Considering that Oakland traded away several significant pieces of its roster during the offseason, 2012 is an important year for rebuilding purposes only. The Athletics have little chance of contending in a division that includes the Rangers, who are the deepest team in baseball and the retooled Angels.
In part one, we discussed the Athletics pitching staff, which is full of youth and inexperience. Many of the pitchers competing for a spot in Oakland’s starting rotation were acquired by GM Billy Beane during the offseason, as part of trades for Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez. Oakland’s group of position players somewhat mirrors its pitching staff. There is a lot of inexperience with a few veteran players sprinkled in.
Jemile Weeks turned a few heads last summer, after hitting .303/.340/.421 with 22 stolen bases over 406 plate appearances. Rickie’s younger brother also plays second base, where he rates as average defensively. Last year, several people knocked Jemile for his lack of power. However, the early reports out of spring training have been that Weeks looks stronger and is hitting the ball with more authority. While it might be a stretch to expect him to hit .300 again, a .280 average with over thirty steals is certainly not an unreasonable expectation. If Weeks can find some more extra base power, expect him to rank as one of the league’s better second basemen in 2012.
The A’s third base situation is a bit murky. Scott Sizemore tore his ACL during the team’s first full squad workout at the end of February. Players such as Josh Donaldson, Wes Timmons and Eric Sogard are fighting it out for the starting job. Timmons spent nine years in the Braves organization before hitting .341/.420/.468 between AA and AAA for Oakland last season. He is 33 years old and has never had an at bat in the major leagues, so he probably does not offer much upside. Not to mention he is facing an uphill battle as a non-roster player. Regardless, I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories and therefore he is the guy I’m rooting for to win the job. Donaldson is a converted catcher who offers the most power of the group, as he hit 17 home runs at AAA last season. Donaldson was named the favorite for the job but has hit .231 thus far in spring training, prompting Manager Bob Melvin to state that the competition is still wide open. I’m expecting Donaldson and Sogard to split time at the position for the majority of the year unless a more attractive option presents itself. Sogard has accrued 77 plate appearances with the A’s over the past three seasons while playing short, second and third. This spring, Sogard is leading the pack of third base hopefuls with a .341/.400/.545 line, including two home runs. However, he does not offer much more upside than that of a utility man and as a result third base will probably be an offensive black hole for Oakland in 2012.
The Athletics’ first base situation is also rather murky. Chris Carter was recently sent down to AAA, so he is no longer in the mix for playing time at first and designated hitter. The ever-disappointing Brandon Allen is having a nice spring, hitting .303/.359/.576 with two home runs thus far. If Allen can start striking out less (34.9 K% in 367 career plate appearances), he turns into an intriguing player for the A’s. Allen’s career slash line of .210/.297/.375 will need to greatly improve in order him to avoid another trip back to AAA. The fact that Daric Barton has been coming along so slowly should help Allen’s case to win a job. Barton got off to a late start this spring, due to offseason shoulder surgery. Thus far, he has only played in 7 games and is hitting .176. Barton was a tremendous disappointment last season, when he hit .212/.325/.267 with no home runs over 280 plate appearances before being sent down to AAA in June. He did not resurface at the big league level for the rest of the season. Since Barton does not possess much power, he needs to get in base and play good defense in order to be of value to the A’s. Barton led the league in walks in 2010 (hooray for Moneyball!!!) and has a career OBP of .362, so it would not be surprising if he is given a significant amount of playing time in Oakland this season.
For all those Kila Ka’aihue fans out there, it seems as if you are destined to watch your favorite Hawaiian slugger toil away at AAA for another season. Ka’aihue was picked up on waivers by Oakland at the end of last season, but did not appear in any games for the A’s. At the start of the offseason, it seemed as if Ka’aihue would get a chance to win some playing time at designated hitter and first base. However, Billy Beane’s knack for acquiring outfielders and DH types during the offseason has made Ka’aihue expendable. Since he is out of options, Ka’aihue will have to be exposed to waivers before being sent down to AAA. Chances are he’ll pass through and make a cameo at some point this season if Oakland isn’t getting production from their first baseman and or DHs. Although it could be argued that he has been unlucky thus far through his 326 career plate appearances with a BABIP of just .242, if Ka’aihue wants to stick in the big leagues he’ll need to make more contact than he did last season (27.5 K%) to justify a team carrying a player with as limited defensive value as his.
