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Oakland Athletics Opening Day Primer

2011 Record: 74-88 Manager: Bob Melvin

The Athletics are embarking on yet another rebuilding job on-the-fly. The A’s were hoping to be a surprise contender last season with a good, young starting staff high in potential, but that staff was beset by injuries and never realized their potential. With the Angels and Rangers gearing up for a huge showdown in the AL West, GM Billy Beane has recalibrated the A’s roster with an eye on hitting the ground running in 2013.

Player in the spotlight: Yoenis Cespedes CF

The A’s uncharacteristically broke the bank in signing Cuban defector Cespedes in the winter to a 4-year, $36M contract. Cespedes brings some big power to the table and has good speed. He stands to be a major contributor and all-star candidate for years to come. He’ll be the key to a rejuvenated lineup that Beane hopes will be ready to compete next season.

Biggest question mark in the lineup: Manny Ramirez DH/Flake

Manny’s back and he’ll join the A’s after sitting out 50 games after getting his 100 game suspension shortened. Who knows what Manny has left, but the A’s are a perfect last chance for his career and if he proves that he can still hit well, then Beane might be able to swing him for a borderline prospect at the trade deadline.  Otherwise, Ramirez will just get in the way of the development of the A’s younger players who need major league at bats.

Pitcher in the spotlight: Brandon McCarthy

McCarthy enters 2012 as the ace of a depleted starting staff that consists of retreads and prospects. McCarthy was able to rejuvenate his career last season after not pitching in the big leagues since 2009. The A’s need McCarthy to make his starts consistently and hold down the fort until Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden comes back. McCarthy will be a free agent at the end of the season so that means that he could be moved somewhere to help this team retool for 2013.

Biggest pitching question mark: Tom Milone

Milone came over from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez deal where he won 12 games in each of the past 3 minor league seasons. Milone also added another win in his decent September call up last year. His development is in the spotlight because he might be the only starter among the current staff that will be around when they’re ready to compete for the AL West title next year or 2014.

Prospect with a chance to make an impact this year: Jarrod Parker SP

Parker was the key piece of the Trevor Cahill deal with the Diamondbacks in the winter. Parker was the D’backs top prospect before the trade. The A’s should have Parker in the rotation by midseason at the latest. .

Prediction: 3rd in AL West

This is an intriguing group of players that Beane has assembled. They’re not built to win this year, but who knows?  Beane has put together overachieving rosters before. But if all goes as planned, this team should get Braden and Anderson back and develop a couple more starters while getting their young lineup experience for next year. Then they should be looking at an 85 win team going into next season with the potential for more if things go well. This year, .500 is a more realistic goal.

MLB Daily Balk 5/25 Plus Geren’s Troubles in Oakland

Umpires aren't the only people Geren likes to argue with

Is Athletics Manager Bob Geren in Trouble in Oakland?

Geren was called out after Monday’s game by veteran reliever Brian Fuentes following an 8th inning blowup on the mound where Fuentes blew his 6th save opportunity of the season. They discussed their issues before Tuesday’s game and supposedly cleared the air. There is obviously more to the story than has been revealed and former A’s closer Huston Street chimed in from Denver. He called his former manager his “least favorite person I have ever encountered in sports.”

While the A’s brain trust probably takes former players inputs into their managing situation with a grain of salt, Street’s immediate involvement with this situation has to be considered. It’s been three years since Geren and Street got into it and there have been other problems with players.

Geren is obviously a no-nonsense, dictatorial type of manager that doesn’t compromise often. With the A’s improved level of talent and postseason aspirations, GM Billy Beane is going to have to keep a close eye on his manager/player relationships to make sure that he’s got the right guy for the job.  

Geren hasn’t has a winning season since taking over before the 2007 season. The 2006 team won the AL West under former manager Ken Macha and changed managers following their 4-0 loss in the ALCS to the Tigers.

Geren’s lack of winning experience, combined with potential problems with players, could lead the A’s to look for a more player friendly manager to take the A’s back to the postseason. Some managers are better suited for rebuilding teams like the A’s have had over the past few seasons and other managers are better when the talent has already been assembled and is looking to take the next step.

