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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.

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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

MLB Daily Balk 5/24 Plus Fred Wilpon and the Mets Mess

Even Mr. Met might not be off limits to Wilpon

Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon Sticks His Entire Foot in His Mouth

The Mets seem to struggle annually in their quest to avoid becoming a punch line to New York baseball fans and fans nationally. This season the Mets are off to a decent start without their ace pitcher Johan Santana and with some of their best players spending time on the disabled list. Then on Monday, the bombshell came from owner Fred Wilpon.

Wilpon evidently felt that blasting his three best everyday players (Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, and David Wright) would (A) make them play better, (B) intimidate the other players on the team into playing better, (C) drive up the potential trade value of the three scorned players, or (D) further decrease the credibility and financial solvency of his franchise. Wilpon might have been angling for A, B, and C; but he ended up with D.

Click here to read the rest of this column

 

AL News/Notes

Rays infielder Elliot Johnson was injured on Monday night in their game in Detroit. The prognosis is that he sprained the capsule around the knee.

Red Sox Dustin Pedroia jammed his left ankle late in the Sox loss on Monday night. He was scheduled for a day off on Tuesday and hopes to return for Wednesday’s game.

  

NL News/Notes

Padres’ manager Bud Black indicated that he would welcome bringing in the fences at notoriously pitcher friendly Petco Park next season.

Edinson Volquez‘ problems have now gotten him demoted to AAA. The Reds have some solid starting pitching depth to withstand his absence for a month or so while he figures things out in the minors. But the Reds really need an effective Volquez if they want to go farther in the playoffs this season.

The Padres have sent Will Venable to AAA and brought up prospect Blake Tekotte from AA. Tekotte was ranked as the Padres #14 prospect before the season.

 

Best of Yesterday May 23

Last Night’s Games  
American  
Tampa Bay 3 Detroit 6
Toronto 7 New York 3
Boston 2 Cleveland 3
Chicago 0 Texas 4
Seattle 8 Minnesota 7 F/10
Oakland 1 Los Angeles 4
National  
Cincinnati 3 Philadelphia 10
Los Angeles 3 Houston 4
Washington 3 Milwaukee 11
St. Louis 3 San Diego 1

 

Top Aces    
Player Team Stats
Alexi Ogando W (5-0) TEX 9 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 6 K, 3 BB
Kyle Lohse W (6-2) STL 8 IP, ER, 5 H, 5 K, BB
Yovani Gallardo W (6-2) MIL 7 IP, ER, 5 H, 9 K, BB
Jered Weaver LAA 7 IP, ER, 6 H, 5 K, 3 BB

 

Three bombs for Hart on Monday

Hitting Heroes    
Player Team Stats
Corey Hart MIL 3-4, 3 HR, 7 RBI, 3 R
Jim Thome MIN 2-3, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 2 R
Asdrubal Cabrera CLE 3-4, HR, 2 RBI, R
Bill Hall HOU 4-4, 2 R
Josh Hamilton TEX 2-4, HR, RBI, 2 R

 

Walkoff Winner    
Hunter Pence HOU Singled home Michael Bourn in 9th

  

What Happened (!!)Yesterday?

Athletics sometimes closer Brian Fuentes went off on manager Bob Geren following Monday night’s game against the Angels. With six losses already, it sounds like Fuentes is trying to pass the buck for his shortcomings this season. So does this mean that Fuentes now on the trade block? Or will Geren now be on the hot seat?

 

Streaks of the Day

  • Brewers Ryan Braun extended his hit streak to 13 games

 

Top Tuesday Matchups

7:05 EDT Reds (Cueto 2-1, 1.45) at Phillies (Worley 2-0, 1.13)

7:05 EDT Red Sox (Beckett 3-1, 1.73) at Indians (Carmona 3-4, 4.76)

7:05 EDT Rays (Davis 4-4, 3.47) at Tigers (Verlander 4-3, 2.96)

7:05 EDT Braves (Jurrjens 5-1, 1.80) at Pirates (Morton 5-1, 2.62)

10:15 EDT Marlins (Nolasco 3-0, 3.32) at Giants (Cain 3-2, 3.28)