Since Cliff Pennington and Kurt Suzuki bore me, this is probably the only mention the rest of the A’s infield will get in this article. I want to now shift focus to the A’s outfield. In November, I wrote something about the A’s and how they had amassed an interesting selection of three true outcome players. Most of those players also had formerly been top prospects that were at a crossroads in their career. In addition, all of those players shared positions for the most part – they either played first or the outfield and were enough of a defensive liability to be considered for playing time at designated hitter. The players I focused on were Allen, Ka’aihue, Carter and Michael Taylor However, not content with that group, Beane acquired far more outfielders than Oakland has room for. He re-signed Coco Crisp, signed Yoenis Cespedes and Jonny Gomes and traded for Collin Cowgill, Seth Smith and Josh Reddick. Not to mention, Beane also signed Jeff Fiorentino, Brandon Moss, Jason Pridie and Mr. Manny Ramirez himself to minor league deals with an invite to camp. So the question remains: who will make an impact for the A’s this season?
We might as well start off with the players who we know will not be contributing initially. First, Michael Taylor was sent down a couple of weeks ago. Taylor, who was ranked as the #29 prospect in baseball in 2010 overall by Baseball America, is a five-tool talent that has stalled at AAA the past couple of seasons. If he can get hot in the minor leagues, it would not be far fetched to expect to see him during the early part of the season.
Jason Pridie was brought on in November to compete for a spot as a reserve outfielder. However on March 9th, Pridie was suspended 50 games for violating MLB’s drug policy. Pridie’s suspension combined with Oakland’s subsequent acquisitions mean that the 28 year old will most likely spend most of the season at AAA. He hit .231/.309/.370 in 236 plate appearances with the Mets last season, filling in while Jason Bay and Angel Pagan were injured.
Last but certainly not least is the man who has 555 career home runs and two PED suspensions to his name. Yes, Manny Ramirez is giving it one more go. Manny has pledged to change his ways, be a model citizen and serve as a role model to the A’s younger players. Whether he contributes to the A’s this season is up in the remains to be seen. But if Manny is truly in shape and back with a purpose, Oakland will certainly give him a look once his suspension has been served. Despite all his other shortcomings, if there is one thing Manny Ramirez can do, it is hit. His story remains one of the most intriguing in all of baseball and it will be interesting to see what he is capable of doing if given the chance.
Now for the players who have yet to be demoted, but almost certainly will barring injury to one of the team’s regulars. Collin Cowgill burst onto the prospect scene last summer when he tore up opposing pitchers during his first taste of the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. In 456 plate appearances with AAA Reno, Cowgill hit .354/.430/.554 with 13 home runs, 95 runs scored and 30 stolen bases.
Surely, he was going to be the next big thing in Arizona. However, Cowgill played sparingly after being promoted to the big leagues in late July and hit just .239/.300/.304 with just one home run over 100 plate appearances. Cowgill was acquired by the A’s as part of the Trevor Cahill deal and seemed to have a solid chance at a starting job until the team acquired Josh Reddick and Seth Smith. Despite all the hype he received last summer Cowgill does not profile to be much more than a spare outfielder and has drawn comparisons to Cody Ross. While Cody Ross is a solid player, he does not represent much more than a lefty masher. While those sorts of players have value, they are not worth getting incredibly excited over. Look for Cowgill to serve as a late inning defensive replacement and start against lefthanders should Jonny Gomes be traded midseason.
Brandon Moss’s career took a huge nosedive when the Red Sox traded him to the Pirates as part of the three team Jason Bay and Manny Ramirez swap. As Pittsburgh’s everyday right fielder in 2009, Moss hit just .236/.304/.364 in 424 plate appearances, while hitting just seven home runs. Moss is known for his ability to hit for power, which he has done at AAA the past two seasons for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia respectively. Moss has done all he can to make the A’s this spring, hitting .526/.550/.842 over 19 at bats as a late game replacement. While the odds are against Moss contributing to the A’s this season, it could be possible if he rakes in the Pacific Coast League.
