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MLB season preview: Don't expect the Oakland A's to play shocker this year

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There are years when the Oakland Athletics are able to shock us all, when they’re able to cobble together a roster with a couple of stars and lots of young talent and play shocker in the AL West.

We’ve seen that in the past. But the chances are pretty good we won’t see it this year. These A’s of 2017 don’t look like the type of team that will be a movie one day. They’ve got some interesting players, sure — whether it’s Sonny Gray, their ace looking for a rebound season, the homer-bashing Khris Davis or promising youngsters such as Ryon Healy and Jharel Cotton — but it sure doesn’t seem like they have enough to compete with the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros.

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The A’s could get there in the coming years, if they keep this bunch together and players like Healy and Cotton and Sean Manaea deliver on their potential while guys like Trevor Plouffe and Jesse Hahn revive their careers. But being better than the Astros is going to be a tough prospect for the foreseeable future.

Like it often is with the A’s, the real drama in 2017 might be off the field: Will Gray rebound and get shipped out of town? Will they look to move Davis, who beat them in arbitration case after hitting 42 homers last year? Neither would be that surprising since these are the things the A’s do when they’re not in shocker mode.

ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions
: Rajai Davis, Santiago Casilla, Trevor Plouffe
Subtractions: Danny Valencia, Ross Detwiler, Arismendy Alcantara

It was another strange offseason for the Athletics. Davis and Plouffe are both slated to start for Oakland, but both players are stretched in full-time roles. Casilla should be a solid pickup in the bullpen. There’s just not a ton to be excited about here. On the flip side, it’s not like they lost a ton. Valencia developed into a much better hitter with the Athletics, so his production will be missed. It’s tough to call Detwiler or Alcantara “subtractions.” Detwiler posted a 6.14 ERA with the club while Alcantara received just 19 plate appearances in the majors. (Chris Cwik)

Sonny Gray is the most interesting man to watch in Oakland. (Getty Images)
Sonny Gray is the most interesting man to watch in Oakland. (Getty Images)

KEY PLAYER
It can’t be anyone but Sonny Gray. From 2013-2015, he looked like an ace in the making. And then in 2016, he was nearly unrecognizable. His 5.69 ERA was double the previous three seasons combined. He allowed home runs at double the rate from 2015, and saw a jump in his walk rate. But there is good news here: there was no significant drop in velocity, and his strikeout rate stayed steady. So some of what we saw could have been a lot of bad luck. But for the A’s, it’s vital that Gray rebound. They need him to anchor their rotation, because without him, it’s a little bleak. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECTED LINEUP & ROTATION
Lineup:
1. Rajai Davis, CF (.249/.306/.388, 12 HR, 48 RBI, 74 R, 43 SB)
2. Stephen Vogt, C (.251/.305/.406, 14 HR, 56 RBI)
3. Ryon Healy, DH (.305/.337/.524, 13 HR, 37 RBI)
4. Khris Davis, LF (.247/.307/.524, 42 HR, 102 RBI, 85 R)
5. Matt Joyce, RF (.242/.403/.463, 13 HR, 42 RBI)
6. Trevor Plouffe, 3B (.260/.303/.420, 12 HR, 47 RBI)
7. Marcus Semien, SS (.238/.300/.435, 27 HR, 75 RBI, 72 R)
8. Yonder Alonso, 1B (.253/.316/.367, 7 HR, 56 RBI)
9. Jed Lowrie, 2B (.263/.314/.322, 2 HR, 27 RBI)

Rotation:
1. Sonny Gray (5-11, 5.69 ERA, 117 IP, 94 K)
2. Kendall Graveman (10-11, 4.11 ERA, 186 IP, 108 K)
3. Sean Manaea (7-9, 3.86 ERA, 144.2 IP, 124 K)
4. Jesse Hahn (2-4, 6.02 ERA, 46.1 IP, 23 K)
5. Jharel Cotton (2-0, 2.15 ERA, 29.1 IP, 23 K)

Khris Davis hit 42 homers last season for the A's. (AP)
Khris Davis hit 42 homers last season for the A's. (AP)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
The A’s tend to be an enigma, so figuring out which direction they’ll go is never easy. They added some veterans this offseason, so they’re obviously looking to put forth a competitive team. It’s difficult to picture more than 75 wins, though, in a top-heavy AL West. (Mark Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
Coming off a 93-loss season in 2016, the A’s seem poised for another losing campaign in 2017. As we’ve seen, when the bottom falls out in Oakland, it’s rarely pretty. If the veteran additions don’t pan out, they could fall past 95 losses. (Townsend)

Jharel Cotton is among the young A's players who should be on your fantasy radar. (AP)
Jharel Cotton is among the young A's players who should be on your fantasy radar. (AP)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Which young A’s player is worth your pick?
The A’s will trot out a trio of 25-year-olds this season that should garner the attention of fantasy owners. Topping this youthful triumvirate is cornerman Ryon Healy, who hit a combined .317 with 27 home runs between the majors and minors last season. Going just inside the top 200 overall in average Yahoo drafts, the price is nice for someone who can be expected to deliver 20-plus home runs with a reasonable batting average hitting in the heart of the A’s order.

On the mound, Jharel Cotton and Sean Manaea were electric last September, combining for a 1.70 ERA over the final month of the ’16 season. Both possess quality swing-and-miss repertoires, led by outstanding changeups. With solid pedigrees, an advantageous home pitching environment and the long leash that comes with a team that can afford to be patient, these are arms you’ll want to have on your late-round target list. (Brandon Funston)


BEST FOLLOW
John Axford is a close, close second on this list, but it’s hard for him to surpass Sean Doolittle. Doolittle has that exact mixture of charm, humor, and self-awareness that make him a delight to follow on Twitter.


Yup, he used bobbleheads to tell the world the he and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan had gotten engaged. And that’s not even the highlight of his last month on Twitter. He designed a Boba Fett themed glove with Rawlings. He bought home a foster dog that looks just like him. He needled John Axford about his famous Oscar picks. And he interacted with fans about ways that baseball could make the game more attractive to younger people. (Roscher)

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
The Athletics hosted their first Pride Night back in 2015, and the event was a rousing success. At the time, Dolan offered to buy up tickets from any fan who didn’t want to attend the game. She raised over $30,000 for the event. The team continued the tradition last year, dedicating the Night to the victims of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting. A portion of the proceeds from the game were donated to three charities in the Bay Area. Pride Night will be held June 6 this year. The A’s will take on the Blue Jays. If you purchase a special ticket for the event, you’ll walk away with an A’s Pride scarf and access to a pregame party at the ballpark.

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!