Monday, April 14, 2014

Texas Rangers 2014 Team Breakdown

TEXAS RANGERS:    91-72 (Second Place in the AL West)

Projected Starting Lineup:

LF        Shin Soo Choo
SS        Elvis Andrus
1B       Prince Fielder
3B       Adrian Beltre
RF        Alex Rios
DH       Mitch Moreland
C          Geovany Soto
CF        Leonys Martin
2B       Jurickson Profar

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Yu Darvish
SP        Derek Holland
SP        Matt Harrison
SP        Martin Perez
SP        Tanner Scheppers
RP       Joakim Soria
RP       Neftali Feliz
RP       Alexi Ogando

The Texas Rangers had a disappointing year last season.  They won 91 games, but didn’t make the playoffs with the A’s winning the division for a second straight year and Tampa Bay and Cleveland both winning 92 games.  So they were the best team in baseball that didn’t make an appearance in October.  They wanted to fix that, so made some serious changes this offseason.  The made a major trade to bring in Prince Fielder to take over at first and added Shin Soo Choo in free agency.  With this offense looking potent and their pitching strong again, this team looks like it will make some serious noise in baseball’s best division. 

They get started right away with Shin Soo Choo leading off and playing left.  He was exceptional in that role last year with the Reds.  After spending the majority of his career hitting in the middle of the Cleveland order, the Reds looked at his OBP numbers and speed and decided that he’d be a great leadoff guy.  They were right.  He hit 285 with an NL best 423 OBP.  He swiped 20 bags and scored 107 R, while still showing his power with 21 HR.  I expect hit to have similar success in Texas with another 280+ season and OBP close to 400.  He should score over 100 runs again sitting atop a strong lineup in Texas and 20 HR is still in reach.  He will be great leading off, and moving to left field will help his defense a bit.  He’s a natural right fielder so left won’t be an issue.  His defense in center was not good in the Queens City last year.  Elvis Andrus will bat second and play short again for Texas.  His 271 AVG was a bit down for him, but pretty close to his career mark.  And he still scored 91 R and swiped 41 bags as the fastest player on the team.  His defense was excellent as well.  I’d expect more of the same assuming full health.  While I personally would put Prince Fielder in the cleanup hole, manager Ron Washington has said that he’ll bat him third.  He’ll be a great addition in Texas and will finally be that first base threat they have lacked since Mark Teixeira’s departure.  He hit 279 last year with 25 HR and 106 RBI.  And that was one of his worst seasons.  I think that a move to Texas will see that HR total climb north of 30 again, though I don’t put 40 out of reach.  If he accepts that he doesn’t have to hit 300 and focuses on slugging, another season of 270+ with over 100 RBI is easily in his grasp and perhaps a return to the 40 HR territory.  Beltre will be the cleanup man according to Washington, though I think he’s the better 3 option.  It’s not just about Beltre being more likely to hit 300, it’s the fact that Beltre and Rios are righties and Fielder is a lefty.  Why not break them up?  Washington says that they are all good enough to hit both lefties and righties, which I don’t disagree with.  But since they can all hit in all three spots according to Washington, why not break up the righties?  And Beltre is better in the 3-hole.  But this offense will still be fine.   Beltre is still their best hitter, hitting 315 last year with 30 HR, 92 RBI and 88 R.  He’s had a career renaissance in his later years and you worry about time catching up with him.  But he’s been great since his move to Arlington, and you have to think his floor is at least All Star caliber.  Alex Rios will hit 5th in this lineup after coming over from the White Sox at last year’s trade deadline.  And as is often the case with guys who were overpaid at some point, people don’t realize how great he’s been the last few years.  Without making any waves or being noticed, he’s put together some incredible seasons in Chicago and now Texas.  Between the two teams last year, he hit 278 with 18 HR, 81 RBI, 83 R and 26 SB.  Who knew?  I did but I pay more attention than most people.  That’s right what we expect from him as he’s a career 278 hitter with no fewer than 13 HR in a season (and in that season he only played in 145 games).  Spending a full year in Texas with that great lineup in front of him, he might top 20 HR and 100 RBI.  If not, another 275+ year with 15 HR, 90 RBI, 80 R and 15 SB is his floor, and we could see more across the board.  That’s the heart of the Ranger lineup, and it looks good.  Unlike most super teams, this offense drops off a bit after the number 5 man in the order.  But the rest of the lineup is still good with potential to be more than that.  And Texas is a super team because their top 5 are SO good and they have pitching to back them up.  But let’s look at the rest of the lineup.  Mitch Moreland will be the primary DH after being unable to lock down the first base job last year.  However he can play first, so in addition to DHing, he can let Fielder DH and fill in for him at first, let Rios DH and move to left (with Choo moving back to his natural right to fill in for Rios).  And obviously his move to left can also spell a day at DH for Choo.  So while he isn’t the most frightening DH to behold, his ability to play the field and give others a day off is part of what makes him attractive.  And he’s not a bad hitter with 23 HR last year.  But that came with a 232 AVG and only 60 RBI.  So he is limited offensively.  Catcher Geovany Soto will follow hitting 7th.  In 54 games last year he showed he’s still got something in the tank with a 245 AVG and 9 HR.  It wasn’t a ton, but he’s good defensively and can do a little something with the bat as well.  He’ll start behind the plate.  His back up will be J.P Arencibia from Toronto.  The Rangers signed him to back up Soto and be a right handed hitting DH option so Moreland doesn’t have to face left handed pitching.  We all know his limitations with the 194 AVG.  But he’s got a ton of power with 21 HR last year.  In Texas that could swell to 25 HR.  Not bad at all for a backup catcher.  Leonys Martin will hit 8th, but could end up as a better hitter than that.  He hit 260 last year with 36 SB.  He’s a menace on the base paths, but hitting so low in the lineup limited him to only 66 R.  It’s great for a number 8 man though, and he will be a great option to get on base for the top of the order, which includes a leadoff man with 20+ HR power.  I’m putting Jurickson Profar 9th to let him take it easy.  He’s got great potential but struggled last year moving around the diamond.  They hope playing a full year at second and not being counted on for much offensively will allow him to turn his potential into big league success.  This may not be the best offense in baseball, but it’s certainly one of the better ones.

