Here is a link to my Oakland A’s preview, plus some bonus stuff my editor put together. The full text runs below:
Now playing left field for the Oakland A’s, Whatsisname.
Now playing shortstop for the Oakland A’s, Whatsisface.
The A’s in 2015 are a combination of Whatsisnames and Whatsisfaces — that’s how completely general manager Billy Beane — no Whatsisname himself — has turned over a squad that qualified as a wild-card team last season. This squad is so new — so recently put together — every fan at Monday’s opening night should be given a brochure, like at the American Conservatory Theater, explaining who’s who in the cast, I mean on the team. And where the players are from and their previous productions, I mean teams.
The A’s hope this show doesn’t close before it hits the big time.
And there’s no reason to think it will close.
Beane never has put together a great team. He almost surely never will (See the usual excuses). But he consistently puts together very good teams, although this team is not as good as last year’s. Beane creates teams that compete at a high level. Teams that compete hard (See superb manager Bob Melvin). So without further ado, as they say, let’s take look at this year’s squad before Beane trades it away.
The A’s have one and a half terrific starting pitchers.
Sonny Gray is gold. One of the best pitchers in the big leagues, a No. 1 on just about any staff. He throws hard and he throws fast and he commands the best curveball in the bigs. Well, one of the best. And he has a No. 1 starter’s mentality. He is killer. He is the real deal. He will put you away.
The No. 2 starter, Scott Kazmir, is the half of the one and a half. He is a gifted pitcher and a strong competitor, but he weakened in the second half of 2014. That may be a warning sign that he is fragile as pitchers go. His career fell apart once before and the A’s should at least be aware of that and have a Plan B.
After Gray and Kazmir, Beane has put together a big question mark. Several question marks. Look at it like this:
Top-notch starters Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin won’t return from injuries until midseason, which creates a certain amount of ambiguity in the rotation. Parker is recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. Who knows what he will be. Will he become a reliever?
The current putative No.3 starter is Jesse Hahn, 25. Whatsisname?
This is Hahn’s second year in the majors. His rookie season with San Diego his record was 7-4, and his 3.07 earned run average was good. He may be Beane’s next great discovery. Beane specializes in next great discoveries. Remember a guy named — Whatsisface? — Josh Donaldson?
Who is the No.4 starter? That’s a good one. The envelope please. I mean the nametag please.
Kendall Graveman. That’s who. Last year was the 24-year-old’s first in the majors. He threw 64 innings — a small sample size. He has no wins. As in zero. He may be very good, but he is very green for a fourth starter. He had a great spring training.
Drew Pomeranz is the fifth starter unless he flops and Jesse Chavez takes that spot. Pomeranz can be an excellent fifth starter.
Even with its injuries, the A’s rotation has serious potential. The bullpen is strong plain and simple.
Closer Sean Doolittle is one of the best. He is injured but will return in a month. Until he returns, Tyler Clippard is the closer. Last season with the Nationals, he had a low, low ERA, 2.18. Microscopic. Behind Clippard are Dan Otero and Eric O’Flaherty and others. The usual suspects. All very good. The A’s have one of the best ’pens in the universe.
Now come the position players. The A’s have a good infield, although no one knows for sure just how good. Ike Davis will play first base except for the times he won’t. He bats left-handed and the A’s are platoon-crazy. Lefty vs. righty. Righty vs. lefty. That deal. Davis is a good player, not as good as left-handed hitter Brandon Moss, gone the way of all former A’s. In this case to Cleveland.
The new and improved second baseman is Ben Zobrist, the crown jewel of the infield. He may be the A’s best position player. “Position” is the key word with him. He plays a million positions, could play all nine on a slow day down at the yard, although it is unlikely he could pitch and then dash to home plate and catch the ball.
Zobrist takes over at second from Eric Sogard, and Zobrist is an upgrade. Kind of sad. Sogard is, let’s face it, one of the cutest, most cuddly players in the history of the big leagues. Sogard also is versatile and can play second and shortstop. He can play short when alleged starter Marcus Semien — 24 years old, .240 lifetime average — isn’t playing.
Third base is a downgrade because Beane traded Whatsisface Donaldson to Toronto. That doesn’t mean third base is bad. Beane never gets bad players. The new guy until further notice is Brett Lawrie, 43 home runs in four seasons. Whosits Donaldson had 53 the past two seasons. Oh, and Donaldson was an All-Star last year. Still, Lawrie will be a good player for the A’s.
Catcher Stephen Vogt, who bats left handed, has turned into a dynamite hitter, a clutch hitter. A real presence. The other catcher is right-handed-hitting Josh Phegley. He and Vogt are a good righty-lefty combo, and are solid behind the plate.
Billy Butler, recently with Kansas City, will be a serviceable designated hitter.
Which brings us to the outfield. Get out your “who’s who in the cast,” please. The outfield is Whatsits and Whosits galore.
