Offseason In Review: Oakland Athletics

The Athletics restocked their farm system and restored outfield depth this offseason, but their future in Oakland remains unresolved.

Major League Signings

Notable Minor League Signings

Manny Ramirez, Brandon Moss, Jason Pridie, Edgar Gonzalez.

Trades and Claims

Notable Losses

Draft Picks Gained or Lost

  • Obtained 34th, 62nd overall selections for losing Willingham. 
  • Obtained 47th overall selection for losing DeJesus.

When the offseason began, it was clear that the A’s would have to assemble a new outfield and weigh offers for their controllable young pitchers. Billy Beane didn’t hold back, adding six outfielders and trading away as many experienced arms. The result: a new-look Athletics team whose future in Oakland remains undetermined.

After ranking sixth among American League teams in runs allowed a year ago, the A’s decided to part with a ton of pitching: Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Craig BreslowAndrew BaileyJosh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso. One man who didn’t change teams was the one doing the trading. Beane reportedly attracted interest from clubs with GM openings this offseason, but he stayed put in Oakland. Parting with so much pitching was difficult, but the A's viewed the trades as a necessary step.

“There was a need to infuse a quantity of talent into the system,” director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi told MLBTR. “And when you’re looking to do that, you have to be willing to give up your best assets. You have to start from the top in terms of guys you’re willing to shop.”

As unpleasant as it must have been for the A's to part with Gonzalez after back-to-back 200 inning seasons, I can see why they made the move when they did. Gonzalez is getting expensive via arbitration, he's prone to walks and good luck appears to have deflated his ERA to an extent since 2010. Still, any team would miss a pitcher of his caliber.

The Bailey trade was equally defensible given the $3.9MM salary he'll earn in 2012, his past health concerns and Oakland's other bullpen arms. Some consider Josh Reddick a fourth outfielder, so it's not as though the Athletics obtained a sure thing in return for their former closer, but perhaps it’s time to temper expectations when it comes to trades involving relief pitchers. Teams haven't always obtained much of substance in return for relievers in the past year. Reddick will get the chance to prove the naysayers wrong as the club's everyday right fielder in 2012.

The decision to trade Cahill, a durable, young ground ball pitcher who's under team control through 2017, was more puzzling. Jarrod Parker, under team control for the same period, showed promise in Double-A last year, and he appears to have more top of the rotation potential. But he's just nine months younger than Cahill, and he's a season removed from Tommy John surgery. This deal makes the A's cheaper for the next few seasons, but I'm not convinced swapping a young 200 inning starter for a prospect makes them better.

There's no denying that Oakland improved its farm system this offseason. Parker and A.J. Cole are consensus top 100 prospects, according to lists at Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and ESPN.com. Brad Peacock and Derek Norris both appeared on two of the three prospect lists, an indication that the industry holds Oakland’s new prospects in high esteem.

Parker, Peacock and Tom Milone could get extended looks in the rotation behind Opening Day starter Brandon McCarthy. The A’s are hoping for more than three starts from Dallas Braden this year and Brett Anderson should return from Tommy John surgery midseason. Free agent signing Bartolo Colon provides depth for just $2MM. Though he faded down the stretch in 2011, this signing will be a bargain as long as Colon strings together half a season or so of quality outings.

Josh Willingham and David DeJesus signed multiyear deals elsewhere, as expected, so the A’s outfield seemed incredibly thin until Coco Crisp re-signed a two-year, $14MM deal. Although the A’s signed him to play center field, they may decide to move Crisp to a corner spot in favor of a new acquisition.

Yoenis Cespedes obtained $36MM from Oakland despite the fact that he’s never played affiliated baseball. The A's gambled that Cespedes’ power and athleticism will vault him to stardom in the American League. This was no impulse move, either. They'd been eyeing Cespedes for a while.

“We said ‘if we make one big financial investment this offseason, this would be the guy we would do it with,’” Zaidi said.

The move also serves as a reminder that the A’s rarely if ever outbid the competition for premium domestic free agents. Major Leaguers, particularly position players, don’t seem to have a strong affinity for Oakland.

On paper Seth Smith (.881 career OPS against RHP) and Bay Area native Jonny Gomes (.877 career OPS against LHP) could platoon in the DH spot and exceed Hideki Matsui's 2011 production. Gomes' ability to hit left-handed pitching will complement Smith and Reddick nicely.

The signing of Manny Ramirez to a minor league contract makes sense for the A’s given their offensive struggles in 2011. Ramirez faces a 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s drug policy, and by the time he's eligible to play, the Athletics will have had many chances to evaluate his hitting skills. If Ramirez makes the club at some point, he could generate some buzz for a team that finished last in the Major League in attendance a year ago. More importantly for Beane and manager Bob Melvin, he might hit. Every American League team but the Mariners outscored the A's a year ago, so Oakland needs offense. Ramirez has never posted a full-season OPS below .870; why not give him a shot?

Scott Sizemore will miss the 2012 season after a promising 2011 showing, so the A’s are looking to Josh Donaldson and Adam Rosales at third base. It’s possible the club will look outside of the organization for help, and Brandon IngeJuan Francisco and Alberto Callaspo could intrigue the front office to varying degrees.

It doesn't appear likely that the A's will score significantly more in 2012 and their thinned-out pitching staff will make it difficult to maintain last year's level of run prevention. The A’s, a 74-88 team a year ago, got younger and cheaper this offseason, but I expect they're headed for a third or fourth-place finish and 70 or so wins in 2012. Until MLB, the A’s and the Giants settle the long-term future of the franchise, the A’s will need more than their share of health and good fortune to contend.


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