Defensively this team seems to be in pretty good shape.  Fiedler isn’t great at first, but he’s not as bad as most people believe.  Up the middle the Rangers are in fantastic shape with the potential to win Gold Gloves with both Profar at second and Andrus at short.  Beltre is the best defensive third baseman in the game and the outfield is phenomenal.  Choo is a natural right fielder with center field experience.  He’s in left.  Martin plays Gold Glove caliber defense in center and Rios is great in right.  Soto is solid behind the plate, and Mitch Moreland plays left field just fine and first base better than Fielder.  So defense won’t be an issue in Arlington this year.

Starting pitching has started to steal the spotlight from the Rangers’ offense.  Yu Darvish was an absolute ace last year and he leads a host of talented young arms.  Darvish led all MLB with 277 Ks to go with a 13-9 record and 2.83 ERA.  As far as the pitching Triple Crown, Darvish won 2/3 of it with a better ERA and more Ks than Max Scherzer.  He threw 209 IP with a 1.07 WHIP and 194 BAA.  All the numbers were great.  He was one of the best pitchers in the game last year, and he could be a 20 game winner with 200+ IP, 250+ Ks and an ERA around 3.  This guy really is the epitome of an ace.  He started the year injured, but has come back already and is looking great.  After him, they have some young guys to fill in because Derek Holland hurt his knee badly and is on the 60 day DL.  He’ll be eligible to come off in late May, but who knows when he’ll be ready to pitch.  So the new number 2 man is probably Matt Harrison, who only made 2 starts due to injuries last year.  Those starts were pretty bad with 11 ER in 10.2 IP, but he blames a lot of that on the injury.  He did have 12 Ks in those 10.2 IP.  In 2012, he went 18-11 in 213 IP with a 3.29 ERA.  If he’s healthy, he’ll be their number 2 man and that’s what they want to see from him.   But he’s not healthy.  He hasn’t pitched yet this year, and likely won’t be back until mid-May.  The next most seasoned option for the Rangers has to be youngster Martin Perez, especially after his strong season last year.  He made 20 starts last year going 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA.  He puts runners on with a 1.34 WHIP and 267 BAA.  But the walks aren’t too bad and he did earn 84 Ks in 124 IP.  If he keeps putting people on base, then that ERA will swell to over 4, but he’s a young guy who could potentially get better.  They love his stuff, he’s working on a cutter and he had some success last year.  This guy will be a big part of the Rangers rotation going forward, and they hope he makes a big leap forward this year.  Derek Holland (10-9, 3.42, 189 Ks in 213 IP) will be back at some point.  He’s not an ace, but eats innings and keeps runs off the board, if not runners off the bases.  Tanner Scheppers had a strong spring and won a spot on the rotation, and actually the Opening Game start for Texas with all their pitching injrues.  Scheppers didn’t make any starts last year, but was great in relief with a 1.07 WHIP and 214 BAA. Robbie Ross wasn’t as good out of the pen, but still strong with a 4-2 record and 3.03 ERA in 62 IP.  The Rangers wanted Tommy Hanson to win a spot in the rotation but struggled so badly in the Spring after a bad year with LA that he was cut.  So the starting rotation is quite thin.  I though Alexi Ogando would move from the bullpen to the starting rotation, but they like him better in relief.  So the Rangers signed Joe Saunders to fill in for the injured Harrison and Holland.  The veteran was 11-16 in 32 starts with the Mariners last year.  But even in pitching friendly Seattle he had an ERA over 5, a WHIP of 1.60 and a BAA over 300.  All of those numbers are really bad.  But he can eat innings and has proven to be a reliable starter in the majors, so he’s starting in Texas.  Or he was. But he just went to the 15 day DL after being hit in the ankle with a comebacker on Friday.  So the hits just keep on coming.  That’s Harrison and Holland who haven’t made a start, Saunders who just went down and Darvish who missed a week to start the season.  Bad news for the Rangers thus far when it comes to starting pitching.  Robbie Ross was fighting with Tanner Scheppers for a spot in the rotation, but is now back as the 5th starter.  He appeared in 65 games for Texas last year, but all in relief.  He turned in a 3.03 ERA with 58 Ks in 62 IP in that time, but put on way too many runners, both via the hit and the walk.  He’s got to keep that under control.  He had a nice spring and has looked good in his 2 starts this year, so that’s a positive.  But right now Texas is just treading water until their starters get healthy.  And they will rely a lot on the bullpen.  Luckily it looks good.  Alexi Ogando is a former starter and All Star reliever, and he’s back where he’s really great, in relief.  He’s got a fireball and some good movement.  Facing the lineup once, he’s nearly unhittablel.  Jason Frasor is another talented arm in the pen.  But the focus this year is on the closer.  Joe Nathan is gone.  Neftali Feliz is healthy and probably done trying to start.  Joakim Soria is healthy and ready to compete.  The fight was between the two of them to close, and Soria won it.  And he’s a good choice.  Since 2007, here are his Save/ERA splits:

17/2.48 (also 9 Holds as that was his rookie year with Kansas City)

That takes us through 2012, with that last season in 2012 being his worst.  He then played with the Rangers last year in a setup capacity.  He had 6 Holds in 26 games with a 3.80 ERA.  Feliz was bad this spring, and sent to the minors to work, but he’s waiting in the wings.  This bullpen may need him eventually as they will throw a lot of innings early on.  But hopefully Texas’ starters will get healthy fast and this team will be back to their winning ways.  But if Texas struggles this season, it will be due to their injured pitching staff.


