2012 Oakland A’s Preview
This year because the A’s start so early and the rest of the teams start so late – well, the rest of the teams excluding the Mariners – I have decided to do my A’s preview today, but my extensive preview/predictions for everyone prior to the Opening Day for all. The A’s and M’s will be all of 1/81st of the way to completing their season so I feel confident that that won’t upset too many people. In essence the A’s lineup is not complete yet either so, the 25-man roster preview I did last year, will be a 25-man plus so to speak this year.
Last year the A’s disappointed everyone by finishing 74-88 in third place, 22 games behind the eventual American League Champion Texas Rangers. The A’s backed by a stellar pitching staff were picked by many to compete, and even by some to win the World Series. The pitching was indeed good but not anywhere like what the A’s expected as regulars Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy who won the 5th starter job out of Spring Training, all went down for significant periods of time. Furthermore even their replacements fell to injury too as Tyson Ross missed a good chunk of the season, and another pitcher with much expected in Rich Harden missed significant time as well. The offense was horrid as many players had some of their worst offensive seasons of their careers, namely Daric Barton, David DeJesus, Mark Ellis, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Hideki Matsui. The lone offensive surprise was Jemile Weeks who played his way into the lineup. The A’s ditched their manager midway replacing one Bob, Bob Geren with another Bob, Bob Melvin. The offseason saw the A’s deal three significant pieces of their club in starters Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez while they also dealt away closer Andrew Bailey getting much younger in the process. Following that first half of the winter purge, the A’s then added Coco Crisp, Jonny Gomes, Manny Ramirez and Seth Smith while also winning the sweepstakes for Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes. The A’s look to be rebuilding this year but will be undoubtedly an interesting team to watch.
I think this team will still feature solid but less spectacular pitching, the potential for a more robust offense and a some much more interesting potential prospects on their way up. Let’s look at them spot by spot.
Kurt Suzuki – Zuk had a decent year rebounding from 1.8 WAR in 2010 to 2.3 WAR in 2011. His slash line was very similar to 2010′s except for a jump in the slugging as he finished .237/.301/.385 with a .300 wOBA and 89 wRC+. For a second straight season he was the victim of a very low BABIP at .244 and somewhat poor circumstance all of his 14 home runs came with no one on base. Suzuki is a solid defensive catcher as he is in the top-third of all catchers in MLB at blocking pitches, but his throwing out runners wasn’t so hot as oftentimes it seemed like he threw sliders to the left of the bag on steal attempts at second. I strongly have felt and continue to do so, that he is better off playing less. Since 2008, Suzuki has logged more innings behind the plate than any other backstop, and I think his offensive production – and his defensive production – could improve with more rest.
Anthony Recker – Recker offers Suzuki the opportunity to take some days off as he is a good hitting catcher who finally broke into the bigs last year and won himself a roster spot this spring. Last year Recker, only played in five contests for the A’s and managed a 0.1 WAR season in his 21 plate appearances. But he has put up consistent 100+ wRC+’s throughout his MiLB career aside from his half season in Midland way back in 2007. In 2011 at Sacramento, he posted a 118 wRC+ en route to a .287/.388/.501 slash line with 16 home runs in 412 plate appearances for the River Cats. Recker could very well make Suzuki expendable if the A’s decide to reload with prospects at the trade deadline.
Brandon Allen – Allen looks to win the first base job outright, which he has yet to do despite the season beginning today. He is out-of-options and no one doubts his power, but he has yet to exhibit any hitting consistency at the MLB level. Last season after the A’s acquired him and Jordan Norberto from the Diamondbacks in the deal that sent Brad Ziegler to the desert, he impressed at first and then faltered badly ending with a .200/.277/.377 mark with just six home runs in 195 plate appearances along with a pretty pathetic wOBA of .286 and a low 78 wRC+. I think Allen is an underrated fielder, he won’t win any Gold Gloves (or maybe he will as they often don’t go to the most deserving candidates) but he is competent and athletics unlike many others with his breathtaking power. I think Melvin will give him a shot and a chance to succeed, so Allen needs to seize the opportunity early and not fritter it away as he did last year.
Kila Ka’aihue – Ka’aihue also is out of options, but saw less playing time in Cactus League play. The A’s got him from the Royals on the next-to-last day of the 2011 season though he did not appear in any games in the green and gold. He only had 96 plate appearances with the Royals and did very little with them limping to a .195/.295/.317 slash line with an equally bad .278 wOBA and 70 wRC+. Like Allen, Ka’aihue has little left to prove at the MiLB level and the A’s are betting he is a late bloomer a la Nelson Cruz. His out of options status probably is his big saving grace right now, though I imagine the A’s could probably slip him through waivers with so many sluggers on the market receiving little to no interest.
