Oakland Athletics Preview
With the fourth team in the American League West division, I will be previewing the Oakland A's, who are once again well under the luxury tax for the salary cap. They also look like baseball's island of misfit toys, and that's exactly what long time GM Billy Beane is going for. By the look of things, the A's look like they are going to finish in last in the AL West, and possibly in last in the entire American League, but something about Oakland tells me to never count them out.
PROJECTED ROTATION: Sonny Gray, Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, Felix Doubront
If you could wish for anything in the world, would you wish for one bonafide ace in your starting rotation and 10+ other guys who are considered to be below average? At least it gives you options, but despite Sonny Gray being listed as the ace, it was Sean Manaea who had the best year last year. Kendall Graveman made the most starts, and Jharel Cotton looked promising in September. I'm giving the fifth spot to non-roster invitee Felix Doubront due to his experience, but it could be any of the following other players as well: Daniel Mengden, Raul Alcantara, Jesse Hahn, Andrew Triggs, Frankie Montas and non-roster invitee Ross Detwiler.
BULLPEN: Ryan Madson, Sean Doolittle, John Axford, Santiago Casilla, Ryan Dull, Liam Hendriks, Daniel Coulombe
The bullpen has a lot of pitchers as well waiting for a spot to open up, including the fleet of starting pitchers I just listed, but these top six guys are pretty much set barring injury. Madson, Doolittle, Axford and the newly acquired Casilla all have closing experience within the last two years, although Ryan Dull had the best season of any A's reliever last year. Liam Hendriks was solid as well, and Daniel Coulombe had the most appearances with Oakland among the remaining contenders.
CATCHERS: Stephen Vogt, Josh Phegley
Stephen Vogt is usually going to put up some pretty decent numbers, and is capable of having an All-Star like season. He also can play first base and in the outfield, which is something that Billy Beane really likes having around. Josh Phegley spent most of the season injured last year, but he has a good bat off of the bench and could be a possible designated hitter as well. In a short amount of time, Bruce Maxwell had a productive season from the batter's box, so look for him to push Phegley along with non-roster invitee Matt McBride.
INFIELDERS: Marcus Semien, Jed Lowrie, Ryon Healy, Trevor Plouffe, Yonder Alonso, Adam Rosales
In my opinion, my whole "island of misfit toys" reference is visible the most in this infield. You have a shortstop in Semien who plays more like a first baseman with his home run totals and errors in the field, along with a first baseman who is a poor man's James Loney (aka, a guy who won't hit for power at first but plays good defense). Jed Lowrie has bounced around baseball and the infield, and Trevor Plouffe has had his ups and downs with the Minnesota Twins before getting cut for budding superstar Miguel Sano. Ryon Healy is a young player, and at this point it isn't really clear what the long term plans are for him. Adam Rosales has the most experience of the remaining players, and can play almost everywhere. Joey Wendle, Chris Pinder, top prospect Franklin Barreto, Renato Nunez and non-roster invitees Max Muncy and Chris Parmelee are also competing for infield jobs.
OUTFIELDERS: Khris Davis, Rajai Davis, Matt Joyce, Mark Canha, Alejandro De Aza
I'm confused on why the A's keep bringing in guys like Rajai Davis and Matt Joyce, since they keep making it seem like they are just trying to get younger and have prospect growth. Rajai Davis had a good year, and Matt Joyce really bounced back with the Pirates, but they have young guys who are waiting for their chance. Mark Canha had a breakout year in 2015 and was hurt all of last season, so I'm giving him the spot based on 2015. Non-roster invitee Alejandro De Aza is in a perfect place for another chance at a career and I think he will take advantage of it. I'm not big on Jake Smolinski, who I think just had a good couple of months as he struggled down the stretch last year. Matt Olson and non-roster invitees Jaff Decker and Andrew Lambo are others competing to be in the outfield.
LINEUP: R. Davis (CF), Lowrie (2B), Healy (DH), K. Davis (LF), Plouffe (3B), Vogt (C), Joyce (RF), Alonso (1B), Semien (SS)
Along with the unconventional way of putting a roster together comes an unconventional lineup, with the second best power hitter on the team hitting ninth. Outside of Khris Davis, nobody in this lineup is that scary to face, but they all can have a moment here and there. The bullpen has the potential to be among the best in baseball, but likely won't achieve those expectations, and the rotation is a mess after Sonny Gray. They might still make an addition or two, but unless they dish out more money to sign and/or trade for better players, they don't have the look of a contender at all. It's the A's, so we can't count them out based on look, but I just don't see it with how good the rest of the division is. I'm going with 72 wins.