The Rangers look to be one of the best teams in baseball.  They also have a great mix of strong veterans and young potential.  Leonys Martin and Jurickson Profar are young talents in the field.  Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross are young starters.  That bodes well for the future.  In addition, right now they have stars at first, third, short and in the corner outfield spots, not to mention an absolute ace atop their rotation.  Their pitching was strong last year.  Their hitters struggled a bit, but got upgraded with Fielder and Choo.  And they still have Rios, Beltre and Andrus.  I like those offensive upgrades.  But they have to muddle through their early pitching injuries.  If they do, I think they are the best team in this division.  If they struggle, Oakland will win again.  But I think once they get healthy, this team will make a run and win the division, and possibly 98 games.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Seattle Mariners 2014 Team Breakdown

SEATTLE MARINERS:  71-91 (4th Place in AL West)

Projected Lineup/Batting Order:

LF        Dustin Ackley
3B       Kyle Seager
2B       Robinson Cano
DH       Corey Hart
1B       Justin Smoak
CF        Michael Saunders
RF        Logan Morrison
C          Mike Zunino
SS        Brad Miller

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Felix Hernandez
SP        Hisashi Iwakuma
SP        Taijuan Walker
SP        Erasmo Ramirez
SP        James Paxton
RP       Fernando Rodney
RP       Tom Wilhemsen
RP       Charlie Furbush

The Mariners were probably the least talked about team in the AL West last year.  The Rangers and A’s were good.  The Angels were disappointing.  And the Astros were terrible.  That left limited column inches for a 71 win team that plays in the Pacific Northwest.  But the Mariners then went out to make a splash this offseason with their signing of Robinson Cano to a 10 year $240 million dollar deal.  With a respectable number 3 hitter on this club, the Mariners hope their ancillary pieces can finally settle into their roles on this team and play within themselves.  And the hope is that those players, teamed with a superstar, will be enough for Seattle to make it to the postseason.

This team was offensively challenged again last season, as it has been for roughly the last 5 years.  Their leading hitter was Kendrys Morales, who played some first and some DH for them and is on the free agent market looking for a job.  He hit 277 with a team leading 23 HR and 80 RBI.  When a guy leads the team in all three categories, you want those numbers to be higher.  Smoak will be at first and either Corey Hart or Logan Morrison, two other new additions will DH and play right field.  You can’t put them both in the field though, because that would mean Dustin Ackley would go to the bench, or move to center where his weak arm is a liability.  That would also mean that Michael Saunders, really the only guy who can play center for this team, would go to the bench.  As far as the Morrison/Hart discussion goes, Hart is the better fielder, but is coming off knee issues, and played first more recently.  I put Morrison in right for now, but if Hart is healthy expect him to play the field more with Morrison in as the DH.  Both of these guys are being relied upon to provide protection for Cano.  Hart missed all of last season with an injury but hit 270 in 2012 with 30 HR.  The years before were 285 with 26 HR and 283 with 31 HR.  So we know what he used to do consistently.  