Originally posted on Pro Sports Daily  |  Last updated 10/17/12
The Oakland A's were one of baseball's best stories in 2012 -- and biggest surprises. The team was turned upside down last winter, and three All-Star pitchers (Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey) were traded away. Oakland had one healthy returning starting pitcher, Brandon McCarthy, and one returning outfielder, Coco Crisp. There were questions at first base and, when Scott Sizemore injured his knee the first day of the spring, at third base. So expectations were low, low, low, and when the club had a nine-game losing streak in May and fell 13 games out in June, those appeared justified. But Oakland suddenly found a lot of answers in the second half, most of which should put the A's in good stead in 2013 and perhaps beyond after winning the AL West on the final day of the season. They found a first-base tandem with promise in Brandon Moss and Chris Carter and a third baseman to compete with Sizemore next spring in Josh Donaldson. And most of all, Oakland got experience for its very young rotation -- at several points during the season, the A's used all rookies in the rotation -- and that rotation should be a major strength next year with Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin and likely Dan Straily. Brett Anderson returned from Tommy John surgery in August and was in top form, another question mark answered, and he's expected to be back though he is highly coveted on the trade market. McCarthy also has a good chance to be re-signed. Oakland also established a standout bullpen, particularly with setup men Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook (both rookies) and closer Grant Balfour, whose option will be picked up for 2013. Another rookie, Evan Scribner, showed great promise down the stretch, and left-hander Jerry Blevins became a key figure after Jordan Norberto went on the DL for the final month. Oakland also should have one of the better outfields in baseball next year, with emerging star Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick, who led the team in homers (31, which was not expected) and RBI; all three are excellent defensive players, too. The A's will try to re-sign key bench player Jonny Gomes, the clear clubhouse leader, but Brandon Inge, also a good veteran presence, is unlikely to be back because of all the options the A's will have at third, second and first base. One possible area of need: catcher. General manager Billy Beane said the club was happy with the performances of rookie Derek Norris and backup George Kottaras, but there is little doubt that the A's could use a veteran who is a strong defensive catcher to back up Norris. And if shortstop Stephen Drew does not return -- he has a mutual option for 2013 -- then the A's have some decisions to make in the middle infield. Cliff Pennington could move back to shortstop and Jemile Weeks and Scott Sizemore could be options at second base, or the A's could pursue the free agent and trade markets to fill one spot or the other.
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