 

Yesterday’s Balks: 2

  • Cole Hamels of the Phillies against the Reds
  • Bud Norris of the Astros against the Dodgers

AL West Weekly Overview April 12

AL West Weekly Overview April 12

As of April 11      
AL West W L PCT
Texas 9 1 0.900
Los Angeles 5 5 0.500
Oakland 5 5 0.500
Seattle 3 7 0.300

 

Texas Rangers

Pitching

The defending American League champions picked up where they left off last season and have started 2011 as the hottest team in baseball. Although their hitting got the headlines against the Red Sox on opening weekend, their pitching has been phenomenal. Only Colby Lewis has an ERA over 3.00 among the starters and their combined record is 8-1.

Closer Neftali Feliz continues to be great at the end of games with 4 for 4 in save chances. It’s going to be tough for the Rangers pitchers to continue this production, but until they stop, the Rangers will continue to pull away in the AL West.

Lineup

The Rangers offense has been a sabermetrician’s dream as the Rangers are only hitting .265 as a team (6th in AL) and Josh Hamilton, at .316, is their only fulltime .300 hitter. But they are slugging over .500 and have a team OPS of .850 going into April 12. The Rangers have blasted 18 homers and have 24 more extra base hits. When they hit the ball, they’ve been driving it. Both of their new additions, Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli, have hit 3 HRs each. Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler are first and second in the majors in homers.

Overview

The only notable injury that the Rangers have is the spring injury to starter Tommy Hunter. But with the emergence of Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Alexi Ogando who are all 2-0 could move Hunter to the bullpen upon his return. Also, offseason pickup Brandon Webb can now take his time in preparing to join the rotation. The Rangers can slowly ease the former NL Cy Young winner back into the fold with the performance of the pitching staff.

The Rangers have been outstanding and these early season performances can’t last an entire season. But you can’t take the wins off the board and there’s no sense for a baseball team to pace itself in this marathon race to win enough games to secure a postseason berth.

The key has been the pitching and the apparent depth that the Rangers have. A team can navigate the regular season with above average to good starting pitching and come out on top with superior hitting. But to win in the postseason, a team needs frontline starters and it will be interesting to see if one of their pitchers can become the kind of ace that can lead a staff through October.

Los Angeles Angels

Pitching

The Angels pitching has been very good through the first 10 games as they have a 3.17 ERA and are ranked fourth in the AL. The problem has been in the bullpen where they have already blown 3 of 6 save opportunities. That’s been addressed with the demotion of Fernando Rodney and the promotion of rookie Jordan Walden to the closer’s role.

Jared Weaver has been outstanding in his three starts as he’s 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA. His 15 strikeout game on Sunday has helped to make him the early favorite for the Cy Young award (I know it’s TOO early). Fellow starters Dan Haren and Ervin Santana have pitched well also and their front 3 should be as good as anybody in the AL. Scott Kazmir has been placed on the DL and could end up in the minors or released if he can’t rediscover his form.

Lineup

The Angels hitters have fared well also as they are hitting .278 (4th in AL) and have a .336 OBP. The numbers get even better if Vernon Wells abysmal production (.091 AVG/.149 OBP/.114 SLG) is stripped away. The only other hitter struggling is #9 hitter Peter Bourjos with a .212 average. The Angels have platooned their catchers and if rookie Hank Conger can win more playing time, this offense should be even better this season.

Overview

The Angels have tried to address this biggest deficiency this season and that’s the bullpen. Time will tell if any more changes need to be made or if they need to acquire a closer. The rotation needs some stability at the back as their 4th and 5th starters have struggled and Scott Kazmir looks like he might be finished as an effective major league pitcher.

Tyler Chatwood was their #2 overall prospect and could be good, but he’s essentially skipping AAA (1 start in 2010) and might need to retrace his steps to the big leagues if he struggles. Joel Pineiro will be back soon and should be able to give the Angels a fourth decent starting pitcher.

The Rangers have run out to their quick start, but the Angels could be right with them if they hadn’t blown those three saves. But even though it’s early, the next week is critical as the Angels complete their Indians series and then head to Chicago to play the White Sox. They don’t want to be struggling as they head to Texas next week for their first matchup with the Rangers.

