The A's weren't expected to contend in 2012. After all, they had lost 88 games in 2011, and the team traded both of their 200 inning men (Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill) and their closer (Andrew Bailey), while also seeing 2/3 of their starting outfield depart as free agents (Josh Willingham, David DeJesus). But then, something funny happened: the A's played solid baseball. They were sitting at .500 at the All-Star Break. On August 1st, the team was eight games above .500 and 4.5 games out in the AL West. The team kept winning through August, and finished September on a torrid run before sweeping the Rangers in the final three games of the season to win the AL West in startling fashion. The A's then took the eventual AL champion Tigets to five games in the ALDS before bowing out before the mighty Justin Verlander in game five.
Athletics on TOC
End of Season Postmortem
2013 Season Preview
You May Say I’m a Dreamer (11:30 AM)
2013 Burning Question (12:45 PM)
This Is My Nightmare (2:00 PM)
X-Factor (3:15 PM)
Top Ten Prospects (4:30 PM)
Depth Chart (as of 2/15)
C: John Jaso/Derek Norris
1B: Brandon Moss
2B: Scott Sizemore
SS: Hiroyuki Nakajima
3B: Jed Lowrie
LF: Yoenis Cespedes
CF: Coco Crisp
RF: Josh Reddick
DH: Seth Smith
SP: Brett Anderson
SP: Jarrod Parker
SP: Tom Milone
SP: AJ Griffin
SP: Dan Straily
CL: Grant Balfour
The A's have a pair of new faces in the infield in shorstop Hiroyuki Nakajima and Jed Lowrie, who is penciled in at third base right now but will end up playing all across the diamond for Oakland. The team also has a new catcher In John Jaso (the perfect A's player), and a new fourth outfielder in Chris Young, who will likely end up get a decent bit of playing time at all three outfield spots and DH for the Athletics. Billy Beane also brought in a couple of middling relievers in Chris Resop and Fernando Rodriguez, and signed former Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima to a minor league deal after he dominated in Japan last saeson.
In perhaps a bit of a shocking note, the A's didn't really lose much from their 2012 team. Jonny Gomes and Stephen Drew both left to sign with the Red Sox, while Brandon Inge caught on with the Pirates this week. The team also suffered a more significant loss in the signing of Brandon McCarthy with the Diamondbacks, but the A's have more than enough starting pitching depth to make up for that loss. In terms of trades, the A's dealt Cliff Pennington to pick up Young, AJ Cole and Blake Trienen to acquire Jaso, and Brad Peacock, Max Stassi, and Chris Carter to bring in Lowrie and Rodriguez. The team also dealt away some role players, like Brandon Hicks, Graham Godfrey, Collin Cowgill, and George Kottaras, but none will be missed too much in 2013.
Nakajima is a rookie in service time but not age, and he's being thrust into a starting role for the A's this year. There'wasn't much of a benchmark at shortstop set by Pennington and a banged up Drew last year, so Nakajima doesn't have to be a superstar to be an improvement for the A's. Dan Straily barely lost his rookie eligibility last season, but is still very inexperienced and will occupy a spot in the A's rotation until Bartolo Colon's PED suspension comes to a conclusion. A strong performance from him could make the decision on who Colon replaces more difficult. After a strong 2012 in AAA, Grant Green could earn the starting job at second base, where Scott Sizemore is currently penciled in as the starter after missing all of 2012 with a torn ACL.
The Sizemore-Green battle for the second base job is definitely one to keep an eye on, and if Green's defense can pass the smell test, I think he'll end up taking the job. But that's not a sure thing at all, considering how the major knock on Green throughout his pro career has been "lacks a position". Everything else appears to be pretty much set in stone for the A's, but the team will utlize several platoons to get guys like Young, Derek Norris, and Josh Donaldson ample playing time.
Grant Balfour just had surgery on a torn meniscus, and his status for Opening Day is in question for a little bit, though he's expected to be ready. Sizemore's ACL remains a concern, but he is reportedly fully healthy heading into the spring. Brett Anderson had Tommy John surgery in summer of 2011, but looked awesome in his return last season and the only issue he may face in 2013 might be an innings cap. Lowrie never has been able to stay healthy, but his injuries haven't been specific to one area.
Will the A's pitching staff be able to replicate their awesome 2012?
The best case scenario would be a repeat of 2012, but with less stress. If Yoenis Cespedes hits like he did in the second half all season, and Reddick hits like he did in the first half all season, that could be enough offense for the A's to scrape by with career performances from everyone else, even if Brandon Moss has the expected regression to the mean. There's no reason for the A's *not* to be a contender in the American League this year, and anything less would be a disappointment.
Everything that could go wrong does. Reddick's second half swoon continues into 2013. Moss comes crashing back down to Earth with a thud and a cartoonish dustcloud. Nakajima can't hit or can't field in the majors. Lowrie gets hurt again and again. The young pitching staff takes a huge step back, and the A's somehow tumble to fourth place in the AL West and Beane has to look at what went wrong and somehow improve the team for 2014.
The A"s are a tough team to read. On paper, they're probably the third most talented team in the AL West. But then again, that's where they were last season, and they won the division. There's such a huge potential variance in how the A's will play this year that I don't really feel confident in making a solid prediction, but I think they'll end up getting into the playoffs again, though as a wild card instead of division champion this year.