The Oakland A's came out of nowhere this season to win the AL West with a 94-68 record, which was largely the result of a 51-25 showing in the second half that featured plenty of walk-offs and plenty of all-around craziness.
But it turns out there was a limit to Oakland's 2012 magic. The Athletics' season was one for the books, but it came to an end on Thursday night in Game 5 of the American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers. Justin Verlander's right arm proved to be too much for the A's to overcome.
When the game ended, something quite unusual happened. Though the A's had been vanquished by the Tigers, the home crowd gave their team the ultimate show of respect and appreciation by standing and applauding for them one last time.
Such was the love in Oakland for the 2012 A's, who accomplished far more than anybody ever thought they would. The end of the party always was going to be a cause for celebration rather than a cause for remorse.
Come to think of it, who says the party has to be over? Why can't it last into next season?
If Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane is to be believed, the 2012 A's will go largely unchanged this offseason, according to Joe Stiglich of the Bay Area News Group. With no roster overhaul looming, the A's could thus pick up right where they left off in 2013.
In fact, here are eight reasons to believe they will.
There are questions that need to be answered on Oakland's infield this offseason. Shortstop Stephen Drew has a $10 million option on his contract that the A's may not be able to afford, and the situations at third and second base are by no means set in stone.
The outfield, however, is just fine.
There was some turnover at the beginning of the season, but Bob Melvin ultimately settled on an outfield combination that worked for him when he stationed Yoenis Cespedes in left, Coco Crisp in center and Josh Reddick in right.
Together, they helped the A's outfield achieve a .344 wOBA that ranked sixth in all of baseball, according to FanGraphs.
Barring a trade, all three of them will be back in 2013. Cespedes is under contract through 2015. Crisp has one more guaranteed year left on his deal. Reddick is still a few years away from free agency.
In Cespedes, Crisp and Reddick, the A's will be returning more than just their starting outfield. In Cespedes, they'll be returning their primary cleanup hitter. In Crisp, they'll be returning their primary leadoff man. In Reddick, they'll be returning a player who hit 27 of his 32 home runs batting out of the No. 3 spot.
Oakland's starting outfield trio was a major part of the club's success in 2012. The fact that the A's don't have to worry about replacing any of them this winter definitely bodes well for them going forward.
Once the initial shock wore off, people took to predicting what Cespedes' rookie season would be like. Many saw modest numbers on the horizon, as surely it would take time for Cespedes to adjust to big league pitching after defecting from Cuba.
His final numbers weren't so modest.
Cespedes battled injuries for a good portion of the season, but he still managed to hit .292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs and 82 RBI. He struck out 18.9 percent of the time he came to the plate, a perfectly acceptable figure for a supposedly untested foreign import.
With Year 1 under his belt, Melvin told Janie McCauley of the AP that the best is yet to come where Cespedes is concerned:
Bob Melvin on Yoenis Cespedes: "Sky's the limit. He has the chance to become an elite player in the game." #Athletics— Janie McCauley (@JanieMcCAP) October 12, 2012
One sign that Cespedes has it in him to be a true superstar was the fact that he hit like a true superstar in the second half of the season. In 75 games, he hit .311/.376/.533 with 14 homers and 46 RBI. Over a full 162-game season, that kind of production equates to a 31-homer, 100-RBI season.
Those numbers are in Cespedes' future, and I for one wouldn't be surprised if he did even better.
Brandon Moss and Chris Carter
One of the reasons the A's were so successful this year was because they got production from just about every hitter they used.
And they used more than most. The Athletics' lineup actually featured very few regulars, as Melvin used platoons at several different positions due to both necessity and the fact that, well, rotating people in and out just kept working.
Case in point: first base ultimately became a platoon situation between the lefty-hitting Brandon Moss and the righty-hitting Chris Carter. They combined to hit 37 home runs, and they were a major reason why A's first basemen were able to post a .354 wOBA that tied them with the White Sox for eighth in MLB, according to FanGraphs.
Barring a trade, Moss and Carter will be back in 2013. So will lefty-swinging DH/left fielder Seth Smith, and there's a decent chance righty-swinging DH Jonny Gomes will be back as well. He's due to become a free agent, but the word from Kate Longworth of CSNBayArea.com is that the club wants Gomes back:
Gomes posted an .868 OPS and hit 18 home runs this year, but he brought more than just numbers to the A's. He was very much an emotional leader.
If the A's return Gomes, there are going to be very few new parts to their offense next season.
It's a good bet the same will be true of their starting rotation.
Throughout the course of the season, Oakland's dependence on rookie starting pitchers became something of a running gag.
But the A's rookie hurlers were no joke. Jarrod Parker won 13 games and posted a 3.47 ERA. Tommy Milone was a quality-start machine who won 13 games with a 3.74 ERA. A.J. Griffin went 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 15 starts. Dan Straily was solid in the seven starts he made at the end of the year.
Parker and Milone definitely have spots in Oakland's 2013 rotation locked up. Griffin is a strong candidate for a spot, and Straily will have a shot at a spot as well.
