The best thing to happen to the Oakland Athletics in 2011 was the Oscar-nominated movie Moneyball, which hit theaters in September.
By that point, the A's were well out of the AL West race and the team on the field hardly resembled the great teams that the movie was based on. It's no wonder the A's finished last in attendance.
Nevertheless, a new season is upon us. Opening Day is less than two months away. When it comes, the A's will have as good a chance of making the postseason as any team in the league.
It's still early, but here's a sneak peak at Oakland's outlook for the 2012 season.
2011 Record: 74-88
Key Arrivals (courtesy of Yahoo! Sports): OF Yoenis Cespedes (FA from Cuba), OF Josh Reddick (from Boston), RHP Jarrod Parker (from Arizona), RHP Ryan Cook (from Arizona), OF Collin Cowgill (from Arizona), OF Cedric Hunter (from San Diego), RHP Evan Scribner (from San Diego), RHP Brad Peacock (from Washington), LHP Tom Milone (from Washington), RHP Merkin Valdez (minor league FA), RHP Bartolo Colon (FA), OF Seth Smith (from Colorado), OF Jonny Gomes (FA)
Key Departures: RHP Andrew Bailey (to Boston), OF Ryan Sweeney (to Boston), RHP TrevorCahill (to Arizona), LHP Craig Breslow (to Arizona), OF David DeJesus (FA), RHP Trystan Magnuson (to Toronto), LF Josh Willingham (FA), LHP Gio Gonzalez (to Washington), RHP Guillermo Moscoso (to Colorado), LHP Josh Outman (to Colorado)
Projected Rotation (Per Official Site)
- Brandon McCarthy (9-9, 3.32 ERA, 1.13 WHIP)
- Dallas Braden (1-1, 3.00, 1.28; left shoulder surgery in May, 2011)
- Brett Anderson (3-6, 4.00, 1.33; Tommy John surgery in July, 2011)
- Bartolo Colon (8-10, 4.00, 1.29)
- Brad Peacock (2-0, 0.75, 1.08)
- Jarrod Parker (0-0, 0.00, 0.88)
- Tom Milone (1-0, 3.81, 1.23)
C: Kurt Suzuki (.237/.301/.385)
1B: Brandon Allen (.200/.277/.377)
2B: Jemile Weeks (.303/.340/.421)
3B: Josh Donaldson (.156/.206/.281) Note: This was Donaldson's line in 2010. He did not log any time in the majors in 2011.
SS: Cliff Pennington (.264/.319/.369)
LF: Coco Crisp (.264/.314/.379)
CF: Yoenis Cespedes (N/A)
RF: Josh Reddick (.280/.327/.457)
DH: Chris Carter (.136/.174/.136), Manny Ramirez (.059/.059/.059)*
*Will serve 50-game suspension to start season.
Fautino De Los Santos (R) (3-2, 3 HLD, 2 BLSV, 4.32 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)
Joey Devine (R) (1-1, 7 HLD, 1 BLSV, 3.52, 1.26)
Grant Balfour (R) (5-2, 2 SV, 26 HLD, 5 BLSV, 2.47, 1.03)
Brian Fuentes (L) (2-8, 12 SV, 9 HLD, 3 BLSV, 3.70, 1.23)
Neil Wagner (R) (0-0, 7.20, 1.80)
Jerry Blevins (L) (0-0, .286, 1.34)
Andrew Carignan (R) (0-0, 4.26, 1.58)
Graham Godfrey (R) (1-2, 3.96, 1.48)
Scouting the Starting Pitching
Not a whole lot of people noticed, but the A's could flat-out pitch in 2011, as they finished third in the American League with a collective 3.71 ERA. It helped that they allowed an American League-low 136 home runs, which is a big reason why they were able to lead the AL in opponents' slugging percentage at .378.
However, that rotation had Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, both of whom are gone now. They will be missed.
Dallas Braden will be charged with being the team's ace once he gets healthy, and the A's will hope that Brandon McCarthy can be as dominant as he was in September of 2011, when he had a 2.19 ERA in 37 innings.
Beyond those two, it's a crap shoot. The A's have no idea what they're going to get out of an ancient Bartolo Colon, and Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock are both unproven. Brett Anderson won't be back to help out until late in the season.
Suffice it to say that the back end of this rotation constitutes a great unknown. If these guys don't step up, it's going to be a very long season in Oakland.
Scouting the Bullpen
Oakland's bullpen was a middle-of-the-road unit in 2011, finishing with an ERA of 3.74. It featured some good individual pieces, however, and the good news for the A's is that most of them are back.
The one exception is Andrew Bailey. He was traded to the Boston Red Sox this offseason, leaving the A's without a true closer in their bullpen.
The bright side is that the A's are used to life without Bailey, so his absence need not be a killer. They'll have to settle on a new closer—most likely Grant Balfour or Brian Fuentes—but the A's aren't the kind of team that will freak out over something like this. The A's have always treated closers like they're a dime a dozen.
One intriguing option is Fautino De Los Santos, who had 43 strikeouts in just 33.1 innings. He has closer-type stuff, but he'll have to get his control, um, under control in order to establish himself as a reliable late-game option. If he does that, he may very well end up closing out games for the A's in 2012.
Aside from the closer's spot, there's not a whole lot of intrigue to be found in Oakland's bullpen. It's kind of a motley crew.