Jemile Weeks – Who would’ve thought this last year this time, but Weeks had perhaps the most job security of anyone on this team even being labeled “untouchable” in the offseason. His rookie campaign was very good though his 4.8% BB% is concerning and his .340 on base percentage was inflated by his out of this world and unsustainable .350 BABIP. I expect Weeks to come down to earth in 2011 which may disappoint a lot of A’s fans. Weeks also needs to learn how to slide, something he hasn’t done in the limited spring time action of his I’ve seen as he slides way too late and headfirst which I fear will result in his breaking fingers or taking a knee to the head from a wayward shortstop. Weeks’ big issue in MiLB was staying healthy and the A’s need to be very concerned with keeping him on the field as their bench is very thin if they need to replace him for any amount of time.
Cliff Pennington – Pennington slipped from his 2010 campaign that was buoyed by strong defensive numbers. As his defensive numbers slipped (along with a slightly offensive regression) so slipped his value as he went from a 4.0 WAR player in 2010 to a mere 1.5 WAR player in 2011. He needs to improve his throws to first base as he had several throwing errors throughout Cactus League play, and throwing errors, particularly in the Coliseum, can prove disastrous especially with a younger pitching staff this year. His game really needs to improve on the basepaths as in 2010 he was 29-for-34 (85.3%) while in 2011 he was an awful 14-for-23 (60.9%) in swiping bags.
Josh Donaldson – Donaldson appears to have at least a share of the third base job. The converted catcher – though he began his career as a third baseman in college – played third in winter ball and while it seemed that the move was solely one at giving the A’s some backup versatility when Scott Sizemore went down with a season ending injury it became an important and now much needed transition. Donaldson had a rough start to 2011 hitting just .175/.274/.317 through the end of April but finished with a good .348 wOBA and acceptable 95 wRC+ (though some may argue fairly that in Sacramento that isn’t impressive at all). He has some pop and I would love to see him finally stick around in the Majors and it seems he is being given that chance.
Eric Sogard – Sogard had a solid Cactus League putting up a .341/.400/.545 slash line in his 18 games including two home runs. But the springtime a player does not make, and Sogard didn’t do much in his time in Oakland in 2011 posting exactly 0.0 WAR across 74 plate appearances. That sounds about right, to me the upside for Sogard just isn’t there, but his spring success likely has bought him some time in this lineup and he has a chance to snag himself a corner infield position, though I don’t feel he is well positioned to be that guy.
Coco Crisp – Coco is none too pleased about being the A’s new left fielder and he hasn’t hesitated to tell everyone who will listen. Will this change his reputation as being a good clubhouse guy? He is signed here for another season past this one, will he force his way out hoping for a chance to play in center somewhere else? One has to wonder and worry. Defensively Crisp has center field range with maybe a second base arm, so his arm will be less of a liability, and being in Oakland with spacious foul ground perhaps he can find something in left that isn’t available in more tightly compact ballparks elsewhere. Crisp looks like he will be the A’s #3 hitter this year, which is a role while I am not crazy about (his .115 ISO isn’t typical #3 hitter level) where does one put him? He led the AL in steals last year but had a pathetic .314 OBA so it seems like leadoff is a poor fit, but number three doesn’t necessarily feel right either. That is what Coco is to me, just a bunch of conundrums, great range, and arm that mitigates that advantage, great speed but doesn’t get on base often enough to make it worth while. Perhaps another conundrum if he remains displeased, good clubhouse guy who is a clubhouse cancer.
Yoenis Cespedes – Cespedes is who stole Coco’s center field job. The great Cuban import, perhaps someone who could contend for American League Rookie of the Year honors. Cespedes has power, speed, fielding ability, and also a heck of a YouTube video. Can’t say much about his past performance but he has looked good in international competition but that is nothing like what he will face in his first season as a millionaire baseball player in America. Let’s hope he adjusts well.
Josh Reddick – At first, with Reddick I thought we were getting Ryan Sweeney light, but I think we get more than that and I am excited about his arrival. Reddick has a cannon for an arm, and though he didn’t put up great numbers with the Red Sox last year his 1.9 WAR in 87 games was worth nearly four if stretched across a full season making him far better than anyone the A’s had last year in their lineup. He is a plus defender who needs to walk more (5.5% BB% in his career) but I expect him to be someone who can turn into a 20 home run hitter.
Jonny Gomes – While it is refreshing to have someone who clearly wants to be in Oakland come here, he grew up an A’s fan while attending Casa Grande High School in Petaluma, I am not sure from a baseball standpoint this was out most savvy move. Gomes split last season between Cincinnati and Washington hitting a mere .209/.325/.389. He did walk 12.9% of the time, but that was his highest mark since 2006 and we shouldn’t expect double double digits as 2006 and 2011 mark his only times doing it. He was worth 98 wRC+ in 2011 and as a platoon with Seth Smith could be a very good duo as he hits lefties very well: .311/.407/.456 in 2011 with a .380 wOBA and 140 wRC+.
