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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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Washington Nationals Opening Day Overview

Washington Nationals Opening Day Overview

Manager: Jim Riggleman               GM: Mike Rizzo

  Lineup:
1 SS Ian Desmond
2 RF Jayson Werth
3 3B Ryan Zimmerman
4 1B Adam LaRoche
5 LF Michael Morse
6 CF Rick Ankiel
7 2B Danny Espinosa
8 C Ivan Rodriguez
9 Pitcher

 

Desmond’s hitting in the leadoff spot is more a case of hope than anything. He struggled to get on base last season with a .303 OBP. That’s way too low for any spot above 8th in the batting order, but especially leading off. The problem doesn’t lie with Desmond’s ability to hit, but his patience and ability to draw a walk. Even if he hits .300 he might not make it on base more than .340. Espinosa or Ankiel could be here sooner than later.  

Werth is buying dinner. And he will every night for the next 7 years. Despite the big contract, hitting Werth second isn’t a bad idea. He works pitchers deep into counts which allows base stealers to run and he hits a lot of doubles that can score leadoff hitters from first base. He also walks a good deal and carries a career OBP of .367. If he hits second, the fans need to keep an eye on his runs scored rather than his RBI totals.

Zimmerman is a solid pro and one of the five best third basemen in baseball. He continues to improve his averages (AVG/OBP/SLG) and play a solid hot corner. If Desmond can get on at a normal leadoff rate, then Zimmerman could be in the MVP race if the Nationals are close to .500.

LaRoche comes over after a solid year with the Diamondbacks where he registered his third consecutive 25 HR season. He should provide solid protection for Zimmerman. He’s got a two year deal so the Nats will show patience with prospect Chris Marrero.

Morse slugged .519 in about 100 games last season for the Nats. If he could double the 30 extra base hits he slugged last year, he could be a viable #5 hitter with 60 XBH. While his walk total wasn’t great, he still got on base over .350. If he can perform for 150 games like he did last year, the Nats are that much closer to getting to .500.

Ankiel was bad last season after being traded to the Braves and wasn’t much better with the Royals. He’s going to play right now because they don’t have another reasonable option, but Werth is a viable candidate to move over to center field later in the season. The Nats are going to have to improve here at some point to make a run at .500.

Espinosa starts down in the #7 spot but he’s destined for greater things. Despite struggling in his September call-up, Espinosa was one of three minor leaguers to hit 20 HRs and steal 20 bases.  He could find his way into the top two spots in the order if he can hit .280 or so.

Pudge is less than 200 hits away from 3000 and will probably stick around to get it. Hopefully for Nats fans, he doesn’t hold up the development of prospect Wilson Ramos who will back up Pudge this season. But experience being needed for Ramos, there’s no better tutor to learn under than the future first ballot hall of famer.

  Starting Pitching
1 RHP Livan Hernandez
2 LHP John Lannan
3 RHP Jordan Zimmerman
4 RHP Jason Marquis
5 LHP Tom Gorzelanny

 

This rotation seems to be missing something? Never mind. Strasburg will return next year. Livan took the hill on opening day again and will anchor the staff. After four consecutive poor seasons, Livan had a really solid one, despite the wins and losses. If you want to know what durability looks like, Livan has pitched in at least 180 innings for 13 consecutive seasons. He should be solid contributor again as Nats Park is a fairly good pitching ballpark without any wind blowing out.

Lannan would make a good 4 or 5 starter, but on the Nats he’s a 2. He did improve greatly after spending some quality time in AAA so hopefully for the Nats Lannan continues to pitch better than the first half of last season.

Zimmerman had the Tommy John surgery in 2009 and didn’t look too bad in his brief time last season. He’s a potential #2 starter behind Strasburg when he returns and we should see greater improvement since another six months has gone by since his surgery. Usually TJ surgery patients are back after 18 months and that’s about now. With the improved lineup, Zimmerman could be a sleeper to lead the staff in wins with 12-14.

Marquis is like a fireman who pumps gas and not water onto the fire. Well, that was last year when Marquis had elbow trouble that caused him to have surgery. His last few starts were good and the Nats are now hoping that he’s the pitcher that they thought they were getting last year. In 2009 with the Rockies, Marquis won 15 games with an ERA of about 4.00. If he does that this season, the Nats will either be at or above .500 and might be able to steal a prospect or two from a contender needing another arm.