Perhaps the A’s might see their situation in this light and decide to move to a proven playoff manager later in the season. Maybe Beane will patch up things with Art Howe and bring him back?

 

AL News/Notes

Angels Scott Kazmir struggled in his minor league rehab start on Tuesday. He didn’t get through two innings and his return to Anaheim has to be in question.

The Twins Joe Mauer is going to DH in a rehab game on Wednesday. The Twins expect to have a better idea for a timetable for his return after he’s played a few games. Mike Cuddyer missed Tuesday’s game with a sore hip.

Dan Johnson cleared waivers and the Rays were able to send him to AAA.

  

NL News/Notes

The Phillies are planning to activate Jose Contreras either today or Thursday. Also, Shane Victorino is progressing and could be heading on a minor league rehab stint next week.

Barry Zito threw before the Giants game and should be heading to Arizona soon to begin his rehab for his sprained right foot. Whether his spot in the rotation will be there is up in the air. Ryan Vogelsong has pitched really well in Zito’s absence. It’s possible that Madison Bumgarner might get sent down for a little while to make room when Zito returns.

The Braves Tim Hudson is on target to only miss Wednesday’s start and should be able to return for next Monday.

The Cubs lost their third starting pitcher as Matt Garza went on the DL on Tuesday. They expect to get Randy Wells back this weekend. With Kevin Slowey reportedly available in Minnesota, perhaps GM Jim Hendry gives them a call as the Cubs at least need depth, if not more quality starting pitchers.

The Brewers might get CF Nyjer Morgan back for this weekend as Morgan plays in extended spring training games in Arizona.

 

Best of Yesterday May 24

Last Night’s Games  
American  
Kansas City 3 Baltimore 5
Boston 4 Cleveland 2
Tampa Bay 6 Detroit 7
Toronto 4 New York 5
Chicago 8 Texas 6
Seattle 2 Minnesota 4
Oakland 6 Los Angeles 1
National  
Arizona 4 Colorado 12 GM 1
Cincinnati 6 Philadelphia 3
Atlanta 2 Pittsburgh 0
New York 1 Chicago 11
Los Angeles 5 Houston 4
Washington 6 Milwaukee 7
Arizona 5 Colorado 2 GM 2
St. Louis 3 San Diego 2 F/11
Florida 5 San Francisco 1

 

Top Aces    
Player Team Stats
Nick Blackburn W (4-4) MIN 9 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 6 K
Jair Jurrjens W (6-1) ATL 7 2/3 IP, 0 R, 6 H, 4 K, BB
Ricky Nolasco W (4-0) FLA 8 1/3 IP, ER, 7 H, 5 K, 2 BB
Joe Saunders W (1-5) ARI 8 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 4 K, BB
Guillermo Moscoso W (1-0) OAK 6 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 3 K, 3 BB

 

Hitting Heroes    
Player Team Stats
Carlos Quentin CWS 3-5, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R
Carlos Gonzalez COL 2-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 R
David DeJesus OAK 3-4, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R
Alex Avila DET 2-4, 2 HR. 3 RBI, 2 R
Kelly Johnson ARI 2-3, HR, 2 RBI, 3 R

 

Walkoff Winners    
Adam Jones BAL 2-run HR in 9th
Mark Teixeira NYY Single in 9th

  

The scene at the Rangers game courtesy of @evan_p_grant on Twitter

What Happened (!!)Yesterday?

The Rangers and White Sox played past 1:00 CDT due to the storms in the Dallas area. The fans were evacuated from their seats during the tornado threat. You have to wonder why they couldn’t suspend the game and restart it before Wednesday’s game.

