In terms of fantasy talent, the A's are the "If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?" analogy. If you and your friends decided to eliminate Oakland from the player pool for your '12 fantasy draft, more than likely you'd hardly notice that anything had changed. In early drafts charted on MockDraftCentral, there are no A's players being taken on average among the top 150 picks, and only two players (CoCo Crisp and Jemile Weeks) that land among the top 200.
While the Angels and Rangers have put forth their best Yankees/Red Sox impersonation this offseason, spending major bucks on Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Yu Darvish, the A's have begun a full-blown rebuilding process with a heavy emphasis on post-hype sleepers. The A's figure to clock in with a '12 payroll of around $40 million, which will be less than half of the payroll of any other team in the AL West and roughly one-fourth of the Angels' expected '12 payroll.
Realistically, the A's can't hope to compete with the Rangers and Angels in the AL West this year, but the question fantasy owners need to know is whether any of the formerly highly-regarded post-hype prospects on the A's roster will be able to finally catch fire. If so, for the A's sake, let's hope it's a power hitter, perhaps the biggest area of concern on a squad loaded with question marks. ...
Where's the beef?
Josh Willingham led the A's with 29 home runs in '11. No other player managed even half that number — Kurt Suzuki was second with 14 home runs. Willingham's departure (signed with Minnesota) leaves a huge power void in the lineup. In fact, three of the five A's who reached double-figures in home runs a year ago (Willingham; Hideki Matsui; David DeJesus) have all found new employers. Only Suzuki and Scott Sizemore remain. And while Sizemore's 15-20 HR upside offers some intrigue among the 2B-eligible crowd, you're not getting rich in the power department from either of these guys.
If the A's are to have a big bopper or two emerge in the middle of this lineup, it will be because a slugger that has yet to shake the Quad-A label finally breaks through. Those candidates are 25-year-old lefty power bat Brandon Allen, a .210 hitter with a 128:40 K-to-BB ratio in 324 career ABs; 25-year-old Chris Carter, a Frank Thomas-esque behemoth who owns a . 167 BA mark and a 41:9 K-to-BB ratio in 114 career ABs, but has shown 30-HR power and impressive patience at the minor league levels; 27-year-old Kila Ka'aihue, who has posted dreamy Moneyball numbers at Triple-A (.909 OPS in 353 games) but owns just a .684 OPS in 87 MLB games; and 26-year-old Michael Taylor, a 25/25 talent that has seen his prospect cred take a big hit in recent years because he's hasn't been able to stay healthy.
With these post-hypers in either the first base, left field or DH mix, along with Daric Barton and December acquisition Collin Cowgill, there's "PLATOON" written all over these guys. Banking on any one of the aforementioned players in standard-sized mixed leagues is unwise. Best let them see if they can force your hand from the free agent pool.
If you don't mind my saying, I can see you're out of aces, Oakland. Do you have anything up your sleeve for the rotation?
This offseason, the A's traded Trevor Cahill to Arizona and sent Gio Gonzalez to Washington. In addition, Brett Anderson is out until after the All-Star break because of last July's Tommy John surgery. That leaves Dallas Braden as the only A's projected starter to have ever won at least 10 games in a season, and Braden's readiness for Opening Day is dicey given his shoulder surgery last May that cost him the remainder of the '11 season.
Brandon McCarthy, who won nine games and posted a solid 3.32 ERA is the likely Opening Day starter, but he ranked just 60th among qualified starters in K/9 ratio (6.49), which makes him more of a stream option in standard mixed leagues. Guillermo Moscoso, who came over from Texas before the '11 season, was a pleasant surprise for the A's, posting an impressive 3.38 ERA in 23 appearances (21 starts). But his BABIP (.221) and xFIP (5.02) portends significant regression in '12. Plus, his 5.2 K/9 mark won't play in leagues with conservative innings pitched limits, like Yahoo! default leagues.
The A's do have a potential future ace in Jarrod Parker, who was acquired from Arizona in the Cahill deal. The D-backs' former top prospect lost the 2010 season to Tommy John surgery, but rebounded well in Double-A last season and finished the year with 5.2 scoreless innings against the Dodgers in late September. He throws his fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s and he also mixes in a plus slider and changeup. The A's have a strong track record of getting strong contributions from young arms under Billy Beane, so Parker is one to track closely. But he has just six innings of MLB experience, and he's far from a lock to open the season in Oakland. Unless he's a spring sensation, he's another wait-and-see candidate for fantasy owners.
With Andrew Bailey off to Boston, don't tell me Brian Fuentes is going to inherit the A's closer role?
Fuentes certainly has more closing experience than anyone currently slated to have a shot at opening the season in Oakland's pen, so he has to be considered a serious contender for the job. But his volatility in that role is well-established and, with a '12 price tag of $5 million (second-highest on the team), Fuentes is likely already at the top of Beane's list of the next players to be dealt. So banking on double-digit saves from Fuentes is overly optimistic. In fact, there's a good chance that this bullpen could end up producing three to four players in the 5-10 save range. The lefty Fuentes could end up in a committee with Grant Balfour (and, perhaps, Joey Devine). And, at some point in the second-half of the season (if not earlier), the team will likely turn to closer of the future Fautino De Los Santos, a wild, flame-throwing 25-year-old righty who mowed down 43 hitters in 33.1 innings in his rookie campaign with the A's last season.
In early mock drafts, Balfour is seeing the most love among A's relievers from fantasy drafters. Balfour always delivers around a K-per-IP and has produced an ERA of 2.47 or less in three of the past four seasons, so there's some logic to thinking he's currently the best candidate for the job . But until manager Bob Melvin establishes a clear bullpen hierarchy, don't gamble anything more than a very late-round draft pick on any of the A's closer candidates.
There's no shortage of post-hype sleeper prospects here, but what about some farm fresh options? Anyone have a chance to emerge this season?
Last year, Jemile Weeks was called up to Oakland in June and proceeded to hit .303 and steal 22 bases in 97 games. He was a huge free agent fantasy addition for those in need of speed down the stretch last season. It's unlikely that the A's will have a rookie emerge in '12 like Weeks did, but Parker has the kind of pedigree and opportunity to make some noise. And Brad Peacock, who was acquired in the Gio Gonzalez deal, is another well-regarded hard-throwing starter that should be part of the rotation mix in '12, though he profiles more as a No. 2 or No. 3 rather than a true ace.
On offense, 24-year-old former Boston farm-hand Josh Reddick will likely get the first shot in right field but, from a fantasy standpoint, his best-case numbers aren't likely to look much better than the player he's replacing, David DeJesus. The most intriguing bat on the A's farm is the hulking Michael Choice, who hit 30 HRs in 118 games in Single-A last season. But, much like the A's chances of competing in the AL West, Choice is at least a couple years away from making a difference.
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- Josh Willingham