Oakland A's: Have They Done Enough This Winter to Repeat as AL West Champions?
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The Oakland A's shocked the baseball world last year by winning 94 games and sweeping the Texas Rangers during the final weekend of the season to win the AL West. Have they done enough this winter to give themselves a legitimate shot to repeat as division champs in 2013?
This offseason, general manager Billy Beane traded for outfielder Chris Young, catcher John Jaso and reliever Chris Resop. He also signed shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima and re-signed starting pitcher Bartolo Colon.
Stephen Drew, Brandon McCarthy and Jonny Gomes departed via free agency. Cliff Pennington was dealt for Young and George Kottaras was lost on waivers.
With Brett Anderson, Dan Straily and A.J. Griffin returning, the A's have plenty of young pitching depth to replace the departed McCarthy.
After coming back from Tommy John surgery, Anderson had a 2.57 ERA in his six starts last season. Griffin had a 3.06 ERA in his first 15 starts, and Straily had a 3.89 ERA in his seven rookie starts. Anderson not only has the ability to be the ace of the staff, but he could be a Cy Young candidate if he stays healthy over the full season.
The A's also return the veteran Colon (3.43 ERA), Travis Blackley (3.86) and second-year starters Tommy Milone (3.74) and Jarrod Parker (3.47). Among those seven starters, they should be able to find a way to duplicate or improve their 3.80 rotation ERA from last season, which was the eighth lowest in the majors.
The A's have added Resop to a bullpen that was fourth in the league with a 2.94 ERA in 2012. They'll also be returning Grant Balfour (2.53 ERA), Ryan Cook (2.09), Sean Doolittle (3.04), Jerry Blevins (2.48) and Jordan Norberto (2.77).
The A's have depth, youth and talent up and down the pitching staff. They also have a deep group of outfield and designated hitter candidates among Young and incumbents Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith.
Cespedes, who will turn 27 next year, hit .292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs in his rookie season last year. Reddick, who will turn 26 next year, blasted 32 home runs to go with a slash line of .242/.305/.463. Given their youth, both outfielders should continue to improve as they enter their primes.
One area where the A's could see some regression is at first base where Brandon Moss and Chris Carter combined to hit 37 home runs in just 556 plate appearances last season. Manager Bob Melvin's platoon got the most out of both players, but Moss is a 29-year-old journeyman who may not be able to sustain his torrid .291/.358/.596 batting line from last season.
The rest of the A's infield could be offensively challenged as well. Nakajima hit .311/.382/.451 in Japan last season, but the ZIPS projection system used at FanGraphs projects a pessimistic .271/.316/.366 batting line for him in his first season stateside. But all projections are just estimates, and Nakajima has a chance to top that batting line, based on his outstanding professional career in Japan.
Josh Donaldson returns at the hot corner after hitting just .241/.289/.398 last season. Scott Sizemore will return to his original position at second base after missing all of last season due to injury. He'll battle the incumbent Jemile Weeks, who hit just .221/.305/.304 before losing his job to Pennington late last year. Sizemore also has experience at third base, so he could become an option there if Donaldson falters.
Jaso and Derek Norris will handle catching duties next season, though Jaso could also see time at DH. Jaso, who hit.276/.394/.456 last season, should upgrade the offense behind the dish for the A's, who finished dead last in the American League with a .587 OPS from the catcher position in 2012.
The A's appear to have the pitching depth and talent to carry them into contention again in 2013. The Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros have had quiet winters, and while the Los Angeles Angels added Josh Hamilton to an already potent offense, their starting pitching doesn't match up with the A's rotation on paper.
For the A's to repeat as AL West champs, they'll likely need to improve on their .238/.310/.404 team batting line from last season. The additions of Young, Jaso, Nakajima and a healthy Sizemore, combined with continued improvements from Cespedes and Reddick should provide the A's with enough offense to sneak back into the postseason.
The Angels and Rangers have larger payrolls and more well-known players, but Oakland heads into 2013 with the best roster from top to bottom in the division.
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