Jeff Fiorentino probably is not even worth mentioning here, since he stands little chance of contributing much in Oakland this season. However, he caught my attention after being promoted straight from A ball to the big leagues in 2005 by the Orioles. Fiorentino has amassed just 173 plate appearances since his major league debut and will never be more than a bench player on a big league team. If Oakland trades several of their outfielders throughout the season, Fiorentino might appear in some box scores as a defensive replacement and pinch hitter.
Now it’s time to talk about the players who are virtually assured of a spot on the team’s opening day roster. In the midst of Oakland’s chaotic trading spree where it seemed that no veterans would remain on the roster come opening day, Billy Beane decided to re-sign Coco Crisp to a 2 year $14 million contract with an option for 2014. Crisp was initially brought back on board to play centerfield, but will instead be the team’s opening left fielder due to Yoenis Cespedes, who we’ll get to in a minute. Crisp is what he is at this point – he provides solid outfield defense albeit with no arm, will give the team solid at bats from the leadoff spot and pick up some steals along the way. Last season he tied for the American League lead with 49 stolen bases. While expecting him to steal that many bases again is probably a stretch, Crisp will once again prove to be a solid leadoff man in Oakland in 2012.
Before the Cespedes signing, both Jonny Gomes and Seth Smith were set to make up the left field platoon for the A’s, with both players also getting some at bats at designated hitter. Gomes has wrecked lefties throughout his career with a triple slash of .281/.375/.501 and figures to do the same while playing near his hometown of Petaluma, California. He is not a great left fielder and will surely need a defensive replacement at the end of the games he starts. Despite the heartwarming homecoming story, expect Gomes to be dealt to a contender in need of a right-handed outfielder with some pop.
Seth Smith was one of Beane’s more curious acquisitions this offseason. The A’s traded Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman for him, so it was not as if they acquired him as part of a salary dump. In fact, it was the opposite. Regardless, many baseball fans have been clamoring for Smith to have an everyday job due to his power potential. However, Smith’s problem is that he does not have a clue against lefties. In his career, Smith has hit just .202/.269/.319 against same side pitchers. In contrast, Smith’s career OPS versus righties is a pretty substantial .881. Not to mention, a move from hitter friendly Colorado to the Coliseum in Oakland will not help matters. Smith will open the season as Oakland’s cleanup hitter and will probably be the DH most of the time. Like Gomes, expect Smith to be dealt to a contending team in need of outfield help during the course of the season.
Josh Reddick was acquired from the Red Sox as part of the Andrew Bailey trade and will be the team’s everyday right fielder to start the season. Promoted at the end of may to replace the injured J.D. Drew, Reddick was hitting .331/.376/.559 through the end of July and looked to be the next young Red Sox stud. While he tailed off a bit at the end of the season, Reddick still finished the year with a more than respectable .280/.327/.457 triple slash with seven home runs over 254 plate appearances. However, with rumors swirling about the Red Sox potentially acquiring Carlos Beltran or another stud free agent outfielder it became clear that Reddick’s days in Boston were numbered. Reddick can do a little bit of everything, but does not have one tool that is standout. He is good enough defensively to play center in a pinch and has a strong enough arm to man right. Although hitting in Oakland will not help him, look for Reddick to put up a solid average with a decent amount of steals this season.
Of course, I had to save the most intriguing player for last. Like most of you, I am quite curious to find out what Yoenis Cedpedes will bring to the table this year. Will he be the stud that his ridiculous workout videos will suggest? Or is he simply not ready for major league pitching and as a result will he have his ticket to Sacramento punched by the end of May? I’m expecting Cespedes to stick around all season and show flashes of brilliance, but not really come into his own until 2013. Expect him to frustrate for a large portion of the season. Regardless of my predictions, Cespedes offers incredible power potential for a center fielder and could turn out to be one of the most valuable young players in baseball.
So there you have it. Oakland has a bunch of solid, if not unspectacular position players. Jemile Weeks and Yoenis Cespedes could turn into two of the most dynamic players in baseball, but otherwise the rest of the team is rather boring. It will be interesting to see what Seth Smith can do with more playing time and if Manny Ramirez can make a successful comeback. Even if everything were to go right in Oakland this summer, the team will still finish in third place behind the Rangers and Angels. Oakland has built a solid foundation to contend in a few years and hopefully will be able to do so in a brand new ballpark in San Jose. For the time being though, the Athletics figure a rather unexciting team and the cellar dwellers of the American League West in 2012.
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