This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on Jan. 23 and ending on Feb. 22 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, the offseason changes since then and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We started in the American League East, worked across to the National League, tackled the Central divisions, and now jump to the AL West, going in alphabetical order. Next up, the Oakland A's.
2012 finish: 94-68 (1st place, AL West -- lost 3-2 to Detroit Tigers in ALDS)
LHP Hideki Okajima, LHP Andrew Werner, RHP Chris Resop, RHP Fernando Rodriguez, OF Chris Young, 2B Andy Parrino, SS Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS Jed Lowrie, C John Jaso
LHP Dallas Braden, RHP Tyson Ross, RHP Joey Devine, RHP Brandon McCarthy, RHP Brad Peacock, RHP Jim Miller, RHP Graham Godfrey, RHP Zach Thornton, RHP A.J. Cole, OF Jonny Gomes, OF Collin Cowgill, 1B Chris Carter, 3B Brandon Inge, SS Stephen Drew, SS Cliff Pennington, SS Brandon Hicks, C Max Stassi, C George Kottaras
Why they will improve this year
I'm just going to come out with it right away: This fool picked the A's to finish in last place in 2012. I even proclaimed that it was possible Oakland would lose 100 games. Hey, everyone makes mistakes.
So take my analysis with a grain of salt if you must, but I'm much more confident in this year's version.
Who wouldn't be after last year's crazy run? The A's proved—yet again—that they have one of the top young pitching staffs in baseball. Couple that with a filthy bullpen and a determined offense, and you have a contender in the making.
The A's might not improve on their win total from last year, but they could definitely become more consistent. Towards the end of last season, they relied on dramatic comeback wins to claim the AL West crown. And while there's nothing wrong with that, it just isn't realistic to expect those kinds of wins to continue.
Yet the A's ensured themselves of having a better all-around team by adding depth in the outfield with Chris Young and in the infield with Hiroyuki Nakajima and Jed Lowrie. Replacing Derek Norris at catcher with John Jaso will be a large improvement for Oakland.
With their offseason moves, the A's fortified the two weakest parts of their lineup over the winter.
Add in the likely improvement in the team's young starting rotation and presumably better seasons from young sluggers Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson, and Oakland will be a scary team in the American League.
Why they will regress this year
Everything I just wrote is true. But one can't help thinking the A's were a bit fluky last year.
As mentioned, the walk-offs simply can't be expected to carry this team through another whole season. While massive potential in the rotation exists, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone and A.J. Griffin could regress as hitters start to figure them out in year two.
Similarly, Reddick, Cespedes and Donaldson could struggle. The A's also don't know exactly what they have yet in Nakajima and are basically praying that certain players (Lowrie and Coco Crisp, for example) stay healthy for most of 2013.
I could see the A's slipping this year because the Angels and Mariners both improved in the offseason. It is one thing to silence an Anaheim lineup with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo. It is another thing to take down former MVP Josh Hamilton, too.
With the added competition in the AL West and the collective youth the A's are hoping to ride to another division title, there is plenty of reason to be worried in Oakland. The worst part is, if a rash of injuries hits the A's clubhouse this season, they have traded away a significant amount of minor-league depth.
The system still runs deep, it is just a little more flimsy than in years past.
In a worst-case scenario, the A's drop down to around the .500 mark as the rotation struggles and Cespedes and Reddick regress in the middle of the order.
I highly doubt it will get that bad, but the A's really have to play top-notch baseball all summer long to stay in contention in that division.
The outlook for 2013
I will tread carefully here. Picking the A's to suffer miserably last season clearly backfired.
But in reality, are they that good?
I don't care about the lack of star power on the roster because that has no bearing on how a team performs. But I am worried about the collective inexperience, especially with veterans like Gomes and Braden leaving in the winter.
The A's still have an exciting lineup, powerless as it may be, but they will need hefty contributions from Nakajima, Jaso and Crisp to complement the corner outfielders and Brandon Moss if this team is going to put up some runs.
A rotation comprised of such talent should be able to at least keep the A's in the thick of the playoff race for most of the season, but I'm worried (as with any team that starts a bunch of young arms) about injuries hitting down the stretch. Basically if Oakland suffers any significant injuries, or some of the hitters struggle to maintain last year's success, the A's could be in big trouble.
I think the A's will fall off a little bit, though I wouldn't call it a "regression."
More like a return to normalcy. A return to the type of team they should be. They will still be one of the most fun teams to watch, but I'm topping the A's out at 87 wins this year and a third-place finish in the West.
Potential changes before Opening Day
There is absolutely nothing going on in Billy Beane world, which is something you will rarely read. Beane announced that the A's were done dealing after the Lowrie trade, but then went and snagged Okajima from free agency before re-affirming that they were finally finished with their offseason moves.
I believe Beane—he has put together the team he wants for 2013 by adding two players he has long coveted in Lowrie and Jaso. He has a strong, healthy pitching staff and added some depth both up the middle and in the outfield.
The A's look set to go for Opening Day, barring injuries.
Biggest surprise: Hiroyuki Nakajima
Biggest disappointment: Tommy Milone
Bold prediction: Brett Anderson wins 15 games, finishes top five in the AL in ERA
1. Coco Crisp, CF
2. Seth Smith, DH
3. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
4. Josh Reddick, RF
5. Brandon Moss, 1B
6. Josh Donaldson, 3B
7. John Jaso, C
8. Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS
9. Jed Lowrie, 2B
1. Brett Anderson, LHP
2. Bartolo Colon, RHP
3. Tommy Milone, LHP
4. Jarrod Parker, RHP
5. A.J. Griffin, RHP
Projected finish: 87-75, 3rd place
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.
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