MLB Springboards: No. 30 Astros | No. 29 Marlins | No. 28 Mets | No. 27 Rockies | No. 26 Twins | No. 25 Pirates | No. 24 Indians | No. 23 Mariners | No. 22 Padres | No. 21 Cubs | No. 20 Brewers | No. 19 Red Sox | No. 18 White Sox | No. 17 Royals | No. 16 Orioles | No. 15 Phillies | No. 14 Diamondbacks
2012 record: 94-68
Finish: First, AL West
2012 final payroll: $59.5 million
Estimated 2013 opening day payroll: $60 million
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 13
Hashtags: #berniedance #walkoffs #thebartreturns #hidethespread #moneyball #odotnetworkmcafeeoverstockcomcoliseum #territorialfrights #elephantitis
So, following one of the strangest, most ridiculous, perfectly implausible, pie-in-the-face baseball seasons to ever roll down Hegenberger Road, a 6 1/2-month ride chauffeured by the ghost of a dancing dead guy, a question arises: Are the Oakland A's sustainable?
At $60 million per? In the ferocious AL West? In a dark and craggy football stadium of a ballpark? Hoisted by young arms? Powered largely by no-names?
This was the ballclub – the roster – Billy Beane had sought for several years. Longer, perhaps. It simply arrived a season or two before anyone expected, and then buried the Los Angeles Angels and shocked the Texas Rangers. The A's had come 20 wins from the season before, and miles farther, becoming the return on Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, Andrew Bailey, even Jason Kendall. The draft was running 13 and 24 rounds deep. The waiver wire was fertile. And a go-for-broke $36 million landed a Cuban outfielder.
It wouldn't all work, but enough did, and now comes the season that was supposed to be somewhat promising and instead arrives in defense of a division title. Yeah, and a dead guy dances.
Nine days after falling to Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers in Game 5 of the division series, Beane and assistant David Forst acquired center fielder Chris Young from the Arizona Diamondbacks. The trade bolstered depth in the outfield/designated hitter rotation that should include Yoenis Cespedes, Seth Smith, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and, now, Young.
Further, the A's signed Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima (as Stephen Drew signed in Boston and Cliff Pennington went to Arizona in the Young deal), re-signed Bartolo Colon, and jumped into the Mike Morse three-way trade to come away with Seattle catcher John Jaso.
Among the remarkable threads in the A's narrative was the role of the rookie starting pitchers. By the time the club was finishing a 51-25 second half and had overcome a five-game deficit with nine games to play, rookies had taken the ball in the A's' last 14 games, 22 of their last 24 games and 76 of their final 104 games. By then, Brandon McCarthy was recovering from a beaning, Bartolo Colon had become Exhibit A in the You-Never-Know drug tussle and Brett Anderson was having oblique (muscle, not sideways) issues.
Along came Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin, Travis Blackley and what seemed like a tiny miracle a night. The return of Colon and a healthy Anderson (who rallied back to pitch six shutout innings in Game 3 of the division series) means the A's won't go all sophomores in '13. But we've seen the birth of a potentially dominating and enduring young starting rotation that should be the best in the AL West in '13.
Parker, Milone and Griffin threw career-high innings last season. Only Parker, with 20 minor-league and 12 2/3 postseason innings, breached 200, however. If manager Bob Melvin and pitching coach Curt Young choose to play it conservative, the A's have plenty of organizational depth to cover a few recovery starts, and the bullpen (one of two in the AL with an ERA under 3) to limit starters' innings.
Where it gets interesting for Melvin is in generating the kind of offense to hang with the Angels and Rangers. On the bright side, with all that pitching, the A's probably won't have to. Nevertheless, a reasonably productive lineup certainly did its part in the club's unlikely push to 94 wins. After a first half in which the A's were predictably last in the league in runs, the post-All-Star A's boasted the best offense in baseball.
Along came Cespedes, Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson. Chris Carter and Josh Reddick combined for 25 home runs. Crisp was everywhere. The A's fashioned 14 walk-off wins, then struck for a 15th in the playoffs. The plight of the lower class – staggering the arrivals of an offense and pitching staff – no longer applied to the A's. After the break, they led the league in home runs and doubles (tied with Texas). From April to October, the Moneyball A's were sixth in the AL in (gasp) stolen bases, near the bottom in (gasp) on-base percentage, and struck out more than anybody.
It worked. They pitched, they kicked the ball around on defense some, they discovered an offense, they got along, and it all worked. Right up until Verlander.
Now comes the hard part. Now the A's have to sustain it.
"La Potencia" means "The Power," and so Cespedes' nickname preceded him into a four-year, $36-million contract with the A's, into the middle of their order, and then into one of the most striking rookie seasons in years. (Of course, Mike Trout came along at the same time.)
In 129 games, and through various ailments, Cespedes helped bring a real offense to Oakland. Playing in that pitchers' ballpark, Cespedes was 11th in the AL in OPS, 12th in slugging, 24th in at-bats per home run. He hit .345 with runners in scoring position. About the time pitchers were supposed to figure him out, Cespedes had a huge second half, then batted .316 in the division series.
The A's won't score with Cespedes alone, but they'll only be capable of scoring big if Cespedes is everything he appears to be.
When the dance got hot
The AL West had left them
Deader than Bernie
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