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No. 5 A's: Retooled and ready to do their thing

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports
MLB: ALDS-Detroit Tigers at Oakland Athletics
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A rebound from Yoenis Cespedes would gives the A's a major boost. (USA TODAY Sports)

Editor’s note: Yahoo Sports will rank every team in Major League Baseball from 30th to 1st before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Oakland A’s.

2013 record: 96-66
Finish: First, AL West
2013 payroll: $71.7 million (27th of 30)
Estimated 2014 opening day payroll: $92.8 million (22nd of 30)
Yahoo Sports offseason rank: 5
A’s in six words: Sonny in Oakland, chance of Gray.

OFFSEASON ACTION
Scott Boras said this winter, “Remember that Billy Beane is the master of goulash. You never know what’s in it. You just know it’s good …”

Sadly for them, the A’s do the cooking and, for the last couple years anyway, the Tigers do all the cleaning up.

So, Beane goes back to the master plan, sorting through whatever it is that allows the ever industrious A’s to reach the playoffs seven times since 2000, only to lose in the first round six times, each of them in Game 5.

[Also: No. 6 Tigers: Will bold moves lead to big results? ]

With more money to spend, the A’s were sold on Scott Kazmir’s comeback and gave the 30-year-old lefty $22 million over two years. They sent Jemile Weeks and another minor leaguer to the Baltimore Orioles for closer Jim Johnson, who is due $10 million in 2014. That meant no Bartolo Colon, who’d remade himself in Oakland, and no Grant Balfour, who’d saved 62 games in two years there.

They traded Brett Anderson, who hasn’t been healthy enough to throw as many as 100 innings since 2010, to the Colorado Rockies for lefty Drew Pomeranz, the eternal prospect who hasn’t yet gotten it right at the big-league level. He is just 25.

And they acquired Craig Gentry (and Josh Lindblom) from the Texas Rangers, Luke Gregerson from the San Diego Padres, and signed Nick Punto for infield help and Eric O’Flaherty for more bullpen help.

That’s a lot of moving parts, particularly for a team that won 96 games. But, then, they didn’t win the one they really wanted to.

REALITY CHECK

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Sonny Gray appears to have a bright future ahead of him. (USA TODAY Sports)

The A’s, remarkably, won the AL West in each of the past two seasons because they pitch. On the front end. On the back end. That they sustained an offense in 2013 in spite of down seasons from Yoenis Cespedes and especially Josh Reddick would suggest the A’s can and will score runs again.

In spite of the departures of Colon and Anderson, the rotation remains strong and deep. How strong will depend on Kazmir, who threw 158 big-league innings last season, and Sonny Gray, who, at 23, twice matched Justin Verlander in the division series and yet returns with 12 major league starts behind him. Gray appears recovered from the broken thumb he sustained during Game 5.

Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily likely will complete the five, but Pomeranz, Tommy Milone and Josh Lindblom will get their shots in spring.

Already sturdy, the bullpen has a chance to be improved. He had his moments of imprecision, but Johnson finished with 50 saves and, in the second half, a 1.69 ERA. Right-handers batted .192 against Gregerson last season and lefties hit .143 against O’Flaherty.

Where it gets interesting for the A’s is where it always gets interesting, in the batter’s box. In 2011, when they won 74 games, the A’s scored 645 runs. In 2013: 767. First came Cespedes, then came Josh Donaldson, and along came Brandon Moss, and the A’s outscored everyone but Boston and Detroit in the AL. Again, this was with Cespedes batting .240 (.314 in September) and Reddick, who broke out with 32 home runs in 2012, batting .226 with 12 home runs. Reddick had wrist surgery in the offseason, so, at 27, maybe he can be the 2012 player again.

The revelation was Donaldson, who’d played 89 major-league games before 2013, then, at 27 years old, finished fourth in the AL MVP vote. He crushed left-handed pitching (1.042 OPS) and hit .336 with runners in scoring position, was sixth in the league in on-base percentage and second – to Mike Trout – in WAR. Sticking with the Boras analogy, this would make Donaldson the A’s cubed beef.

SAVIOR
A healthy, happy, productive, aggressive Yoenis Cespedes is one of the better players in the game, and at a time the Texas Rangers seem to have regrouped and the Los Angeles Angels might just pitch occasionally, he could be the difference in the AL West.

His tendency to overswing – at almost everything – tied him up for much of last season, though it served him well in the Home Run Derby, and then in September and October. He played through or around hand, wrist, hamstring and shoulder issues, and still was the A’s best player come the postseason.

In an offense that has found itself, Cespedes could make it something special.

HAIKU
The prospect Russell,
From Oakland pipeline that won’t
Require a plumber

Previous teams
No. 6 Tigers
No. 7 Rays
No. 8 Nationals
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No. 28 Twins
No. 29 Cubs
No. 30 Astros

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