Seth Smith – Which brings us to Smith, the other side of what appears to be a designated hitter platoon, though I think Smith (and Gomes too) will cycle through the outfield a fair bit. Smith has I think good upside and in my lineup would have left field to himself with Crisp relegated to fourth outfield duties, but the A’s brass feel differently. If Smith is indeed platooned, his hitting off of right-handed pitchers is as impressive as Gomes’ versus southpaws as in 2011 he went: .300/.366/.527 with a .378 wOBA and 130 wRC+. These two could combine to form a ferocious DH combo, but I do think that Smith deserves a chance to show he can hit lefties. I expect Smith to have a little bit of a decline care of the thick marine layer but perhaps become more of a doubles guy – he did lead all of the minors in doubles with 46 in 130 games with Tulsa in 2006.
Collin Cowgill – Cowgill is the kind of player every manager wants to have on their team, and especially this Cactus League that was true as he put up a .419/.469/.605 slash line. The A’s do face a roster crunch and Cowgill very well could be the victim of that crunch. Cowgill is someone I’d like to see get more playing time but the other ahead of him on the depth chart are undoubtedly better. He is a great supplemental piece and will fill in admirably should he need to if someone goes down with an injury.
Adam Rosales – I don’t entirely know why Rosales still has a place on this team. The A’s tendered him a contract despite a -1.0 WAR season. How one manages to be worth -1.0 WAR in just 68 plate appearances is beyond me but it helps when you are a -3.3 fielder, -0.1 baserunner, possess a .083 BABIP, and a -4 wRC+. Of any .000 variety stat, Rosales topped out a .197 with his slugging percentage which tells you all you need to know about a forgettable campaign. Rosales is noteworthy for his fastest around the bases home run trot, but little else. I expect his time in Oakland to be limited, he is a fine candidate to be outrighted to Sacramento.
Brandon McCarthy – What a difference a year makes. We go from talking about his breaking into the rotation to his headlining it. A team best 4.7 WAR helps out that cause, as does an Athletics record 4.92 K/BB. McCarthy’s record belied a fantastic season, he really struggled with sore luck losses for a while and in the end finished just 9-9, though he had a stellar 3.32 ERA and AL best 2.86 FIP that garnered him enough attention to make the cover of ESPN Magazine along with his lovely wife Amanda. McCarthy hopes to build on his success from 2011. McCarthy has the smarts that are needed to make improvements, but sometimes you wonder intelligence can work against you as well as you overthink things. The big concern with McCarthy is staying on the field but it appears he is better able to anticipate his injury and prevent long bouts off the field.
Bartolo Colon – The question for Colon is how much gas does he have left in the tank. The knock on him was after a strong start he faltered down the stretch for the Yankees. Oakland may not have that much interest in that concern as he could very well being playing elsewhere following the midseason trade deadline. Colon in the interim needs to be more innings-eater than traditional number two and I suspect that he will do just that for the A’s. He was a 2.9 WAR pitcher in the Bronx in 2011 a level he hadn’t matched since a 4.5 WAR season with the Angels in 2005. The A’s cannot afford for him to be the combined 2.3 WAR pitcher he was from 2006-2009.
Tommy Milone – This isn’t official yet, but my guess is that Milone has the number three slot down. Milone has a lot of intrigue to me as an under the radar potential for an AL Rookie of the Year award. He relies on slop, much like fellow lefty Dallas Braden, but he has pinpoint control that means he is able to limit his mistakes. Last year at Triple-A Syracuse he had a 9.69 K/BB ratio en route to a 2.24 FIP. That earned him a call up to Washington where he walked just two guys unintentionally in 26 innings. While Milone was the least noted of the prospects that came over in the trade that sent Gio Gonzalez to DC, he probably is the one who will have the greatest impact on the A’s in 2012. I think he is the sleeper in that deal and expect big things out of him. Pitching on a big stage in Japan the other night he did not disappoint, and I don’t think he’ll disappoint this year.
Tyson Ross – I don’t know what you get from Ross. I like his upside, but I don’t like the dreaded “inverted W” nor do I like his prolonged struggles with injuries that seem to dramatically and rightfully so impact his game. After a good start last year, he again fell onto the disabled list and spent the rest of the season offering up gopher balls (1.2 HR/9) in Sacramento while struggling mightily with his control (5.4 BB/9). His Arizona Fall League time wasn’t much better as he posted a 5.24 FIP and allowed a much better 2.7 BB/9 (granted it is a small sample size of 16 2/3 innings) and a sloppy 1.6 HR/9 in the dry Arizona air. The A’s need to ride him until he breaks again.