The Mariners hope he won’t miss a beat getting back to action.  But he is a bit of a wildcard.  Morrision is arguably a bigger wildcard.  He only appeared in 85 games last year with a 242 AVG and 6 HR.  He’s never topped 123 games in a season, but that year he did was his best with 23 HR.  That’s the hitter Seattle hoped they got, but as a career 249 hitter, power is about the only thing he potentially brings to the table.  And even that’s unsure. The Mariners had to do something though.  Without those 2, the only protection for Cano would be Justin Smoak.  Smoak had another Smoak-like season.  His AVG is abysmal (238 last season) but he showed prodigious power (20 HR in 131 games).  The past 3 years he’s logged 120+ games with an AVG south of 240 and 15+ HR.  That’s fine for a 7 hitter perhaps.  But they need him to do more.  He’s not a cleanup guy with that AVG, but at this point that may be the only kind of player he knows how to be.  He’s the starting first baseman if he performs, but with a career 227 AVG, he may be sharing time.  And if that’s the case things likely aren’t going well in Seattle.  All those guys exist to protect the new free agent signee Robinson Cano in this lineup.  He is far an away their best hitter and first legitimate hitting threat in years.  Last year’s stat line of 314/27/107/81 was actually a bit of decline from his best numbers.  That just lets you know how good he is.  You can pencil him in for a 300+ AVG each year.  The move to Seattle from the New York bandbox won’t help his power, but 20 seems like a lock with 100 RBI if men get on base in front of him.  The only thing he doesn’t do is steal bases, though he swiped 7 last year.  He will be a great addition in Seattle.  The question is, will he have any RBI opportunities?  The leadoff spot is a serious question.  Dustin Ackley is the first choice to leadoff due to his pedigree.  He was the second overall pick in 2009.  So they’ve put a lot of time and energy into him and want him to work out.  He struggled in 113 games last year with a 253 AVG and only 2 SB.  His OBP was 319, which is okay but not great.  He’s moving to a new position as he’s a natural second baseman.  But with Cano in town, he’ll move to left and try to leadoff.  But he’s a risk.  If he can’t succeed in the number 1 spot, then SS Brad Miller will be the leadoff man.  Miller was a rookie last year who hit 265 in 76 games with 8 HR.  He’s not an ideal leadoff choice, which is why I put him in the 9th spot. If neither Ackley nor Miller can get it done leading off, perhaps Michael Saunders will leadoff as he’s got some speed.  But at 236 with 12 HR, they see him hitting lower in the lineup, cleaning up for the heavy hitters.  Their best hitter from last year, third baseman Kyle Seager, is supposed to hit second.  He hit 260 with 22 HR and 9 SB last year.  He also scored 79 R.  He could leadoff, but they like him hitting second in front of Cano.  They hope he’ll see lots of fastballs, which could lead to 25 HR.  Hard to know.  But the top of the Mariners lineup is messy, meaning Cano’s RBI numbers could be limited.  The last member of this offense is Mike Zunino, who isn’t known for his offense.  Also, expect to see a lot of Abraham Almonte as he’s a better defensive player than Hart, Morrison and now Ackley, who is in a new position.  He actually led off in the Mariners’ season opener.  This team has potential, but even with the addition of Cano, one of the best offensive players in the game, this offense is not a sure thing and a major question mark going into the season.