Scouting the Hitting
In 2011, the A's scored 645 runs, third-fewest in the AL. They hit 114 home runs, also third-fewest in the AL. They had a collective OPS of .680, third-worst in the AL.
You get the idea. The A's are built around discipline and power, and they got little of either in 2011. They just didn't have the personnel to light up the scoreboard.
Things should be better in 2012, and that's thanks in large part to the new additions. Seth Smith is a solid hitter, and Jonny Gomes will get playing time in left field as well. That's not a bad platoon at all. I also like Josh Reddick in right field.
And then there's the big guy, Yoenis Cespedes. As it was first reported by Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, the A's signed Cespedes to a four-year contract worth $36 million. They're rolling the dice, but they're rolling the dice on a player who has the potential to be a 30-40 home run a year guy, maybe even better. He'll be charged with being a force in the middle of Oakland's lineup.
In addition, there is some upside at the top of the lineup, as Coco Crisp and Jemile Weeks both have speed they can put to good use. Elsewhere, Brandon Allen has plenty of raw power and the A's will get a huge boost if he can live up to his potential. The same is true of Chris Carter, but he's a total wild card at this point.
As a whole, this is a pretty strange collection of hitters. But if the question is whether the A's will score more runs in 2012 than they did in 2011, I think the answer is yes.
UPDATE: The A's agreed to terms with former Red Sox and Dodgers sluggers Manny Ramirez (see San Jose Mercury News report). I presume he'll be used as a DH after he completes a 50-game suspension. I'd be shocked if he made much of a difference. Manny was done two years ago.
Braden is good, but I'm more excited to watch McCarthy this season. He's never been able to live up to the buzz that was surrounding him when he first broke into the majors with the Chicago White Sox, but he had a very strong 2011 campaign to build on this season.
I mentioned McCarthy's superb September, but he wasn't bad in any of the other months either. He finished with an overall ERA of 3.32, and he was able to do that because his ERA never climbed above 3.89 in any one month. He was a model of consistency.
Control is a huge part of McCarthy's game. He simply doesn't walk guys, which was reflected in his 1.32 BB/9 in 2011, the third-lowest mark in the American League. If he can keep that up and mix in a few more strikeouts, he has the potential to be an All-Star.
I'll get to the big guy in just a second, but for now I want to focus on Jemile Weeks. He was the only hitter on the A's to hit better than .300 in 2011. In fact, he was the only A to hit better than .265.
Despite that, Weeks finished third in the club in on-base percentage. He is not your prototypical Billy Beane guy. He swings first and asks questions later, and he's got speed he can use on the basepaths.
The 2012 season will be all about Weeks refining his game. He needs to make fewer mistakes on the basepaths, and we're going to see if he's capable of driving the ball better and more consistently than he did in his rookie campaign.
Weeks will not be his brother, but he could be pretty good.
Okay, now it's time to talk about Yoenis Cespedes.
If you ask Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, she'll tell you Cespedes is going to step in and play center field with Coco Crisp moving over to left field. Cespedes has more than enough athleticism, and it's not like Crisp is a great center fielder. Moving him to left to accommodate Cespedes makes sense.
But that's not what any of us want to talk about with Cespedes. It's all about his bat.
Indeed it is, and that's what the A's are really paying for with Cespedes' new contract. His is a pure power bat, as Cespedes is a beast of a man with power to all fields. If he makes good on his potential, he'll be the type of hitter the A's haven't had since the early 2000s.
This is, of course, assuming Cespedes adapts to big league pitching and makes contact on a regular basis. That's the big unknown, and the biggest reason why he's Oakland's X-Factor for 2012.
Prospect to Watch
It's Jarrod Parker. He has exactly one major league start under his belt, but we're talking about a guy who was Baseball America's No. 33 prospect in 2011.
Parker's journey to regular major league action was delayed by Tommy John surgery, but he still has great stuff. His fastball will sit in the low-to-mid 90s, and he has a slider and a curveball that are both pretty impressive. His changeup is only solid, but it's come a long way from what it once was.
It looks like Parker's going to get a shot to earn a spot in the rotation. If he gets it, the sky's the limit. The stuff is there. All he needs is experience.
What the A's Will Do Well
I'm not 100 percent positive the A's will have one guy who stands out as a true ace, but they should pitch pretty well collectively.
Despite the fact he traded away his two best pitchers, Beane's club is not lacking in quality arms in either the rotation or the bullpen. The back end of the rotation may be a great unknown, but there's potential there.
What the A's Won’t Do Well
Hit. The A's have some hitters with some upside, but they also have way too many question marks.
An improvement over the team's performance in 2011 is in the cards if the new acquisitions pan out, but we are not talking about the 1927 Yankees. Oakland's pitchers better be ready to protect leads with their lives.
The A's have some intriguing individual players, but the total package is less than impressive. They're going to have to win games by getting great pitching performances and just enough offense.
It's not a great formula to win ballgames in this day and age, and whether or not the A's are even going to be able to get "just enough" offense on a regular basis is very much up in the air.
If the A's manage to win the West, they'll be a surprising Cinderella story. Realistically, they're looking at a long season.
Projected Record: 72-94, fourth in AL West
More AL West Previews
Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge mancrush on Derek Jeter and he would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:
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