The issues surrounding the Oakland A's aren't difficult to figure out. Overall, they're probably the easiest team to analyze. Why didn't the A's win the AL West last season? Simple: They had no offense.
A team that ranks in the top five in most pitching statistics, but the bottom half in most offensive statistics, has some obvious issues to address, which is exactly what general manager Billy Beane spent the offseason doing.
The A's will return for the 2011 season with one of the best, youngest and most underrated starting rotations in baseball. The average age of the A's starting rotation this season will be 25 years old.
Led by ace Trevor Cahill, 22, the A's led all of baseball in quality starts (103) and starter's ERA (3.47) last season. Cahill led the team in wins (18), ERA (2.97) and WHIP (1.11) and was second only to Gio Gonzalez in strikeouts.
Along with returning starters Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson, and the additions of Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour in the bullpen, pitching is far from Oakland's biggest concern heading into the 2011 season.
So in an effort to add some offensive thump, the A's brought in several quality pieces, but did they do enough to pry the AL West title from the Texas Rangers and keep the L.A. Angels at bay all season?
First, they sent pitchers Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks to Kansas City in exchange for David DeJesus. DeJesus, 31, missed half the 2010 season with a torn ligament in his thumb, but was hitting .318 when he went down.
He isn't going to provide the A's with a ton of pop, as he's usually good for 10-15 home runs, but he's great on defense and at just $6 million, he'll give the A's much more than they gave up to get him. Over the last three seasons, DeJesus has batted .340 with runners in scoring position and .324 with runners in scoring position and two out.
In an effort to further upgrade their offense, the A's then brought in Josh Willingham for prospects from the Washington Nationals.
Willingham batted .268 with 16 home runs and 56 RBI last season, his second with Washington after five years with the Florida Marlins. The 31-year-old Willingham finished last season on the 60-day DL after left knee surgery. He played in just 114 games last season, the majority of which in left field, though he'll play mostly in right field this season.
The A's weren't done yet, and continued their offensive upgrading, this time at the DH spot with the addition of Hideki Matsui on a one-year, $4.25 million contract. Last season for the Angels, Matsui batted .274 with 21 home runs and 84 RBI in 145 games.
Even at age 36, Matsui certainly has something left in the tank, and on a one-year deal, it's a low-risk move for the A's. Matsui will give the A's a legitimate power threat in the middle of their lineup and represents an upgrade over DH Jack Cust, who batted just .272 with 13 home runs in 112 games.
Oakland ranked second-to-last in the AL in home runs (109) last season and scored just 663 runs, its second-lowest total in the last 28 non-strike seasons.
Will the additions of DeJesus, Willingham and Matsui solve all their power issues this season? We'll have to wait and see. But no matter how you slice it, the A's have upgraded the weakest part of their team, the lineup. They will also be starting the season with arguably the third-best starting rotation in baseball, rivaled only by San Francisco and Philadelphia, and an excellent bullpen.
You can forget about the Seattle Mariners, and both L.A. and Texas have some concerns heading into this season. The Angels did the unthinkable this offseason and took on the contract of outfielder Vernon Wells from Toronto and will be paying him $86 million over the next four seasons. Along with Torii Hunter, the Angels have a lot of money running around in their outfield.
The starting rotation is solid, but the lineup hinges on a healthy Kendry Morales and lacks a true leadoff man right now.
As for Texas, Cliff Lee is gone and depending on what you believe, the huge increase in innings thrown by the Rangers' starters could be a major concern. Including the postseason, both Colby Lewis (227.1) and C.J. Wilson (228.1) set career highs in innings pitched last season. They added slugger Adrian Beltre on a six-year deal, but how he'll perform in a non-contract season is questionable and his addition has created a huge rift between the club and fan-favorite Michael Young, who has now asked to be traded.
All things considered, you could make a case that the Oakland A's are the most stable and well-rounded team in the AL West heading into the 2011 season. Will this balance of youthful pitching and a newly upgrade offense be enough to win the AL West? It's certainly possible, and no one should underestimate the A's during the season.
Pitching can carry any team that can't score runs, just ask the San Francisco Giants, but this time around, the A's have a few bats to go along with their arms, and that could translate to success in 2011.
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