Oakland Athletics

Pitching

The A’s will go as far as their good young pitching takes them this season. They have the 2nd best ERA in the AL right now and have surrendered the least amount of walks, while striking out the third most in the AL. Trevor Cahill just got rewarded with a long-term contract and he’s pitched well in his 2 starts (1-0 with 1.42 ERA). Dallas Braden is the only starter with an ERA over 4.00 with a 4.15. Gio Gonzalez has been outstanding with his 0.68 ERA and 2-0 record.

In the bullpen, Brian Fuentes has filled in nicely for injured closer Andrew Bailey going 4 for 4 in save opportunities. The rest of the bullpen has struggled some and that’s where the A’s are going to need consistent performance to preserve their good work from their starting pitching. Bailey still hasn’t thrown and isn’t expected back until the end of April at the earliest.

Lineup

David DeJesus leads the A’s regulars with a .250 batting average. Their .224 average is only 11th in the AL and their .280 OBP is 12th. That’s not Moneyball results right there. Daric Barton (.364) and DeJesus (.308) are the only regulars with an OBP over .300. The lineup only has 5 HRs and is slugging .350, which is 9th in the AL. The A’s didn’t start the season with a great lineup and bottom of the lineup regulars Kevin Kouzmanoff (.182 AVG/.194 OBP/.242 SLG) and Cliff Pennington (.160/.154/.160) could be on the chopping block if they don’t turn around.

Overview

The A’s struggling offense needs veterans like Hideki Matsui, Coco Crisp, and Mark Ellis all need to produce to give their pitchers a chance. If they continue to struggle, the A’s will inevitably continue to fall behind the Rangers and Angels and might fall too far back to make a comeback.

The A’s pitching has been as good as advertised and will be the key for their chances in the AL West this season. GM Billy Beane is as good as any GM at wheeling and dealing in the middle of the season to acquire the pieces needed to win a spot in the postseason. If the A’s pitchers can keep the A’s close to .500, then Beane will find a way to bolster the lineup before the trade deadline.

The  A’s have a couple more in Chicago before heading home to face the struggling Tigers. That should provide the offense an opportunity to get things turned around.

Seattle Mariners

Pitching

The Mariners staff has pitched as poorly as the lineup has hit. The M’s are 11th in the AL in ERA at 4.81 despite playing all but 3 games in Oakland or at Safeco. Last year’s Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez had a poor start on Monday night, but the offense ironically rallied to win the game. He’s 1-1 now with a 4.50 ERA. The Mariners are going to need to find other starters to pitch well consistently in order to stay alive in the AL West. Doug Fister has pitched well (2.31 ERA) but is 0-2 due to poor run support. But Jason Vargas and Eric Bedard have only pitched 19 innings in their four starts.

The bullpen has been as inconsistent as the starters and they are going to be tasked with holding the games close to give their offense a chance for more late inning rallies like the one on Monday against Cleveland.

Lineup

Not much was expected out of this group and they have met expectations. Even Ichiro is batting below .300 and the team is hitting .225 (10th in AL). Their 5 HRs are tied for 12th in the AL and their .327 slugging is 13th in the AL. The lineup is going to heavily rely on Milton Bradley, Jack Cust, and the development of Justin Smoak for power. If they don’t produce, and Cust hasn’t yet, the Mariners could approach triple digit losses.

The Mariners lineup showed some resiliency in their late game comeback against the Indians from a 7-1 deficit going into the 8th inning on Monday night. They are going to need more timely hitting and walks to offset their lack of HR power.

Overview

The Mariners obviously need King Felix to pitch like he has in recent seasons and hope that they score enough to reward his efforts. But for any chance at remaining in the AL West race this season, the other starters have to be effective. Fister has done well and needs to continue but they really need Bedard to be the pitcher they thought they were acquiring three years ago.

The Mariners have a couple more with the Jays and then go to Kansas City for four games with the Royals. Those are the games that the Mariners have to win to remain alive in the AL West through at least April and early May. It’s early, but losses to other teams expected to be below .500 would make their chances for a winning season almost impossible.

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.