The Oakland A’s have certainly been a model franchise in recent years, time and time again exceeding expectations. They have won at least 88 games in three consecutive seasons, averaging 92.7 wins per year. While that should be the story, the fact of the matter is that last season’s historic collapse is grabbing all the headlines.
After owning the majors’ best record for much of the summer, the A’s inexplicably made some questionable moves to try and help their postseason chances. It completely backfired. The A’s traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, while also sending star slugger Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for Jon Lester.
Oakland limped into the postseason, and then after a solid performance from Lester, proceeded to blow a 5-2 lead entering the 8th inning against the Kansas City Royals in the wild-card game. Now, this team looks nothing like the one that ended 2014. Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Lester, Samardzija, Jed Lowrie, Hammel and Derek Norris are all gone. Such is life when you work for Billy Beane. Let’s take a look at your 2015 A’s.
Coco Crisp (CF) – His average (.246) and slugging percentage (.363) were his lowest in his five seasons with the A’s, but his patience at the plate (64) walks helped boost his on-base percentage (.336) to respectability.
Ben Zobrist (2B) – The A’s traded for Zobrist from the Rays in January. The two-time All-Star can play second and third base as well as all three outfield spots. He also switch-hits. That versatility makes him one of the most underrated players in the game today.
Josh Reddick (RF) – Must find a way to overcome his inability to hit lefties if he wants to play every day. Reddick hit .280 with all 12 of his homers and 46 of his 54 RBIs against righties last year.
Billy Butler (DH) – While it won’t completely make up for the losses of Cespedes and Donaldson, the signing of Butler will at least help the power void. He hit .271 with nine homers and 66 RBIs last year in Kansas City.
Ike Davis (1B) – His stock has plummeted, but the A’s still see some upside. Davis hasn’t been the same since hitting 32 homers for the 2012 Mets. He has homered just 20 times over the past two years combined.
Brett Lawrie (3B) – There’s no way Lawrie will be able to replace Donaldson’s production at third base. Lawrie hasn’t been able to stay healthy and peaked at 125 games in 2012. There’s no denying his raw talent, but he still hasn’t shown it over a full big-league season.
Stephen Vogt (C) – The A’s went from having baseball’s best catching depth last season to lacking it this season. They traded away Derek Norris and John Jason, leaving Vogt as the primary catcher. He started four different positions in the field last year, but only eight at catcher due to a foot injury.
Craig Gentry (LF) – Gentry offers no power, but he has plenty of speed. He stole 20 of 22 bags, including 14 with a southpaw on the mound. He hit .254 and scored 38 runs for the A’s last season.
Marcus Semien (SS) – The A’s are hoping that Semien is the answer as Jed Lowrie’s replacement. Unfortunately, he’ll be raw considering his has started just four big-league games at short.
The A’s go from having one of the most underrated lineups in baseball to one with a ton of question marks. You just don’t replace the production that Donaldson, Moss, Norris, Jaso, Cespedes and Lowrie leave behind. I do like the additions of Butler and Zobrist, who are proven commodities. The A’s are banking on Davis and Lawrie to realize their potential as soon as this season. The A’s did lead the majors in walks (586) last year, and this will be another very patient lineup, which has been a formula for success for Beane’s teams throughout the years.
Sonny Gray (RHP) – The undisputed ace of the staff won 14 games to go with a 3.08 ERA in his first full season. He also led the staff in starts (33), innings (219.0) and strikeouts (183) last year.
Scott Kazmir (LHP) – What a revival Kazmir had last year in Oakland. Unfortunately, it was a tale of two halves. He went 9-2 with a 2.08 ERA in his first 15 starts, but just 6-7 with a 5.00 ERA in his final 17. He may not be able to handle the full workload any more.
Jesse Chavez (RHP) – After spending six seasons in the bullpen, Chavez finally got his chance in the rotation last year. He wound up going 8-8 with a 3.45 ERA over 21 starts and 11 relief appearances. Look for him to take over as a full-time starter in 2015.
Drew Pomeranz (LHP) – After succeeding in both starter and reliever roles last year, Pomeranz deserves a chance to start full-time as well. He posted a 1.62 ERA in 10 relief appearances and a 2.58 ERA in 10 starts.
Jesse Hahn (RHP) – The A’s believe they have found a gem in Hahn after a solid rookie season in Colorado last year. Hahn went 7-4 with a 3.07 ERA with the Padres, and even though it’s a small sample size, the A’s may have just gotten a bargain here.
If you get caught up looking at the no-name staff that the A’s seem to put together every year, you’ll fail to realize how much talent there really is. Beane does his best work with the rotations he churns out every season. While there are no big names among these starting five, there is something to like about all five of them. The biggest name, Kazmir, may be the biggest concern because of the way he fell apart in the second half. Gray is a stud, Chavez posted solid numbers last year in both roles, as did Pomeranz. Hahn showed a lot in his first big-league season with the Padres. Don’t forget that both Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin, who combined for 397 innings in 2013 but didn’t throw a pitch in 2014, are due back from Tommy John surgery at midseason. Once again, this will be one of the most underrated rotations in baseball in 2015.
While the rotation and the lineup underwent huge overhauls this offseason, the bullpen does welcome back some familiar faces. Sean Doolittle won the closer’s role in May by converting his first 10 save chances after Jim Johnson struggled. Unfortunately, he blew the one save that counted against Kansas City in the wild-card game. Doolittle posted an 11.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year, which was the best in the big-leagues among relievers. While Luke Gregerson is gone, righthanders Ryan Cook and Dan Otero return, along with lefties Eric O’Flaherty and Fernando Abad.
Betting Odds (Bovada)
- To Win World Series: 25/1
- To Win AL Pennant: 12/1
- To Win AL West: 4/1
- 2015 Season Win Total: 80.5
Prediction: 4th Place AL West (78-84 – UNDER 80.5)
The A’s have been counted out the last three years, but all they have done is average 92.7 wins during that stretch. I have been hesitant to count them out myself, but I have no other choice but to do so with all they have lost this offseason. You just don’t replace Donaldson, Moss, Lester, Samardzija, Lowrie, Norris and Cespedes.
This lineup has gone from potent to one of the worst in baseball. The A’s are banking on too many players with questions like Lawrie, Reddick and Davis to be consistent. The rotation could keep the A’s competitive, but it won’t be as good as it was a year ago without Lester and Samardzija. I like the Gray and Hahn quite a bit, but Kazmir hasn’t been able to dominate for a full season, and Chavez and Pomeranz haven’t proven they can be full-time starters yet.
Billy Beane has done a great job of finding bargains, and maybe he will again in 2015, but I’m just not buying it. This is easily the least-talented team in the AL West, and the only reason I’m not picking them to finish last is because of the respect I have for Beane. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to see them finish in the cellar of the division.
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