back to mediocrity if their roster doesn't hit its ceiling. For a team so deep, the range of outcomes is surprisingly high. I expect they'll sit on the periphery of the race for most of the season, a hot streak away from contention. The Mariners face the A's 19 times this season, including the final series in October. It should be interesting to see how Billy Beane's latest experiment turns out.