Gorzelanny has now been with the Pirates, Cubs, and the Washington Generals, um, Nationals. Despite that, he’s only one game under .500 for his career. He’s pretty solid when he only walks a hitter every 3 innings and gets into trouble when he makes it every 2 innings. Got that? It’s pretty obvious but that’s going to be the difference in him winning 10-12 games this season for the Nats or being out of the rotation by June.

  Bullpen
CL RHP Drew Storen/LHP Sean Burnett
SET  
  RHP Tyler Clippard
  LHP Doug Slaten
  RHP Todd Coffey
  RHP Brian Broderick
  RHP Chad Gaudin

 

Storen underwhelmed enough in spring training that Burnett was given half of the closer’s job. Burnett probably should be the full time closer as he’s been really effective the past two seasons. Last year, he increased his K-BB ratio to almost 3-1, which is where you want your closer to be. Storen has lots of potential and pitched pretty well last year as a rookie. With Burnett sharing the role, Storen will be eased into spots where he’ll probably avoid good lefties.

Clippard had a good and very lucky season last year. He went 11-8 as a middle reliever. Of course, he blew leads in five of those “vulture” wins. But his ERA was a solid 3.07 and he’ll probably setup in the 7th and 8th innings with more winning opportunities with an average starting staff at best.

Slaten is a situational lefty who was solid last year. Coffey was solid with the Brewers two years ago but was bad last year. He’ll get some middle relief work. Broderick came out of nowhere to win a spot and Gaudin is a veteran who could end up starting if needed or work long relief.

  Farm Prospects who could help in 2011
1 OF Bryce Harper
2 LHP Tom Milone
3 RHP Cole Kimball

 

You’re going to hear it here first. Harper will be in DC by the July trade deadline. The Nationals don’t sell a lot of tickets and the Strasburg phenomenon last season showed what kind of box office draw a prodigy could be. If Harper is half the player that the talent evaluators think he is, then he will earn his way up by then. It might even be sooner if he’s that good and Ankiel is that bad as Werth can play center pretty well. Milone has gone 12-5 the past two minor league seasons with an ERA below 3.00. He’ll start in AAA and could get a look as soon as he’s established there. Kimball is a reliever who could be up sometime in the middle of the season if there’s a need.

Three Questions:

1. Can the pitching staff pitch well enough for the Nationals to sniff .500?

  • This staff is fairly mediocre as constituted but the potential for comeback seasons for Lannan and Marquis and a breakout season for Zimmerman should give the Nats hope. If Livan pitches decent and he’s only the third best starter, then they could be solid. It might take a rookie like Milone to make it happen.

2. When will we see Bryce Harper in the Nationals outfield?

  • Let’s face it. This might be the biggest story for the fate of the Nationals franchise. This guy is projected to be a monster. The comparisons are to a bigger Mickey Mantle type of player and nobody’s laughing at those types of comparisons. If he is tearing it up in the minors, why wouldn’t the Nats just keep moving him along? Some of the greats began their careers under the age of 20 and that’s where everybody is projecting Harper. Robin Yount didn’t even play minor league ball. He was the third pick in the 1973 draft and debuted on opening day in 1974 at 18. Yount didn’t turn 19 until September. Harper’s going to be 19 in October. It says here that Harper is in DC no later than the end of July and he’ll be really good, fast.

3. Can the Nationals find a running mate or two on the pitching staff for Strasburg when he returns next season?

  • As we saw last season, Strasburg couldn’t do it alone. Will another one or more of the young Nationals starters in their organization prove themselves as potential top of the rotation starters going into next season? Zimmerman is back from his own Tommy John surgery and minor leaguers Tom Milone, Ryan Tatusko, and Brad Meyers all might get a chance at some point this season. This team could be dangerous next season if any of these guys turns out to be really good.

 

Projection

The Nationals have to be striving for .500 this season. Adding Werth has been ridiculed for the high price, but he’s still a pretty good player who will help the Nats win games. They need to resolve their lineup deficiencies and find some reliable starters. If they can do those things then an 80 win season isn’t out of the question, especially if Harper comes up and carries them in September.