The 2012 Oakland Athletics shocked the baseball world by dethroning the two-time defending A.L. West champion Texas Rangers. What was especially exciting for A’s fans was the way they did it. Oakland finished the regular season on a six game winning streak, including the final three games against the Rangers, to win the division by the slimmest of margins. The A’s would eventually succumb to Justin Verlander and the Tigers in game 5 of the ALDS to put an end to their storybook season. Was last year a fluke, or will the 2013 Athletics pick up right where they left off?
To get the inside scoop on the Athletics as they get ready for the 2013 season, I turned to Joseph Lopez. Joseph, a writer at FanSided’s A’s site, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the defending champs of the Astros new division. There’s some great stuff here, as Joseph absolutely hit this one out of the park. Enjoy!
CTH: What’s the latest on a new stadium? Is there still talk of moving to San Jose?
Joseph: The A’s are currently waiting for MLB and Bud Selig’s response to their proposed move to San Jose. Owner Lew Wolff is still very much pushing for the A’s to leave the cavernous Coliseum in Oakland, but there have not been any indications that the team is closer to an answer. It has roughly been four years since Selig appointed a blue-ribbon committee to oversee the A’s stadium options, but they have yet to deliver their findings. Oakland proved to be a viable spot for baseball last year during the A’s impressive run at the playoffs, and that will likely hurt Wolff’s bid to relocate the A’s. Fans did show up when the team won and it goes to show that people will show up and support and winning team.
CTH: I’m anxious to see what Chris Carter can do in an Astros uniform — and Brad Peacock has had a good spring. First of all, how did A’s fans react to the trade that sent those two to Houston? Secondly, does Jed Lowrie even have a position? Will he start at second base, third base?
Joseph: Chris Carter was a part of Oakland’s two-headed monster at first-base last year and so seeing him shipped off to Houston was a bit tough. The A’s have lacked a true first-baseman for years now, but last season the “two-headed monster” in Carter and Brandon Moss proved to be rather cost-efficient and productive. The trade was a little surprising, but with Billy Beane at the helm for the A’s, anything is possible.
With Jed Lowrie, the A’s have a lot more flexibility in various spots around the infield. The A’s do plan to use Lowrie all over the infield, but the very athletic Lowrie has been making a serious push to become Oakland’s primary second-baseman in what has been a very competitive spring competition. Right now it boils down to Lowrie, Jemile Weeks, and Scott Sizemore as to who will take the reigns at second this year for Oakland. I see Lowrie as more of a utility guy personally, but given the A’s muddled infield, I could see him emerging as a serious candidate to start at either second or perhaps even short with Hiroyuki Nakajima struggling this spring. As of right now, Bob Melvin and the A’s are looking at all their options. The A’s have a ton of depth, but Lowrie will definitely open the year with a clear role on Oakland’s roster.
CTH: Oakland had five rookies in their starting rotation for a portion of their division winning 2012 season. Four of those pitchers are penciled into the rotation, along with Brett Anderson, for 2013. Sophomore slumps are not uncommon. Who will struggle and who will shine… and why?
Joseph: Perhaps Oakland’s biggest strength last year was their pitching. It was young and inexperienced, yes, but the team relied heavily on the young arms of Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Griffin, and Dan Straily, among others. Heading into this season, pitching will again be Oakland’s biggest strength on paper. The young rotation will be led by Anderson, who at 25, is the rotation’s “seasoned” veteran. Anderson boasts tremendous potential, as suggested by his impressive win over Detroit in game three of the ALDS last year. He’ll be followed by Parker, Milone, Griffin, and Straily.
Sophomore slumps are not completely uncommon and sometimes young pitchers do struggle. For the A’s it will be interesting to watch how guys like Parker and Milone perform early in the year after coming off a season in which they set career highs in innings pitched. The A’s will definitely keep a watchful eye on their young staff, but there is a certain confidence around the team that the pitching will only get better with time.
The A’s did get a ton of experience last year during their memorable and magical run toward the post-season, so to say the A’s young arms are inexperienced would be a mistake. Guys like Parker and Milone now have an understanding of what it will take to get to October. Personally, I like to think that Anderson and Parker will have solid performances this year and could ultimately pack a serious one-two punch in Oakland, barring any injuries of course. I would say look out for A.J. Griffin or Dan Straily, though, to experience a little bit of a hiccup. One of those guys will likely get the boot once Bartolo Colon comes back from serving his suspension. Overall, I like Oakland’s young rotation and I think they could be the envy of the AL West this year.
CTH: Most Japanese shortstops have failed to live up to expectations in the majors. How is Hiroyuki Nakajimi looking and what can we expect from him this year?
Joseph: So far Nakajima has not performed well this spring. He has not calmed the anxiety of some A’s fans who are probably missing both Stephen Drew and Cliff Pennington right about now. The Japanese shortstop has collected just six hits this spring in 34 at-bats, so there are some who have completely bailed on Nakajima.
It would be foolish, however, to disregard Nakajima completely as a viable starter in Oakland. The transition has got to be a tough one to make and there is definitely a learning curve involved. Fans will likely have to show a little more patience, but that will likely be difficult after all of us witnessed what Yoenis Cespedes did last year in his first year in the U.S.
The A’s have plenty of depth should Nakajima fail to pull his own weight at short, but the A’s are still holding out the hope that once Nakajima finds his footing, they will have a reliable starting shortstop on their hands. Nakajima’s poor spring has not deterred the A’s from this type of thinking, at least not yet.
Personally I don’t think Nakajima will be a complete failure, but I don’t expect a ton of production out of the guy. It is a tough transition to make, and with the track record of Japanese shortstops failing to produce in the states being as bad as it is, Nakajima will definitely have his work cut out for him in Oakland.
CTH: A’s closer Grant Balfour recently had knee surgery. Will he be ready for ninth inning duty by Opening Day?
Joseph: Grant Balfour was the on-again-off-again closer for the A’s last year, but really picked up some steam late in the season. He regained the closer’s role with his gritty veteran persona and electric fastball and while he did miss a significant amount of spring training due to a knee injury, the A’s are optimistic that their Aussie closer will be ready by Opening Day. If he isn’t, there’s no need to rush things as the Athletics have plenty of other qualified relievers to step into Balfour’s role while he recovers. All-Star Ryan Cook is one of the likely candidates to fill in at closer should Balfour need more time to recover.
CTH: A year ago Billy Beane surprised everyone by signing Yoenis Cespedes to a lucrative multi-year contract. That has worked out quite nicely, so far. If the A’s are battling for a playoff spot when this year’s trade deadline approaches, do you think Beane will be willing and able to make a move that would increase payroll?
Joseph: The A’s shocked just about everyone when they outbid some of the richer teams in baseball for Yoenis Cespedes, so the thought of Billy Beane spending some cash at this year’s trade deadline should the A’s be in playoff contention, does not seem entirely unreasonable. The A’s have a lot of added depth already, though, so Beane may not have to spend too much should the A’s need an extra piece or two to carry them into October. Oakland isn’t New York or Boston, so a large increase in payroll does seem a bit unlikely, however, with Beane at the helm the A’s could get creative. If the A’s are in the thick of things come July, I would expect Beane, in his own creative way, to explore several avenues to help the team get back to the playoffs.