Coco Crisp was supposed to be the left fielder. Crisp is a very good player. He is the best player on the team. He used to play center field, but the team said he would play left. He was not happy about that. He believes he is a center fielder, as if people are born with an essence and one essence only, and his essence is center, not left. What he doesn’t take into account is his throwing arm. He cannot throw. Runners routinely take the extra base against him while he tosses the ball to the infield with a shrug of resignation. He is safer for the A’s in left field. He also is one hell of a ballplayer, a leadoff hitter with power, a leadoff hitter deluxe.
None of that matters anymore. He got surgery on his right elbow, his throwing elbow, such as it is, and will miss up to eight weeks. What is Oakland ever going to do?
The left fielder could be Craig Gentry, Billy Burns or Mark Canha. Or Butler in a pinch. Or someone else.
The possible center fielders, I think, are Sam Fuld and/or Gentry. They can throw and they can catch. Say that for them. Will they hit? Somewhat. For power? No.
Right fielder Josh Reddick won’t answer the bell for opening night, but will return soon. He is a core player for the A’s, a perennial. And, so far, he’s been trade-proof. Imagine that. In his place the A’s will play Fuld or Gentry or Burns or some guy or other. I’m absolutely sure of that.
So, where does all this leave the current edition of the A’s?
It’s anybody’s guess. They pretty much are a new team and they already have serious injuries and there are so many guys named Whosits on the roster. Expect them to do better than expected, to contend with the Mariners and Angels because of good pitching and sheer guts and superior managing.
Exceeding expectations is what the Oakland A’s do — until the postseason. But that’s a topic for another day.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014: 88-74, 2nd place, lost to Kansas City in wild-card game.
Manager: Bob Melvin (fifth season).
He’s Here: INF Ben Zobrist, 3B Brett Lawrie, RHP Tyler Clippard, 1B Billy Butler, INF Marcus Semien, RHP Jesse Hahn, RHP Kendall Graveman, 1B Ike Davis, C Josh Phegley, RHP R.J. Alvarez, LHP Barry Zito (sent to minors), RHP Chris Bassitt.
He’s Outta Here: 3B Josh Donaldson, LHP Jon Lester, RHP Jeff Samardzija, SS Jed Lowrie, C Derek Norris, 1B-OF Brandon Moss, C John Jaso, RHP Luke Gregerson, RHP Jason Hammel, DH Adam Dunn, INF Alberto Callaspo, C Geovany Soto, INF Nick Punto, OF Jonny Gomes.
Projected Lineup: Coco Crisp (.246, 9 HRs, 47 RBIs, 19 SBs), CF Craig Gentry (.254, 0, 12), 2B Ben Zobrist (.272, 10, 52, 34 2Bs with Tampa Bay), DH Billy Butler (.271, 9, 66 with Kansas City), 3B Brett Lawrie (.247, 12, 38 with Toronto), 1B Ike Davis (.233, 11, 51 with Pittsburgh and Mets) or Mark Canha (.303, 20, 82 at Triple-A with Miami), RF Josh Reddick (.264, 12, 54), C Stephen Vogt (.279, 9, 35) or Josh Phegley (.274, 23, 75 in Triple-A with White Sox), SS Marcus Semien (.234, 6, 28 with Chicago White Sox).
Rotation: RH Sonny Gray (14-10, 3.08), LH Scott Kazmir (15-9, 3.55), RH Jesse Hahn (7-4, 3.07 with San Diego), RH Kendall Graveman (14-6, 1.83 at Class-A, Double-A, Triple-A for Toronto), RH Jesse Chavez (8-8, 3.45) or LH Drew Pomeranz (5-4, 2.35).
Key Relievers: LH Sean Doolittle (2-4, 2.73, 22/26 saves, 89/8 K/BB ratio), RH Tyler Clippard (7-4, 2.18, 1 save with Washington), LH Eric O’Flaherty (1-0, 2.25, 1 save), RH Dan Otero (8-2, 2.28, 1 save), RH Evan Scribner (1-0, 4.63).
Hot Spots: Power outage. After dealing away Yoenis Cespedes, Moss and Donaldson over the past year, the A’s have a serious lack of power in their lineup. Crisp is the only player to hit as many as 20 homers in a season the past two years, but is out for at least a month. The A’s will likely need Reddick to return to his 2012 form and Butler and Davis to provide a power platoon at first base and DH if they want to generate enough offense to make it back to the playoffs.
Outlook: It was another busy offseason in Oakland after the team’s third consecutive postseason berth ended in a wild-card loss to Kansas City. Key players such as Donaldson, Samardzija, Norris and Moss were traded while Lester, Lowrie and Gregerson left as free agents. Oakland has dealt away five of its seven All-Stars from last year. In all, GM Billy Beane made nine trades this offseason involving 27 players. A staggering 28 of the 40 players on Oakland’s major league roster were acquired by trades. The most important additions are Zobrist, who will solidify second base and provide a middle-of-the-lineup hitter, and Clippard, who can close until Sean Doolittle recovers from a shoulder injury. The A’s also hope Graveman, acquired in the Donaldson deal, can fill a rotation spot at least until Jarrod Parker or A.J. Griffin are healthy enough to make it back to the rotation after missing all of last season with injuries.
— Associated Press