Defensively, this team doesn’t look like the surest bet.  Justin Smoak is average, at best, at first.  Cano is great at second and Miller is strong at short.   Seager similarly, is pretty good at the hot corner.  Then it gets iffy.  Dustin Ackley is learning a new position in left field.  He’s got a weak arm, which is why he’s there as opposed to right or center.  He’s got good speed and great athleticism playing second base before this.  But that’s a tough move.  Michael Saunders isn’t a natural center fielder, but should be okay there.  And right field is another question mark.  Morrison isn’t great in right, playing more left and first base.  But he’s young and fairly athletic.  Hart is better in right, but has bad knees, potentially, and played first more recently.  I’m not saying either one of them will be a problem, but there are questions there.

The one area where the Mariners feel great is on the mound.  Felix Hernandez is a legitimate ace.  He was 12-10 last year with a 3.04 ERA and team leading 216 Ks in 204 IP.  He’s among the best in the business and will likely be again.  If healthy, 200+ IP with 200+ Ks and an ERA around 3 should be guaranteed.  What he’s hoping is that a better offense will make his Win number grow (because he generally pitches well enough to win 15-20 games) and see his loss total decline (as he gets no run support, and pitchers who give up fewer than 3 runs often don’t deserve to lose).  Hasashi Iwakuma was arguably the best pitcher in Seattle last year.  He led the team with 14 Wins and a 2.66 ERA.  He also logged the most innings at 219.  He’s less of a sure thing, but in two years he’s made 49 starts going 23-11 with a career 2.84 ERA.  The other positive sign is Iwakuma’s WHIP, which fell 27 points last year from 2012 and his BAA which went from 248 to 220.  All the numbers look strong and Iwakuma looks to be a legitimate number 2 starter in this league.  The rest of the rotation isn’t as clear-cut.  Erasmo Ramirez is expected to be one of those middle of the rotation arms.  He struggled with a 4.98 in 13 starts last year.  It wasn’t pretty, but the year before was much better with a 3.36 ERA in 8 starts.  He’s young, so they hope he can start a full season and turn in some competitive innings for the club.  If he does, he has to cut down on the walks and lower that WHIP.  That’ll go a long way towards helping his overall numbers.  I put James Paxton in the last spot in the rotation.  He went 3-0 in 4 starts last year with a 1.50 ERA, sub 1 WHIP and 172 BAA.  He struck out 21 in 24 IP.  And while those numbers look great, those were his only 4 career starts.  So we’ll see how he does over a full year.  They plan to protect him a bit by making him the number 5 man.  The most exciting man in this rotation might be youngster Taijuan Walker.  He went 1-0 in 3 starts last year, the only 3 of his career.  He wasn’t as hot as Paxton, but struck out 12 in 15 IP with a 3.60 ERA.  They love his stuff, so we’ll see what he can do.  He’s an exciting young arm and they expect him to be a future ace.  But, like Paxton, we don’t know much about him yet as his experience is extremely limited.  It’s nice to like the future there, but I’d expect the same growing pains that every young pitcher goes through.  With all those young pitchers, you need a strong bullpen.  And Seattle looks like theirs is in good shape.  It’s anchored by new closer Fernando Rodney.  Rodney didn’t follow his record setting season with one quite as strong in Tampa last year.   But he still saved 37 games for the Rays with a 3.38 ERA.  His 82 Ks in 66 IP were very impressive but his 1.34 WHIP was way too high, especially with hitters hitting only 211 off of him.  He’s got to cut down on the walks, or he will be in trouble.  The good news is Seattle is one of the best pitchers parks in the game, which is why so many of Seattle’s pitchers looked good last year.  If he locks down the 9th, the Mariners can count on Tom Wilhemsen and Danny Farquhar in the 8th.  Charlie Furbush can spot start and fill the long reliever role and give this team a strong bullpen from top to bottom.  People like pitching in Seattle, and these guys are no exception.


