Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Oakland Athletics. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Athletics players, scheduled to post later today. Our series will continue tomorrow with the Seattle Mariners.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Oakland A's were a trendy pick to win the division in 2011. The Texas Rangers had just won the AL pennant, but they were viewed as a fluke, and after all, Cliff Lee spurned them for Philadelphia. Over in Anaheim, Tony Reagins was busy being Tony Reagins, and the Mariners had problems of their own. The Athletics had spent 2010 dominating the league with their starting pitching while the bats lagged behind, so the natural reaction to the additions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham was summed up well by this poll on Athletics Nation.
As it turned out, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden pitched 101.3 innings between them thanks to injuries, and Trevor Cahill's luck-fueled 2010 was exposed for what it was. The A's were a middle of the road team when it came to run prevention, and their hitting was even worse, despite Willingham and Matsui meeting net expectations. They never led the division and finished at 74-88, 22 games out of first place.
Thanks to some trades involving Trevor Cahill and Brad Peacock, the A's are now in full-on rebuilding mode, seemingly biding their time until they can move to San Jose. At one point this offseason, the A's depth chart looked like this, but after an outfielder shopping spree, there now appear to be enough players to take the field once the regular season starts in Tokyo on Wednesday.
O.co Coliseum is the source of much ridicule, and for good reason. The O.co is a pitcher's park, thanks in large part to a very generous foul ground made necessary by the fact that the A's are now the only team left sharing their stadium with an NFL team. The park is not kind to outfield fly balls, either. The 400-foot center field fence extends out quite a ways into the power alleys, leaving acres of room for balls to fall in play.
Manager & Coaching Staff
Bob Melvin looks more like Joseph Gordon-Levitt than Philip Seymour Hoffman, and he supposedly gets to make all of his own decisions, too. Melvin was the NL Manager of the Year with Arizona in 2007 and is known as a player-friendly manager. Wikipedia says that Mark Grace nicknamed him "The Mad Scientist" for "his tendency to use various lineups to a high (and somewhat surprising) degree of success." That's the most Mark Grace thing I've ever heard.
Expected Position Battles
Third base will be patrolled by either Josh Donaldson, Eric Sogard, or Adam Rosales. If you don't know who any of these people are, you're not alone - none of them show up on Mock Draft Central. You don't need to pay attention to this battle unless you're in a deep AL-only league. Josh Donaldson has some nice AAA numbers and would be my pick to click if he got the job.
Daric Barton had shoulder surgery in September and has had some setbacks in his recovery, so he did not accompany the team to Tokyo. Brandon Allen played first base in their first exhibition against the Yomiuri Giants, but Kila Ka'aihue is expected to be in the mix as well. Each of these guys will be looking to shed their AAAA labels, and if I had to bet on one to do it, I would pick the more patient Ka'aihue.
Bob Melvin doesn't have to settle on a fifth starter until the team returns to the states. His choices included Jarrod Parker and Brad Peacock, both recently acquired in (separate) trades. These young, highly-regarded prospects have similar arsenals, and whoever earns the job will have a chance to thrive in O.co. I wouldn't rule out both of them sticking in the rotation by the time the season is over. Neither is worth more than a late-round draft pick, but stick them on your watch list and be ready to pull the trigger.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Jemile Weeks - 2B
Cliff Pennington - SS
Coco Crisp - LF
Seth Smith - DH
Yoenis Cespedes - CF
Josh Reddick - RF
Kurt Suzuki - C
Allen/Ka'aihue - 1B
Donaldson/Sogard/Rosales - 3B
Mark Grace wants to make sure you know that this lineup is subject to change.
Brandon McCarthy | Bartolo Colon | Tom Milone | Tyson Ross | Peacock/Parker
McCarthy's story is an interesting one, and he's certainly one of the good guys in baseball. He's also the #1 pitcher on this team. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Grant Balfour was named the A's closer earlier in the spring over Brian Fuentes, which was the better call for fantasy players. Balfour isn't going to light the world on fire with his strikeouts, but he's no slouch, either. He's also got a relatively low walk rate for a closer, which is a nice bonus. Fuentes doesn't have a whole lot of fantasy value if he's not earning saves, so skip over him. Fautino de los Santos strikes me as a guy who could close one day, but he'll need to start limiting his free passes.
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
Gotta go with Parker/Peacock here.
Spring Training Storylines to Watch
The A's are already in Tokyo getting ready for the Opening Game. It will be interesting to see how they deploy Yoenis Cespedes.
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: Jane Lee (Blog | Twitter)
San Francisco Chronicle beat reporter: Susan Slusser (Blog | Twitter)
SBN: Athletics Nation (Blog | Twitter)
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.