Billy Beane has been busy this offseason.
The usually stagnant general manager made a flurry of moves during the 2013 winter meetings, leaving the Oakland A's in prime position to make another run for the AL West title in 2014.
This offseason, Beane appeared intent on filling every hole on the A’s roster. Oakland badly needed an additional infielder; they brought on veteran Nick Punto. They needed a closer to replace Grant Balfour; enter Jim Johnson. In fact, despite it being only the middle of December, the A’s essentially have their 25-man roster ready to go for the season. Here is a look at their key signings and how those signings will affect their chances to contend in 2014.
Perhaps one of the most underrated trades of the winter meetings was the deal that brought former first-round pick Drew Pomeranz to the A’s.
Pomeranz fell off the map a bit during the past few seasons, struggling in his stint with the Colorado Rockies.
Despite his slow start, Pomeranz’s 5.20 career ERA is deceiving. He fell victim to the pitcher’s nightmare that is Coors Field, as well as the Rockies’ absurd 75-pitch limit. Furthermore, the Oakland Coliseum is nothing short of pitcher’s heaven.
Pomeranz is moving from one end of the ballpark spectrum to the other, and doing so should work wonders for him.
A living example of the the Coliseum's pitcher-friendly dimensions is A.J. Griffin. Griffin ranked dead last in the majors in ground ball to fly ball (G/F) ratio in 2013 and still managed to post a very respectable 3.83 ERA. There is no doubt that Griffin, who surrendered the most homers in the majors, would have allowed even more had he pitched his home games in almost any other park.
This bodes well for Pomeranz, whose career G/F ratio is 0.91, a total that leaves much to be desired. The confines of the Coliseum will be much more forgiving to the young left-hander.
Expect big things from the former top prospect.
The second base position was a black hole for Oakland last year, and Beane knew he had to fix that. His solution was to sign Punto. At first, this addition appears to be underwhelming. Punto hit only .255 last season, and his career average is just .248.
But would Billy Beane really sign someone who couldn’t reach base?
Punto’s on-base percentage (OBP) last year as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers was .328, three points above his respectable career average of .325. In comparison, the average on-base percentage in Major League Baseball least season was .317.
It gets even better when you consider that, according to Fangraphs, Oakland second basemen had a slash line of .238/.301/.345 last year. Only 10 teams had second basemen with lower on-base percentages than the A’s last season, and only one of those teams (the Cincinnati Reds) made the playoffs.
Furthermore, per baseball-reference.com, Punto played 49 games at shortstop, 35 games at third base and 33 games at second base in 2013. When measuring Punto’s value, his versatility must be accounted for.
SB Nation’s Alex Hall tells you all you need to know about Burns, but let’s break it down for you. Acquired for left-handed relief pitcher Jerry Blevins, Burns showed plenty of promise in the minor leagues. In fact, he was Washington Nationals' 2013 Minor League Player of the Year.
He batted .325 in Double-A last season with a monster OBP of .434. His power is nonexistent, with one career minor league home run in 1,155 plate appearances, but his true value lies in his ability to get on base (.421 career OBP). He can also steal bases, and he does so with great success. He has 125 career steals while being caught just 17 times. (That’s an 88 percent success rate.)
In giving up Blevins, the A’s did not take much of a hit. They have plenty of lefty relief pitchers remaining, including Sean Doolittle, Fernando Abad and Pedro Figueroa.
They also brought another big-name reliever on board…
Much of the talk about Johnson centers around his "down year" in 2013, but don’t buy into that.
He went through a rough patch and, yes, blew nine saves. On the other hand, he had a league-leading 50 saves while posting a 2.94 ERA. It was his second consecutive 50-save season. If you were wondering, no other pitcher has saved 50 games in each of the past two season other than Johnson.
The bottom line is that he is a reliable closer, and he should have a fantastic season in 2014, especially if he posts numbers like he did in 2012.
A’s fans should rest easy after the loss of Balfour.
It is unlikely that he will maintain his production over the next two seasons, and his steep price tag was not worth the risk.
The loss of starter Brett Anderson—he was part of the Pomeranz deal—should not be concerning either. His salary of $8 million, according to baseball-reference.com, is far too steep to justify keeping him onboard.
Injuries have derailed the career of the lefty who once showed so much promise, as Anderson has pitched only 163 innings over the past three seasons. He has started just 43 games in the four years since his 2009 rookie year, and his 6.04 ERA last year was not a promising sign either.
It is also important to not overlook the additions of relief pitcher Luke Gregerson and outfielder Craig Gentry.
Gentry is an excellent signing. He can handle the bat, but that is not even his primary asset. Ranking 10th in the majors in UZR in 2013 (What the heck is that?), Gentry is an excellent option as a late-inning defensive replacement.
Gregerson also is a solid pickup, having compiled five excellent years in San Diego. He hasn't had an ERA above three since 2010, and his career WHIP is an impressive 1.09. With that being said, those numbers should rise slightly pitching out of Oakland's bullpen, as Gregerson's fortune of pitching in the offensively challenged NL West undoubtedly helped him. Nevertheless, he will bolster the A's bullpen in 2014.
So Where Does That Leave The A's?
The A’s are one of the most complete teams in the American League, as they have no glaring weaknesses.
The addition of starter Scott Kazmir gives them one of the better pitching staffs in the American League, especially if Sonny Gray pitches like he did in the 2013 ALDS.
In terms of offense, the lineup is fairly typical of the A's: no superstars, but solid production throughout. If Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick can return to their 2012 form—not a far-fetched expectation—the offense will be in excellent shape.
The Athletics' World Series chances are certainly bright. The Detroit Tigers are a strong team, as usual, but the loss of Prince Fielder leaves a hole in their lineup. The Texas Rangers, while featuring arguably the best lineup in baseball (Andrus, Profar, Beltre, Fielder, Rios!), have a number of questions in regards to their rotation. The New York Yankees have a similar situation, and the Boston Red Sox lost key pieces from their World Series-winning team.
If the A's are to make a title run, now might be their best shot.