The Mariners were in that dreaded middle area of a team that wasn’t re-building but wasn’t ready to go for it all.  Then this year they decided to make a push.  They signed Cano to a 10 year deal and added some offense in the form of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison.  They added a legitimate closer to strengthen an already strong bullpen.  And their starting rotation continues to look good.  So they hope to start winning now.  The bad news is that they play in arguably the best division in the game and things don’t look easier for them this year.

They have some talented young pitchers as King Felix is still under 30 and Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are extremely young.  Ackley, Miller and Seager are still young and Cano is in his prime.  The future looks okay, but not as strong as other teams.  The present looks good, though again not as good as other teams.  So despite the improvements, this team still looks to be a middle of the road club, just one that spent a lot more money this offseason.

I think the Mariners will be better.  But I don’t know that they move up the standings very far.  The Rangers and A’s are still better.  The Angels are still better on paper.  And Houston’s future is brighter.  I’m picking the Mariners to win more games than Houston this year, but that’s about it.  I’m sorry to disappoint people in the Pacific Northwest, but this offense only looks good enough to win 75 games, even with this pitching staff.  Which makes me pick the Mariners to finish fourth in this division. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Oakland Athletics 2014 Team Breakdown

OAKLAND ATHLETICS:  96-66 (Fist Place in AL West)

Projected Lineup/Batting Order:

CF        Coco Crisp
SS        Jed Lowrie
3B       Josh Donaldson
LF        Yoenis Cespedes
1B       Brandon Moss
RF        Josh Reddick
2B       Alberto Callaspo
DH       John Jaso
C          Derek Norris

Projected Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Scott Kazmir
SP        Dan Straily
SP        Sonny Gray
SP        Tommy Milong
SP        A.J. Griffin
RP       Jim Johnson
RP       Eric O’Flaherty
RP       Luke Gregerson

The A’s have continued to defy expectations and their economic situation as they won the division back-to-back years.  The Angels looked more talented, the Rangers had the recent success, but the A’s continue to cobble together the best lineup they can afford and rely on their talented young arms to make noise in what has become on the of the best divisions in baseball.  But the thing that really but this team on the map were the hitters on this Athletics staff.  They can hit and pitch, which has predictably led to success in the regular season. 

