*From Protect the Plate
After eight-straight winning seasons, the Oakland A's have failed to post a winning record in back-to-back seasons.
Their 2008 roster was flooded with young players with little or no Major League experience, but things are different this year.
With a new slugger in the lineup (at least for now), and a group of solid veterans joining the roster, Oakland hopes to make some noise in the American League West.
Change In Philosophy
After trading away Dan Haren in the offseason and both Rich Harden and Joe Blanton during the season, it appeared as though the A's were heading into full-blown rebuilding mode.
A team-record 21 rookies made appearances in 2008, due in part to a team-record 25 players appearing on the DL last year.
Just when you thought you knew exactly what Billy Beane was doing, he goes out and makes a trade for star outfielder Matt Holliday and signs a bunch of guys in their mid-30s.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the Holliday deal is the fact that he's entering the final year of his contract. T
he A's aren't known for signing guys to lucrative long-term contracts, which is exactly what the 29-year-old will seek. Again, you never know with Beane, but it looks likely Holliday will be on the move once again sometime before the trade deadline.
Holliday is a career .319 hitter who has averaged 31 homers, 113 RBI and 115 runs the past three seasons. His power numbers were down last year, but he posted career highs in stolen bases (28) and walks (74).
The fact that Oakland signed so many veteran free agents, however, would suggest the team is attempting to make a run at the playoffs.
They brought back 38-year-old Jason Giambi, signed 40-year-old reliever Russ Springer, and earlier this month they added 34-year-old shortstop Orlando Cabrera and 35-year-old infielder Nomar Garciaparra.
Those aren't the kind of players you sign when you're rebuilding.
Both Brad Ziegler and Joey Devine set records pitching out of the Oakland bullpen last season.
Ziegler started his career with the longest scoreless streak in modern history, lasting 39 innings before giving up his first run.
Devine posted a 0.59 ERA in 42 games, the lowest among pitchers with at least 25 innings since earned runs became an official stat in 1913.
With Huston Street in Colorado, Ziegler will enter the year as the closer. He had 11 saves in 13 opportunities last season. Devine may eventually see time in the closer role, as well.
Who's In, Who's Out and Who's Hurt?
The A's will look for some stability in their rotation after an ugly 2008 season. Seven different pitchers made 10 or more starts for Oakland, with six more pitchers getting a start at some point last year.
They sent Greg Smith, who led the staff with 32 starts and 190-1/3 innings pitched last year, to the Rockies in the Holliday deal, leaving a hand full of unproven hurlers behind staff ace Justin Duchscherer, who may not be ready on Opening Day.
If that's the case, Dallas Braden would start the opener, likely followed by Sean Gallagher and Dana Eveland. Gio Gonzalez was expected to make the rotation, but has a tight shoulder that will keep him off the Opening Day roster.
That leaves Trevor Cahill likely taking the fifth spot, with Brett Anderson likely getting a shot if Duchscherer can't go right away and Josh Outman, Vin Mazzaro, and Egar Gonzalez heading to Triple-A.
As you can see, it could be another messy year for the A's rotation.
Eric Chavez played in just 23 games last year and 113 over the past two seasons.
Jack Cust hit 33 home runs and led the AL in walks (111), but also led the league in strikeouts (197).
Second baseman Mark Ellis had the best fielding percentage in the majors (.993).
Another offseason addition is reliever Michael Wuertz, who posted a 3.57 ERA over five seasons with the Cubs.
In his first full season, Kurt Suzuki caught 141 games, hitting .279 in the process.
The signing of Cabrerea showed the team had finally given up on former AL Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby.
Daric Barton struggled in his first full year, hitting .226 with just nine homers, and may have a hard time finding at-bats with Giambi playing some first base and Cust coming in from the outfield to DH on a frequent basis.