The Oakland A's have made some great moves so far this offseason, but they don't seem to be getting much recognition for it.
This upcoming season, they will look to capitalize on an AL West division that saw Cliff Lee leave Texas and go to Philadelphia, the Angels not make any moves to improve a roster that finished third last season and features a Seattle team that is perennially in the divisions' basement.
2011 looks to be the perfect year for Oakland to put together a solid season and make a late playoff run again.
To date, they've added Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui and Rich Harden, while only parting with pitchers Vin Mazzaro, Henry Rodriguez, Justin Marks and Corey Brown.
Conor Jackson, who was acquired from Arizona during the season, should be healthy for 2011 as well, serving as what is really a new addition to the squad.
Manager Bob Geren has a lot to look forward to this season and these new additions will do their part to help the A's build on their .500 finish in '09-'10.
DeJesus and Willingham should slot into starting positions in the outfield, especially with Rajai Davis having been dealt to Toronto to make room for the new talent.
Power hitting phenom prospect Michael Taylor could see his first full season in the major leagues this upcoming year and may be slotted into LF as the starter, with Jackson available to spell him. If not Taylor, then another power hitting prospect, Chris Carter, may look to make a run at that starting slot instead.
Matsui steps into the DH role to fill in for Jack Cust, who left Oakland via free agency to sign with the Seattle Mariners. While the loss of power that Cust brought to the table will be missed, Matsui is a better all around hitter than Cust.
Last year with the Angels, Matsui put up an impressive stat line that included 21 HR, 84 RBI and 24 doubles while batting .274. More importantly, he only struck out 98 times, an instant upgrade over Cust's 200 seemingly every year.
While not the strongest part of the club, the infield will look to improve this season as well. First baseman Daric Barton is coming off a rather surprising year, in which he hit 10 HR and drove in 57 runs, but more importantly put up 33 doubles. He featured a line of .273/.393/.405/.798.
He will be looked upon to anchor the infield, along with 2B Mark Ellis, SS Cliff Pennington and 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff.
Long awaited prospect Adrian Cardenas looks to make the roster out of Spring Training, and compete with Ellis for the 2B job. Catcher Kurt Suzuki will be expected to build on his largely successful '09-'10 campaign, in which he hit 13 HR while knocking in 71 and slugging .366. He will also be relied upon to manage a young, but very talented pitching staff.
The A's saw their two best pitching prospects have very impressive seasons a year ago. Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill should be able to improve on their '09-'10 seasons to anchor the top of the A's rotation along with Gio Gonzalez.
Anderson, who lost a large chunk of the season to injury, put up ratios of 6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and a WHIP of 1.193. He struck out 75 batters in 112.1 innings while going 7-7. A full, healthy season from Anderson is crucial to the A's success.
Cahill was extremely impressive last season. He put up a stellar 18-8 record while striking out 5.4 batters per nine innings and walking 2.4 over nine. He also had an outstanding WHIP of 1.108. These two simply don't put runners on base.
Along with Gonzalez, Dallas Braden and a hopefully healthy Rich Harden (wishful thinking, yes), Oakland is able to string together a rotation that has the ability to be very competitive in a weak AL West.
The back end of the bullpen looks to be strong yet again, with Andrew Bailey at the helm as closer and Brad Ziegler, Craig Breslow, Michael Weurtz, Jerry Blevins and a returning Joey Devine filling out the rest of pen.
The Athletics look to have the talent all around to put together a team who could very well make the playoffs coming out of the AL West in 2011.
While the Rangers still boast the best lineup in the division, the loss of Cliff Lee hurts them greatly. It takes them from World Series caliber to a team that has strong playoff potential, but maybe not much more. While having had some success over the last two seasons, the Rangers' staff needed Lee to reach the next level, a fact that was obvious when he was acquired last season.
Now that he is gone, the rotation is no longer outstanding.
A year after not winning the division for the first time since forever, the Angels have done nothing to greatly improve their squad. They missed out on Carl Crawford and have yet to make a move on their other oft mentioned target, Adrian Beltre. Beltre may very well sign with Texas, putting the Angels even further behind the 8-Ball.
While a full season of Dan Haren should anchor the staff along with Jered Weaver and Ervin Santana, their weak lineup may very well prove to be their handicap.
If Oakland's talent can prevail and the staff can continue their improvement, the A's have a winning combination right now and should be able to build on and improve their 81-81, second place finish of last year.