Their offense still looks to be in good shape.  They aren’t the best team by any stretch, but they are very balanced with power, speed and guys who can hit for average.  Coco Crisp will be the leadoff man once again for this team after signing a 2-year $22 million contract extension.  He’s been a great value for the financially challenged Athletics.  He had a career high 22 HR to go with 21 SB and 93 R.  He is 34 and has a pretty rich injury history, which is why the A’s signed Craig Gentry as an insurance policy.  He’s older now but still has great wheels.  I’d put him down for another 260 season with double digit HR and 20+ SB.  If he’s healthy 90+ R should be a real possibility.  Craig Gentry will be a backup option and may spend some time in the field to let Cespedes and Crisp have off days as a DH.  He had a very productive season in 106 games with division rival Texas last year hitting 280 with 24 SB.  He can leadoff if Crisp falters or gets hurt and will likely see a fair amount of time in the lineup due to his abilities on both sides of the ball.  Jed Lowrie had his best year for the A’s last season posting a 290 AVG with 15 HR, 75 RBI and 80 R.  The power wasn’t a big surprise as he popped 16 HR in 97 games with Houston in 2012.  But Oakland was pleased with the AVG, which was 26 points above his career average.  I think a regression is possible, which is why I have him hitting 2nd and not 3rd, which is where RotoWorld is listing him.  I have MVP candidate Josh Donaldson hitting third on this team.  The third baseman had a breakout year last season hitting 301 with 24 HR, 93 RBI and 89 R.  Prior to last year he had less than 100 games on his resume.  We’ll see what he does this year, though a slight regression is to be expected.  No idea what we can expect AVG-wise, but they like his overall skillset.  I’d guess another 20 HR, but more is possible as he’s a talented young player who is only getting better.  He could hit 30 HR and hit 320.  We don’t know what kind of player he is yet, but his ceiling seems to be quite high.  I put Yoenis Cespedes fourth in the order, believing that last year’s struggles were a product of his injury issues.  I know if affected him some as his average fell over 50 points and he stole half as many bases.  But he still hit over 20 HR and showed he’s a great threat for the long-ball after winning the HR Derby last year.  I think Cespedes is a great hitter and I expect him to bounce back in a big way with a 280+ season with 25 HR and 15 SB.  And I’m also expecting a healthy 80+ in the RBI and R columns.  I have Brandon Moss in the 5th spot after his breakout season.  The 256 AVG isn’t eye popping, but he did pop 30 HR and drive in 87.  This was his best season, topping the previous season, which had been his best since he came into the league in 2007.  His 2012 stat line was 291 with 21 HR and 52 RBI in 84 games.  That’s why I believe the power is here to stay, even though he plays in pitcher friendly O.Co Coliseum.  250 may be the average at this point (he’s a career 253 hitter) but I’d be shocked if he didn’t make his way to 20 HR, with 25 a real possibility.  Moss’ career year helped make up for the abysmal season Josh Reddick turned in.  He fell off tremendously from his 2012 campaign (242/32/85/85/11) and turned in a 226/12/56/54/9 line.  He’s not a great contact hitter, but it’s the power they needed from him.  His 2012 was a big surprise and he didn’t have a lot of experience before that, so it’s hard to intelligently gauge what he may do this season.  Ignoring the average (which will likely be between 230 and 250) we can expect anywhere from 15-30 HR.  I’m guessing closer to 15 however, with maybe 10 SB.  The bottom third of the lineup will consist of Alberto Callaspo at second, John Jaso DHing and occasionally catching, and Derek Norris logging the majority of the time as the backstop.  Callaspo comes over from the Angels and takes over for the departed Jemile Weeks, who was shipped off to Baltimore for Jim Johnson.  Callaspo had a down season hitting 258 last year.  He’s a career 273 hitter.  His 10 HR were right were we expected, however.  He’s a hitter who makes pretty good contact but has little power or speed.  He is the best hitter at the bottom of the Oakland lineup, which is why I put him 7th in the order.  He can cleanup after the big hitters and turn his 10 HR into 50 RBI in a good year.  I have John Jaso as the backup catcher and primary DH hitting 8th.  He hit 271 in limited time last year due to concussions.  But he’s got double digit HR power and will get opportunities to play either as the DH or catcher.  However expect all 3 outfielders to get time at DH with Craig Gentry and young Michael Taylor around.  Nick Punto can play second, third and short so the starters at those positions can take turns DHing as well and Daric Barton is also around to spell Moss.  Derek Norris will bring up the rear most days, unless Jaso is calling the pitches.