 

Streaks of the Day

  • Giants Buster Posey extended his hit streak to 12 games
  • Brewers Ryan Braun ended his hit streak at 13 games

 

Top Wednesday Matchups

2:05 EDT White Sox (Floyd 5-3, 3.88) at Rangers (Wilson 4-3, 3.42)

6:35 EDT Cardinals (Carpenter 1-4, 4.88) at Padres (Latos 1-6, 4.60)

7:05 EDT Reds (Wood 3-3, 5.17) at Phillies (Halladay 6-3, 2.21) — ESPN2

10:05 EDT Athletics (Cahill 6-1, 1.79) at Angels (Santana 2-4, 4.18)

 

Yesterday’s Balks: 1

  • Doug Fister of the Mariners against the Twins

Oakland Athletics Opening Day Overview

Oakland Athletics Opening Day Overview

Manager: Bob Geren     GM: Billy Beane

  Lineup:
1 CF Coco Crisp
2 1B Daric Barton
3 RF David DeJesus
4 LF Josh Willingham
5 DH Hideki Matsui
6 C Kurt Suzuki
7 2B Mark Ellis
8 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff
9 SS Cliff Pennington

 

Crisp had a solid bounce back season in Oakland after signing from KC. He’s never been a great OBP guy and last year’s numbers were right in line with that. He’s not a long-term solution for the A’s in CF but can help them win games and maybe fetch a prospect or two in late July.  

Barton is Mr. OBP and led the AL in walks last season. He’s a high OBP guy with very modest, well, mediocre home run power. The A’s need him to remain the on base machine that he is and take his extra base power from close to 50 XBH to over 60 this season. At 25, he still has a lot of room to grow and could eventually become a 20+ HR guy to go along with his outstanding walk rate. He’s also one of the best fielding first basemen in the league.

DeJesus was rescued from Kansas City in the offseason and can play all of the outfield positions. He tore a ligament in his thumb that ended his season at 91 games. He’s a potential leadoff replacement for Crisp is they can find more powerful production for the #3 hole as he’s got a .360 career OBP after getting on at .384 last season.   

Willingham brings a big bat from DC and, of course, a good eye at the plate. It will be interesting to see how long he stays in Oakland as he’s a free agent at the end of the season. With Chris Carter waiting patiently at AAA for an opportunity in left field, Willingham is going to have to produce fairly quickly to stay in the lineup fulltime.

Matsui is a shell of his former Godzilla self. He still hit over 20 HRs last season with the Angels, but at 37 his best days are behind him. Unlike most decisions by Billy Beane, this signing looks more like a gate attraction signing rather than a good baseball move with prospects who could step in and equal or exceed what Matsui will do.

Suzuki took a step back last season as he had his worst average, OBP, and slugging. The A’s gave him a long term contract last year and need him to get back to the solid 2009 numbers and improve on those.

Ellis has been in Oakland forever and he could be done at the end of the year since his contract is expiring and Jemile Weeks is waiting. He’s a little pricey at $6M, but could be a solid addition to a team in the pennant race in late July. Philly could be an option if Utley doesn’t get healthier. Until then, the A’s will hope that he hits in the .290s again and plays his usual good defense.

Kouzmanoff came over from San Diego before last season and hit 16 HRs, but didn’t get on base (less than .300 OBP). He’s not a typical Beane type of player and should be somebody the A’s will be looking to replace as long as he’s the starting third baseman.

Pennington brings a mediocre bat with good speed. The good news for A’s fans is that their best prospect, Grant Green, is a shortstop who should be up no later than early next season.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Trevor Cahill
2 LHP Brett Anderson
3 LHP Gio Gonzalez
4 LHP Dallas Braden
5 RHP Brandon McCarthy

 

Cahill wasn’t on the opening day roster last season but starts this season. He had a tremendous breakout season in his second year in Oakland. While it might be difficult to expect a repeat season based on his K-BB ratio, he can come close if he can improve his strikeout rate.

Anderson might be the best unknown starter in the AL. While Cahill and Braden got a lot of attention last year, Anderson shook off early arm trouble and posted a 2.80 ERA. His win total should increase is he can start working later in the games (112 IP/19 GS), but the future looks bright for this 23 year old. If he can return to his 2009 strikeout rate and start over 30 games, he could make a run at the Cy Young award.

Gonzalez seems to have it all. He exceeded 200 IP for the first time last year and won 15 games. He struck out as many hitters as got hits (171). The next step this season is to further improve his BB rate and get it near 3 per 9 IP. If he does that, he could push his win total up near 18.

