Five questions: Oakland Athleticsby Kevin Lai
March 21, 2012
Who fills the vacant rotation spots?
With Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill departing Oakland, the A’s rotation will rely on some young arms and a couple of surgically repaired elbows. Brandon McCarthy, the A’s new found sabermetric ace, will be the Opening Day starter in Japan.
McCarthy hopes to build off his very successful 2011 campaign when he was able to increase his groundball rate and effectively use a cutter and two-seam fastball in his repertoire. The change in approach, while gradual since his days with Texas, allowed McCarthy to be one of the brighter spots in the A’s rotation, as he led all AL pitchers in FIP with a 2.86 mark.
McCarthy has come a long ways from his prospect days with the White Sox. He should be regarded for the very fact he was willing to change his approach to pitching when most people would have been too stubborn.
Oakland brought in a plethora of pitching prospects by dealing Gonzalez, Cahill, and Andrew Bailey. The ones likely to compete and win a spot in the rotation out of spring training are Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone and Brad Peacock, though they have fewer than 10 starts combined under their belts in the majors.
GM Billy Beane will have to use a combination of the trio from opening day, as Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden continue their rehab from major injuries to their elbow and shoulder, respectively. The rotation could end up being quite formidable even with the losses of Gonzales and Cahill. Anderson has shown up at camp 25 pounds lighter, and Braden is ahead of his rehab schedule and looks to join the rotation in mid-April or early May. Tyson Ross is another young option for the A’s who could see time in a starter/long relief role.
Bartolo Colon was the lone veteran starter acquired by Oakland on a one-year deal. He was likely an insurance sign to hedge all the young arms. Regardless, Colon is looking to have a second straight relatively healthy season. Doug Melvin would like Colon to be his No. 2 starter.
What happens to all the Quadruple-A first basemen?
Usually, teams have no problem filling first base. It’s typicall well-suited for a defensive liability who can hit a ton. Unfortunately, the A’s have a plethora of Quadruple-A defensive liabilities and a defensive phenom who has trouble being an acceptable hitter. This balance act for Beane has truly been his Holy Grail. This season, Chris Carter, Brandon Allen, Daric Barton and Kila Ka’aihue are looking to get on this merry-go-round.
With Manny Ramirez signed to play DH after his 50-game suspension expires, Beane will likely play out the group of four and see whether any sticks in the majors. If none pan out by the end of May, Manny will be around to help out. This will likely be the last chance Carter and Ka’aihue (his first and only chance with the A’s, as the Royals gave up on him already) will get to prove their worth in Oakland.
Allen, acquired from Arizona last trade deadline for Brad Ziegler, likely has the best chance to stick at first base. Barton may be the pseudo-incumbent with more experience at the major league level, but he has digressed at the plate since his 2010 full season.
How will the stadium situation pan out?
This question has been lingering for the past six years. When Dan Haren, Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton were traded for packages of young prospects; the idea was that the incoming players would have the opportunity to become a nucleus of an A’s dynasty in a new stadium. That dream has been kept alive, but now with a new group of prospects. It’s disheartening for A’s fans that it has taken this long to have the dialogue about a new stadium move so very little. The end is near, though.
Bud Selig’s committee will likely rule in favor of Oakland moving to San Jose. The San Jose city council also likely will approve plans for a stadium. A’s owner Lew Wolff seems confident in the situation, since he persuaded team President Michael Crowley and Beane to sign extensions through 2019. It’s highly unlikely the two executives would have agreed to the extensions without any inside information that the deal would be done soon (or maybe some sort of opt-out clause as some have suspected).
All in all, A’s fans are a bit torn. They will be moving on to their fourth city, a feat that’s never been accomplished before by any ballclub. But a new stadium means new revenue streams and, hopefully, not having to say goodbye to young, prime talents, like Gonzalez and Cahill this past offseason.
How does losing Scott Sizemore affect the club?
Oakland was dealt a bad hand in early spring training when it lost starting third basemen Scott Sizemore for the season with a torn ACL. Behind Sizemore, Oakland does not have much depth at third. The A’s will reportedly start the season with Josh Donaldson, who has spent most of his minor league career as a catcher, at the hot corner.
If Donaldson struggles to stay above the Mendoza line, look for Beane to act promptly on the trade market. A few years back, he brought in Jack Hannahan when Eric Chavez went on the disabled list in 2007. Look for the same type of replacement player to show up if Donaldson fails to impress.
Another option is the free agent market. Miguel Tejada has expressed interest in returning to Oakland, but whether Oakland would want him to start at third is another story. The move would be puzzling, if not just for the PR stunt.
Yoenis Cespedes?? Excuse me?
No one saw Yoenis Cespedes going to Oakland—I mean no one. He was rumored all winter to go to either a big-market club or the Marlins. The deal felt very un-Oakland like, but upon further inspection, the move does make some sense. Beane has had all sorts of trouble luring free agents to Oakland, even when the A's were the highest bidder. If he was going to convince anyone to come to the East Bay, it would be a foreigner who has never been to the Coliseum.
The past few big star-potential moves have not worked out in Oakland’s favor (i.e., Matt Holliday, Ben Sheets). Beane has conveyed before to the media that the higher-risk moves are the only option Oakland has due to its poor stadium and reputation.
There is no doubt $36 million is a ton to gamble on Cespedes. If a deal like this was a failure for the Yankees or Boston, it wouldn’t devastate the organization; for Oakland, it could push the A's backwards for several years. Still, the A’s are in dire need of some offense, and Cespedes could provide a good jolt, since no other hitter on the roster is projected by ZiPS to have an OPS+ over 100.
References and Resources
Stats come from Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Think Factory.