And then there's Brett Anderson. He may not be a rookie, but he's still only 24 years old and he's going to head into the 2013 season fully healthy. If he stays healthy, he has the stuff to put together a Cy Young-caliber season.
Bartolo Colon won't be back, and it's a good bet that Brandon McCarthy will head elsewhere as well. If both of them leave and neither of them is replaced, Oakland's starting rotation will be without a veteran in 2013.
But that's not a bad thing. A rotation consisting of Anderson, Parker, Milone, Griffin and Straily could do some damage.
It wasn't just Oakland's starting rotation that made the club's pitching so effective. The club's bullpen was just as good.
A's relievers combined to post a 2.94 ERA this season, good for fourth in MLB. Toward the end of the season, rookie lefty Sean Doolittle, rookie righty Ryan Cook and veteran closer Grant Balfour became Melvin's go-to trio in close games, and they proved to be very effective at slamming the door.
All three of them will be back in 2013. Doolittle and Cook are years away from free agency, and Balfour has a $4.5 million option that represents a mere $500,000 raise on what he made in 2012. After watching him post a 1.71 ERA with 17 saves in the second half of the season, the A's should be more than willing to pay Balfour an extra half-million dollars.
Also coming back in 2013 will be Jerry Blevins (2.48 ERA), Jordan Norberto (2.77), Evan Scribner (2.55) and Jim Miller (2.59).
Again, this is assuming nobody is traded this offseason, and that depends on whether Billy Beane wants to take a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to his bullpen.
Rest assured, though. If Beane sees an opportunity or two, he won't stand pat.
Last offseason, Beane blew up Oakland's roster. Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez were both traded, and the A's waved goodbye to Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui and Rich Harden.
With so many recognizable names going out the door, it was no wonder the A's were a near-universal pick to finish last in the AL West.
All these months later, we now know that there was a method to Beane's apparent madness. He was putting all his chips on potential rather than status, and his gamble paid off.
This year, he may roll the dice in an entirely different way.
"If there's moves made, the idea would be additions," said Beane on Friday, according to Stiglich.
While the A's are set in a lot of different places, it's not hard to imagine Beane making a move for an infielder, most likely at shortstop or second base. He could also bring in a veteran starting pitcher if he's a little wary of going with such a young rotation once again in 2013.
The point is that the core pieces of the A's won't be leaving. Instead, Beane's goal will be to bring in core pieces.
For the first time in a long time, the A's won't be rebuilders this offseason.
Not a ton of people noticed, but Bob Melvin did make a difference after he took over for Bob Geren last season. The A's went 27-36 under Geren. They went a slightly more respectable 47-52 under Melvin.
The A's won 94 games under Melvin this year, and it was no accident.
Melvin was the perfect man in the perfect place at the perfect time this season. He captained a relatively young Arizona Diamondbacks team to the NLCS in 2007, and this year he got to show off his skills with young players even more as the A's added more and more of them to the roster.
It wasn't just young players Melvin had an effect on. He also did wonders with previously unproven players like Brandon Moss and Travis Blackley, and he was also able to breathe some life into Stephen Drew after he came over from the Diamondbacks in August.
The A's players whom I got to ask questions in recent weeks all raved about Melvin. The A's became known for their goofy clubhouse culture, but A's players will tell you that Melvin was successful in keeping his house in order all the while because he let players be themselves while also selling them on what kind of roles they were supposed to play for the team.
They all bought into what Melvin wanted to do, and that essentially means they all bought into what the team needed them to do.
Melvin signed an extension last September to stay with the A's through 2014. If he did what he did in 2012 all over again in 2013, he could be with the A's a lot longer than just the next two years.
The attendance charts will tell you that the A's have an awful fanbase. With an average attendance of 20,729 fans, the A's drew worse than all but three other teams in 2012.
The numbers don't tell the whole story. The truth is that the 2012 season very much reinvigorated Oakland's fanbase. And as more and more of them started to show up, the A's played better and better.
Case in point, the A's drew over 30,000 fans in three of their last nine home games, eight of which were victories. Each of their three postseason home games were sold out, and the fans were loud enough to make 36,000 people sound like 56,000 people.
The fans even made an impression on a member of the opposition.
"That was probably the most rowdy atmosphere I’ve ever seen here, or pretty much any ballpark I’ve ever been in,"said Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer after Detroit's loss in Game 3*.
Opposing players weren't the only ones who could hear the fans at O.co Coliseum. A's players definitely heard them, especially while they were being given a standing ovation after their loss in Game 5.
After it was all over, many A's players took to Twitter to express their appreciation for the fans (MLB.com has a compilation of all the tweets).
Are the A's going to sell out every game in 2013?
That's not likely. The Coliseum is an awful park for baseball, especially when compared to AT&T Park just across the Bay. In addition, Oakland's economy makes it tough for the locals to attend game after game after game, no matter how low ticket prices may go.
But will the A's draw better in 2013 than they did in 2012?
You better believe it. And if the fans can make as much of a difference next season as they did this season, the A's are going to be tons of fun once again.
*Quote obtained firsthand.
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