The Oakland A's have been building steam the past two seasons, making the playoffs as AL West champions in back-to-back years. To keep momentum and success rolling, there are a few things the team must do, such as filling holes left by veterans and adding more punch to the lineup.
It would be funnier if it wasn't true.
In 2012, Oakland's lineup lit up the scoreboard during the late summer days of the season. Then it went stagnant once the playoffs started. Then again in 2013, history repeated itself.
If there is one thing the A's must do in order to get over the hump and take it to the next level, the American League Championship Series, it's find a clutch October hitter. They won't spend money, so don't count on a Robinson Cano signing. But the current lineup needs protection for Yoenis Cespedes.
Other postseason teams have it.
Carlos Beltran has Matt Holliday. Hanley Ramirez has Adrian Gonzalez. Even Adrian Gonzalez has Yasiel Puig. Cespedes has Seth Smith or Brandon Moss. Both men, along with Coco Crisp, Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie, led the team to 96 wins.
But then they went cold. All of them.
So step one: add a scary bat.
It doesn't have to be a power bat, though that would be helpful. Dustin Pedroia isn't scary because he hits bombs all the time. It's because he's a flat-out dangerous all-around hitter. Yadier Molina works counts and gets on base. I can go on. The point is that the A's need another guy to work counts, get on base, get clutch hits, move runners over and score runs.
Catcher, second base, designated hitter and right field could be upgraded.
It's unlikely the A's will sign or trade for another catcher with three already on the roster. I doubt they're inclined to sit Gold Glove right fielder Josh Reddick, either. For the penny-pinching A's, it would be easier to replace Eric Sogard over Smith based on each guy's 2014 salary.
Upgrade the lineup—anywhere—and it's an obvious success.
A quality offensive addition will help quite a bit, and it'd be a nice luxury. But filling in openings on the pitching staff, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, is a must.
The A's need a veteran starting pitcher. Whether that's Bartolo Colon or not, they need someone. If they can get Colon for the right price, then that's the move they must make. But if Colon nets a high-dollar, multiyear contract elsewhere, Oakland has to find a quality replacement. And I'm not banking on Phil Humber.
Without Colon, the A's feature a rotation of Jarrod Parker, Sonny Gray, Brett Anderson, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. There's potential there, but no veteran presence, and the assumption is that Anderson stays healthy and Tommy Milone rebounds.
While I'm labeling a starting pitcher as a must, adding a reliever is even more important.
Oakland's bullpen pitched incredibly well during the 2013 season. Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook continued to develop, Dan Otero is the newest no-namer-turned-staple and Grant Balfour earned his first All-Star appearance.
That won't be the only thing Balfour earns, though.
With his likely exuberant price tag, indications point to Oakland letting its closer walk. To maintain the success they've had the last few seasons, the Athletics must find a top-notch replacement. Mark Polishuk speculated that the Toronto Blue Jays may swap closer Casey Janssen for a starter, and they've also been linked to starter Brett Anderson, coincidentally. That trade alone should be seen as a success if it goes down.
Beyond shipping Anderson out while he still has some value, success would come in the form of keeping this current squad intact.
Each offseason, general manager Billy Beane makes yet another move. It's happened with such frequency that it has become expected. From Nick Swisher to Huston Street, Dan Haren to Trevor Cahill, who will be traded in the offseason is a cause for concern for A's fans.
But they're already so close.
Giving up key cogs like Parker, Doolittle, Cook, Donaldson, Crisp or Cespedes would be foolish and disheartening. Trading prospects like Gray, Michael Choice and Addison Russell would be a major fail.
The last roster-related offseason task is simple: get healthy.
In the final days of A's baseball, Anderson, Parker, Gray and Reddick were all banged up. Cespedes may not need the glass label yet, but he's no man of steel (more like plastic). This team has to rest up, get healthy, then put in the proper conditioning to remain healthy for the entirety of the 2014 season.
It will be all the much harder should any of them enter the season at less than 100 percent.
Find a veteran starting pitcher (preferably Colon). Replace Balfour in the 'pen. Add quality talent to the lineup (not just a filler), but keep the rest of the roster as is. Then return everyone to the field completely healthy.
Those are the keys to success when it comes to the team, but there's one more item on the checklist for the organization.
The A's have to figure out where they'll be calling home.
A potential move to San Jose has been well documented already, but recent reports by San Francisco Chronicle's Philip Matier and Andrew Ross claim the A's may play at the San Francisco Giants' AT&T Park as early as next season. However, David Purdy of San Jose Mercury News claims such a thing is preposterous.
The organization owes it to the fans to figure this out as soon as possible. Not only that, but management also owes it to the squad that fields its team.
Attendance figures haven't been great. There's no denying that. But nothing helps attendance quite like winning. A move now after two great years and signs of a third will be detrimental to this fanbase and the Athletics' popularity.
And how must it feel as a player on a winning team that has embarrassingly low numbers?
So find another stud. Bolster that lineup. Firm up the 'pen. Then promise them they'll have a legit place to call home.
That will be quite the success.