The Cuban Missile will be an integral part of the 2013 A's
In the span of a month the Oakland Athletics made moves to shore up their two weakest positions.
On December 18th the A's signed star Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. And on January 16th the A's acquired catcher John Jaso from the Seattle Mariners in a three-team trade. Suddenly, Oakland appears to have upgraded their lineup from 1-9 and are definitely showing a win-now attitude many have claimed Billy Beane and upper management did not have.
So assuming the A's avoid any disaster in Spring Training injury wise (ala Scott Sizemore in 2012), the lineup seems to be improved for 2013. But what will it look like?
Here is my theory for how the A's could maximize their talent to score more runs in what will be a fiercely competitive American League West.
Smith's production will be vital in 2013
This will be the dominant lineup because there are many more right-handed starters than left-handers in the American League. So here goes:
Leadoff—Coco Crisp, CF
While not the ideal leadoff man from a traditional sense (.329 career on base percentage), Crisp is a plus baserunner and much more versatile than any other current option.
2nd—John Jaso, C/DH
Jaso is a fantastic option at the number two slot. He walks more than strikes out in his career and is the epitome of a contact hitter. Coming off his best year offensively, Jaso seems primed to have a bump in his numbers as he escapes from the cavernous Safeco Field.
3rd—Yoenis Cespedes, LF
Cespedes is the harbinger of this lineup. The A's were 82-46 with him and 12-22 without him. I don't think he's going to be a 35+ home run guy, but he has a lot of Kirby Puckett in him. A stat line of .310/30/105 is definitely not out of the question for 2013, assuming good health.
Cleanup—Josh Reddick, RF
Is Reddick going to duplicate his 32 home runs? I don't necessarily think so. But is he a .240 hitter? I don't think so either. If Reddick hit 20-24 home runs but hit somewhere in the .280 range, that might be better for the A's overall.
5th—Brandon Moss/Chris Carter, 1B
As I've already said, I have an inclination that Carter is primed for a big year with his power numbers. I don't think it is fair to expect Moss to match his fabulous 2012 numbers, but he remains a solid option opposite Carter at first base.
6th—Seth Smith, DH
Smith is a one trick pony, but he does it well. Smith hits right-handed pitching. Always has and probably always will. So pencil in about 110 or so starts at designated hitter and hopefully a second year in the American League leads to greater production overall from a solid hitter like Smith.
7th—Josh Donaldson, 3B
The real wild card of this lineup is the converted catcher Donaldson.
After an atrocious start that led to an early demotion to Triple-A Sacramento, Donaldson returned to Oakland and proceeded to hit. Overall, he hit .290 in the second half of 2012. His defense was also surprisingly solid and most surprising, Donaldson showed himself to be a clutch hitter down the stretch. The A's need the Donaldson that's closer to July-September as opposed to April and early May
8th—Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS
The new "Hiro" of the East Bay, Nakajima already has the charisma to fit right in the A's clubhouse. The question will be if he has the game to match. He will begin towards the bottom of the lineup but will have the chance to move up depending on his performance. If his year is really good, you could easily see a bump towards the second spot.
9th—Jemile Weeks, 2B
Weeks has to be designated the number nine hitter by default. After a promising rookie year, Weeks was a big victim of the sophomore jinx, watching all of his number plummet (.303 to .221 batting average, .340 to .305 on base percentage and 16 to 11 stolen bases).
If there was another option to step in, I'm not so sure Weeks would even be the starting second baseman for 2013. But the A's don't really have that (Grant Green is likely not quite ready), so Weeks will have the opportunity to bounce back.
Young will get his opportunities against lefties in 2013
One of the real keys to the 2012 season was the depth of options the A's had when facing left-handed pitching. Jonny Gomes had a fantastic year (.262, 18 home runs, .471 slugging percentage in 99 games) as a platoon player. It will be incumbent on the A's to get that kind of production from new platoon players this year.
Leadoff—Coco Crisp, CF/DH
Crisp will again be the best leadoff option. It will be interesting to see if some of the other possible options are hitting against left-handers early, as this could move Crisp down in the order.
2nd—Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS
I have a feeling that Nakajima is going to settle in this spot sooner than later for the A's against left-handed pitching. While Nakajima has gap to gap power, from what I have seen, he has good bat control as well. This will come in handy for executing more basic plays.
3rd—Yoenis Cespedes, LF
Cespedes actually had a higher batting average, but slightly lower on base and slugging percentages against left-handed pitching. In other words: he hits everyone.
4th—Chris Carter/Brandon Moss, 1B
Carter really has to make his money here. His on base percentage was great (.404), but the slugging percentage was worse against lefties. Moss hit for a nice average (.293) but his power numbers were much less pronounced against lefties. This is Carter's spot to lose.
5th—Chris Young, CF/DH
This is where Young has a chance to be a real boon for the A's. He does not hit right-handed pitching well. But the combination of being a solid hitter against left-handers and being an elite defender in center, is a great combination potentially for Oakland in 2013.
6th—Josh Reddick, LF
Reddick could actually drop another slot if his struggles against left-handers continues in 2013. But for now I can't see him being lower than this slot.
7th—Josh Donaldson, 3B
Once again Donaldson could play himself higher in the order or out of it altogether. Against left-handed pitching in 2012, Donaldson hit .229 (mostly due to his early year struggles) but had a .422 slugging percentage, higher than his .398 overall slugging percentage.
8th—Derek Norris, C
Norris is going to platoon with Jaso at the catching position and honestly, it is probably a good thing. Norris has a chance to grow and enjoy favorable match ups right now. In much of 2012, he seemed a little outmatched at the plate.
9th—Jemile Weeks, 2B
Another wild card, Weeks could be second here. He could also bat leadoff or second in this lineup. But right now his best spot is at the bottom. While 2012 was a forgettable year, Weeks did have better numbers as a right handed hitter (.232/.318/.351 vs. .215/.298/.280, right vs. left).
Nakajima could be a big asset for the A's
The A's enter the 2013 season confident that a few tweaks and not any big reconstruction was necessary to sustain their surprising 2012 success. While there were a couple of potentially solid moves, for Oakland to entertain more this year, players that return have to build on their performance from last year.
That means the ascension of Yoenis Cespedes into a superstar, consistency from Josh Reddick and a bounce back from Jemile Weeks.
Offense will likely be the key to this team being able to win. Even if there is a slight regression from the pitching staff, they were so good that there is room to do so. For Oakland to prove 2012 was no fluke, they will have to score runs and start production before the summer begins.
Will Oakland keep pace? Time will tell. But to the credit of its management, the A's did go and make practical moves to shore up the team's deficiencies on offense
Now it is up to the players to make it happen.