The defense looks solid in O.Co this year.  The A’s sport 2 center fielders in their starting outfield with Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes.  Reddick is solid in right and Craig Gentry is a good defensive player in his own right who can play all 3 positions at an above average rate.  The infield isn’t exciting, but Callaspo, Lowrie and Donaldson are all more than capable in their positions and Moss is fine.  Derek Norris is pretty good behind the plate as well.  I’m not predicting any Gold Gloves, but this team should get the job done.

The area that has carried this team for years was their starting pitching.  And while it’s still in pretty good shape, they did lose their ace Bartolo Colon to free agency.  They also lost their former ace Brett Anderson so they are back to having zero veteran arms to carry them.  But that’s a position they are used to.  The biggest issue was the loss of the guy they planned to have as their ace, Jarrod Parker.  He went 12-8 with a 3.97 for the A’s last year.  He logged 197 innings of quality pitching with a WHIP and BAA below the league average.  But Tommy John surgery will knock him out for the year.  A.J. Grifin was expected to pick up the slack for Parker and take over the ace title with his team leading 177 Ks.  He went 14-10 with a 3.83 in 200 IP last year, with even better WHIP and BAA numbers.  However an injury in spring training has left him off the Opening Day roster, and he may not return until May. Dan Straily is one of the few returnees from last year’s staff that is healthy this year.  In 27 strong starts last year he was 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 233 BAA.    Also, Sonny Gray will be with the team as a starter on Day 1 after 10 strong performances in the role last year.  In those 10 starts and 2 relief appearances, he went 5-3 with a 2.67 ERA.  More impressive was the 67 Ks in 64 IP and the best peripheral numbers of the bunch.  You worry about some rookie regression, but he has the highest ceiling on this team, even with his inexperience.  He is the future ace, and if this team wants to contend this year he needs to show that he can be the ace, and lead this injured staff.  Their new number 5 man is Scott Kazmir, who resurrected his career with the Indians last year.  He went 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA in Cleveland last season and most impressively showed his strikeout prowess with 162 Ks in 158 IP.  He’ll give up hits and walks, but he can eat some innings, get some strikeouts and help the A’s a lot.  While A.J. Griffin recovers, expect to see more of Tommy Milone in the starting lineup.  He went 12-9 in 26 starts with a 4.14 ERA.  You worry about his average numbers across the board, but that’s why he’s likely the 5th starter and the one who will get bumped when Griffin returns.  Jim Johnson, who was added in a trade with Baltimore, now anchors the bullpen.  Johnson is coming off back-to-back 50 Save seasons with sub 3 ERAs.  Luke Gregerson, one of the best setup men in the game will lead the way for him and the A’s got a great pickup in Eric O’Flaherty who will come off Tommy John surgery midway through the year.  When he’s right, he’s among the best left handed relievers in the game.  This bullpen looks as strong as this starting group.  And what it lacks in star power, it more than makes up for in depth.


The A’s have been a surprise team for back-to-back seasons winning the division over the Angels and Rangers, teams considered more talented than the A’s on paper.  They hope to do it again this year, but will lack the surprise element.  The Rangers have finished second to them twice and are gunning for them even harder this year.  The Astros and Mariners have gotten better.  And the Angels are loaded with talent that can theoretically play together and earn some wins.  Their offense looks to be the third best in the division.  Their pitching second.  That’s not necessarily a great recipe for winning. But there is some sort of magic to Billy Beane and the A’s that the other teams in their division lack.  I’ve picked them 3rd two years in a row, and been wrong.  I don’t want to get burned again.  I know they will be better than the Mariners and Astros.  And at this point I want the Angels to prove they can be great before I jump back on their bandwagon.  The Rangers look better, but the A’s are so deep.  In the end, pitching wins championships.  And I think the A’s have the second best pitching in the division, which is why I’m listing them as the number 2 team.  90 Wins and a Wildcard spot for Oakland.  That’s my prediction.