The Oakland Athletics are coming off of another disappointing first round exit in last year’s playoffs, but they are determined to build off of their experience. The A’s are hoping that their young roster has learned from the past two postseason trips and they can make this the year that they claim their first title since 1989.
The back-to-back AL West defending Champs are still flying under the radar heading into the season. Part of it has to do with how deep the division is, but it mainly has to do with Oakland’s lack of star power. They are the antithesis of their rival Texas Rangers, Anaheim Angels and now with the acquisition of Robinson Cano, you can throw the Seattle Mariners in that conversation as well.
The Athletics just simply play baseball, and good baseball at that. They have no gimmicks, they have no massive contracts, they just have a tight-nit group of youthful players, a mad scientist GM in Billy Beane and a no nonsense coach in Bob Melvin. Since Melvin has taken over the reigns, the A’s have gone from one of the worst teams in the league to one of the best, winning the division in two of his three years, as well as winning Manager of the Year in 2012.
For Melvin and the Athletics to get to the next step, however, they will need to do more. Their offseason moves hope to bring a new energy to a ball club that has been on the cusp of ALCS trips the past two season.
Starting with Scott Kazmir, Oakland is hoping he can return to his old form of when he pitched deep into the playoffs for the Tampa Bay Rays. With the loss of Bartolo Colon, Kazmir is now the seasoned veteran of the starting rotation. But with so many recent injuries and a lifetime 4.19 ERA that has been inflating year by year, some feel that the A’s are taking a huge risk in depending on Kazmir. But Kazmir is still only 29 years old and given the Athletics pitching staff, he could he perfect fit.
The rest of the young projected starters consist of Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin as well as Tommy Milone. They have a deep staff that only gets deeper if you take a peak into their always pitching loaded minor league system.
Their big moves in the bullpen were the additions of Luke Gregerson and the Grant Balfour for Jim Johnson swap. Balfour, a fan favorite, has been replaced by the All-Star. Johnson posted a 2.94 ERA and collected 50 saves in 2013, reaching the 50 save mark for the second straight season. The A’s are high on him and believe that he is going to be their go to man to close out ball games no matter how tight the situation.
An under the radar pick up for the Athletics was the signing of relief pitcher Eric O’Flaherty. Coming off of Tommy John surgery in May, he won’t be with the ball club for a majority of the season. However, he has the ability to be a huge part of the A’s stretch run. Over the past three years, the left-hander threw 149 innings out of the bullpen for the Atlanta Braves in which he posted 124 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.45.
The makeup of their defensive lineup looks very similar to last year’s with a few exceptions. The Athletics traded outfielder/designated hitter Seth Smith to San Diego in the Gregerson deal. They have also added outfielder Craig Gentry and infielder Nick Punto. But for the most part, the Athletics will be depending on familiar faces.
The outfield trio of Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick will be key to Oakland’s success. They all have the ability to put up big numbers as well as play unbelievable defense, but they also have all had a history of injury problems. As the spark of the team, they need to remain healthy.
Oakland is also banking on third basemen Josh Donaldson to have another big year. Donaldson hit .301 with 24 home runs and 93 RBI last year, but there are questions on whether or not he can produce in back to back seasons.
A big boost for Oakland will be the return of catcher/designated hitter John Jaso. The A’s lost Jaso to a season-ending concussion last year and he left a hole in the lineup that was tough to fill. He hit .271 in 70 games before his injury.
Overall, the Oakland Athletics have a strong club that is going to pitch and defend with the best of them. But whether or not they can stay healthy will be the ultimate factor in how well their offense produces. In a stacked AL West, the A’s will need to come out of the gate swinging the bat and making a statement, reminding everyone that they are the two-time defending AL West Champs.
Commentary by Rich Peters
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