With spring training over, the A’s are now set to start a brand new season in which they are expected to be serious playoff contenders. While the A’s are the reigning AL West champions, there are a few serious questions about Oakland’s contender status as we enter the new season.
Billy Beane and the rest of Oakland’s front office spent the winter months retooling and revamping Oakland’s roster, but while the team does boast added depth now, the A’s still have a few serious questions surrounding the state of their infield. Beane added a few pieces here and there this offseason to bolster his infield after the team lost Stephen Drew to free agency.
The team went out and signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima to anchor Drew’s vacated spot, but Nakajima experienced a very forgettable spring for the Athletics. He also starts the year injured. With Nakajima now on the 15-day disabled list to open the year, many of us are beginning to set our eyes on Jed Lowrie as Oakland’s temporary solution to a seemingly long-lasting problem at short.
Aside from Nakajima’s shortcomings, the A’s should have some concern about whether or not Brandon Moss can handle the every day duties at first base this year. Last year Moss teamed up with Chris Carter, who now resides with the Astros in Houston, and was part of Oakland’s “two-headed monster” at first base. Together the duo tallied 37 HR and 91 RBI last season.
With Carter out of the picture, the A’s will hand the job over to Moss, who hit .291/.358/.596 with 21 HR and 53 RBI last year. While Moss’ power is definitely the real deal, the A’s slugger could find himself battling against slumps throughout the new year if he is unable to cut down on his 30 percent strikeout rate from last year. He will also have to adjust to left-handed pitching this year as well with Carter, who primarily got the nod against lefties last year, out of the picture.
Over on the other side of the diamond at third base exists another possible problem for the A’s this year. Josh Donaldson, who was Oakland’s starting third baseman at the end of the season, may not be a long-term option for Oakland at third. The A’s don’t have a great amount of depth there at the position, but the team is holding out the hope that Donaldson, who performed well late in the season last year, can carry his own weight at third. Donaldson did have a decent spring this year, but a lot of questions still remain whether or not he can provide the stability Oakland so desperately needs at third.
The team’s biggest strength is their starting pitching, but the bullpen is not to be overlooked, either. Brett Anderson headlines a rotation that includes fellow youngsters Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, and Dan Straily. With Anderson health is the biggest concern, as the young lefty has had his share of injuries. He didn’t see much action last year after coming off Tommy John surgery, but did manage to post a win in the ALDS against the Tigers last year.
Parker is also a risk for injury, but the A’s are banking on the success of their starting pitching to help guide them to the post-season once again in 2013. Guys like Parker, who won 13 games, and Milone are expected to continue their development and help a rotation that was ranked as one of the better staffs in baseball last year. The back-end of the rotation includes Griffin and Straily, but the latter could be replaced once Bartolo Colon serves out the remainder of his suspension.
Bottom Line: The A’s won the division last year thanks in part to great depth, strong pitching, and a little bit of luck. If the rotation stays healthy and avoids any bumps and bruises, the A’s should be in decent shape this year. The offense remains the team’s biggest question and a few questions still remain about the stability of the team’s infield. Eyes will surely be placed on guys like Moss, Josh Reddick, and Yoenis Cespedes to see whether or not the A’s success last year can carry over into 2013.
Projected Finish: 90-72, 2nd AL West.
I see the A’s experiencing a little bit of a slump here and there, but nothing too major that would cause a serious dent in their playoff hopes. Guys like Parker and Milone are going to experience problems, as most young players do, but they will likely get better as the season progresses. The bullpen will remain sharp with the hard throwing Grant Balfour leading the way and the pitching overall will prove to be the team’s biggest strength once again this year. Offensively, the A’s will be led by Yoenis Cespedes, who is in line for an even better 2013 campaign. He’s got serious talent and should be a very good player in Oakland’s lineup. Moss will likely see a drop off in his batting average if his strikeouts don’t go down and Reddick, who broke out last year, will likely see a drop in some major offensive categories as well. Overall, however, the A’s could definitely challenge the Angels for the division crown this year, but I’m guessing the boys in green-and-gold will get their ticket to the playoffs via the 1st Wild Card spot.