All Braden did last season was pitch a perfect game. He’s not a guy who brings the heat but he works the corners with off speed pitches and keeps the ball in the park. He’s not going to be a big winner on a team with a modest offense, but he takes the ball every five days and gives the A’s a chance to win as his 3.50 ERA last season shows. As the A’s continue to develop pitchers and Braden increases his salary in arbitration, the likelihood that he gets traded increases. That could happen later this season or in the winter.

McCarthy hasn’t pitched a full season since 2006. He’s suffered a number of injuries and probably won’t last the whole season without a trip to the DL. But he pitched well in AAA last season and again in Venezuela over the winter so the A’s signed him. The word on him in spring training was that he was looking good and his spot in the rotation is testament to that. Beane seems to make gambles that pay off and this one might as well.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Andrew Bailey(DL)/LHP Brian Fuentes
SET RHP Grant Balfour
  LHP Jerry Blevins
  LHP Craig Breslow
  LHP Bobby Cramer
  RHP Michael Wuertz
  RHP Brad Ziegler

 

Bailey is a solid pitcher when healthy but he missed time last year with elbow problems and will begin this season on the DL. The A’s will need him to be healthy to potentially surprise the rest of baseball this year.

Fuentes seems like he should be on the brink of becoming a situational lefty but still remains a viable candidate to close out games like he did for the Angels last season before his trade to the Twins. He’ll start this season as the A’s closer with Bailey out and could be called upon a few more times considering Bailey’s injury history.

Balfour got a two year deal for $8M to come over from the Rays where he was very good over the past three seasons. He another example of how the A’s have built a very good bullpen that should help to shorten their games and make their young starters winners more often.

Blevins is more of a lefty specialist who will benefit from having Balfour face right handed hitters late in the game. Breslow has a live arm but can get into trouble in smaller ballparks where his propensity to give up fly balls hurts him more on the road. Cramer came out of nowhere (literally) to pitch well in four starts last season and will pitch in long relief to start the season. Wuertz and Ziegler will back up the rest of the bullpen.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 1B Chris Carter
2 RHP Tyson Ross
3 OF Michael Taylor

 

Carter is the A’s top AAA prospect and can play LF as well. He could get a look if Willingham or Matsui struggles. Ross didn’t make the team in the spring after starting last year as the 5th starter. He’ll be in the mix if they need to add an injury replacement or somebody’s ineffective.  Taylor was a highly regarded Phillies prospect that came through Toronto for Brett Wallace. He’s got all of the tools and plays center field. If Crisp struggles or gets traded, it should open the door for Taylor.

Three Questions:

1. Will the young Athletics rotation continue to pitch well?

  • This staff shouldn’t sneak up on anybody this season and if they can fulfill expectations, they should be in the AL West race all season long. While not as accomplished as the Big Three of Hudson, Zito, and Mulder ten years ago, this Big Three of Cahill, Anderson, and Gonzalez has the potential to be just as good.

2. Can the Athletics lineup provide at least average production?

  • The pitching is going to be at the top of the league, but the key will be if the offense can score enough runs to win more than they lose. Once again Billy Beane has taken chances on older players, high OBP players, and players too expensive for KC. If at least a few of these guys pan out, then the A’s can keep it close so Beane can make a deadline deal or two in late July.

3. What will Billy Beane do to make this team better?

  • When the A’s were going to the playoffs with their previous generation of players, Beane would always be working the phones and finding a handful of deals to give the team the ammunition to make a late season push. No team used to be better record-wise after the trade deadline than the A’s. With a pitching staff capable of leading a team to the postseason once again, how will Beane address the offensive needs of this club as the season goes on? You can probably expect a player heading to free agency whose team will need to eat a portion of his contract to make the deal.

 

Projection

The A’s have all the pitching to make a run at the Rangers in the AL West. The advantage for the A’s is Beane’s proven ability to work the phones to improve a solid team with good pitching and make it great for the stretch run. If he’s able to pull the right strings, the A’s could win close to 90 games and claim their first division title since 2006.