Grant Balfour – Thankfully Balfour won the closer’s role. Not much more to say than that. Balfour is a capable pitcher and I think he will succeed in the closer role. I anticipate his HR/FB rate will fall more in line with normal, it was especially strange to be going to the Coliseum yet seeing it increase so dramatically, so he should be even better in 2011. If he is good enough, expect him to be dealt at the deadline.
Brian Fuentes – Thankfully Balfour won the closer’s role. I give Fuentes a lot of crap, but I do think he is a talented pitcher and a very useful piece as a left-handed specialist. I know, from talking to him, that he doesn’t like that role or feel he is that pitcher but it is a role that he can be very successful in. That all said, the A’s don’t need a LOOGY, one can argue if any team outside of the playoffs needs that, and I expect he could be long gone come the deadline as well.
Jerry Blevins – Out of options expect Blevins to stay for the long haul. Like Fuentes, I gave this left-handed pitcher much grief in 2011 but his numbers actually ended up a lot better than my perception of him did as he put together a solid campaign with a 2.86 ERA and 3.70 FIP with a scary high 4.4 BB/9. Blevins offers another lefty arm in the pen and one that isn’t as prone to severe lefty-righty splits as is Fuentes.
Fautino De Los Santos – I am excited for a full season of FDLS. Last year he had the most electric stuff on the A’s and I’m pretty sure he likely does again this season with a fastball last year that averaged 95.8 mph. Guys were fooled as he managed an 11.6 K/9 or maybe they were scared because he was a little wild at 4.6 BB/9. He is clearly the A’s closer of the future, and the future could be in 2012 if the A’s deal Balfour at the deadline.
Ryan Cook – Cook came over from the Diamondbacks along with Cowgill and Jarrod Parker in the Cahill trade. He looks to be a middle reliever and just pitched in seven and two-thirds innings last year which were an all round mess as he had 9.4 BB/9, a .432 BABIP, 7.04 ERA and all the other sorts of weird accouterments of a small sample size that didn’t go well. Cook has seemingly had this job from the get go which I am not so sure has been earned but his spring was uneventful (seven innings, three earned runs on two hits and two walks with six strikeouts) so that seemed more than enough for the A’s brass.
Jordan Norberto – Norberto like Cook’s 9.4 BB/9 has had issues with control – to put it mildly. Norberto pitched on six and two-thirds innings with the A’s racking up 9.5 BB/9, which was actually an improvement from the 20 innings he pitched in 2010 in Arizona where he had 9.9 BB/9. Norberto has been shockingly around the plate this spring, could he possibly reduce his BB/9 by two-thirds and be another serviceable lefty? He has to easily qualify as the biggest spring surprise as now sporting #77, he walked just three in his eight and two-thirds Cactus League innings, while striking out ten.
Andrew Carignan – Carignan sort of stormed onto the scene out of relative obscurity last year going from Stockton to Midland to Sacramento all the way to Oakland in 2011. Now he is apparently here to stay as another guy with very limited MLB experience (six and a third innings). Carignan was a strikeout machine in MiLB baseball with 11.7 K/9 in his MiLB career. While historically he has struggled with control, just a 1.88 K/BB ratio, in 2011 he put it all together turning that into an impressive 3.83. The A’s are hoping his success across four levels of baseball last year works as well at one level in Oakland.
Graham Godfrey – Godfrey could very well be the fifth man in the rotation and to begin the season I expect him to be. For now he is listed in the bullpen because the A’s don’t need a fifth starter until well into April and I think he is most suited for the swingman role. Furthermore with the A’s pitching both Milone and Ross in Japan for the two exhibitions that to me was a signal that they are starters number three and four. That could of course be wrong but regardless it seems Godfrey will be on this club. He was serviceable last season when he was called upon as what I believe was the eighth A’s starter, following a slew of injuries in the rotation. Now he has a bigger role and will need to improve upon his middling 4.7 K/9 that he managed across 25 innings of big league work. He can do it as he was named the A’s organization Pitcher of the Year owing to his 7.5 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and 0.5 HR/9 in Sacramento that added to a 2.68 ERA and more realistic expectations wise 3.30 FIP. Godfrey deserves a shot with the fifth starter role and then I think once Braden returns it is either he or Ross shuffled into the swing role with one of the extra bullpen arms sent back to California’s capital city.
So there you have it, your 2012 Oakland A’s. I am predicting right now that they will go 72-90, three games off the pace from last year. Barring any sudden changes to the three other teams in the AL West, I believe that record should earn them a third place record. At 3am Pacific Time they begin their quest for third place (and hopefully higher) at the Tokyo Dome.