StrategyMarch 4, 2012

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Oakland A’s

By R.J. White

Last season brought along a 74-88 record for the Oakland Athletics, which had become about standard for the team from 2007 to 2009, when they won either 75 or 76 games each season. But the big news was the big screen debut of Moneyball, a heart-warming story about the underdog Oakland franchise overcoming the odds and stacked payrolls of other American League teams in the early 2000s to triumphantly lose four straight years in the first round of the playoffs.

They did this by having the brains to identify inefficiencies in perceived player value, giving them the wherewithal to spend two top-ten picks on Mark Mulder and Barry Zito in the late ’90s. They formed a devastating trio of aces along with Tim Hudson and allowed the A’s to routinely place a guy in the top-two of the Cy Young voting (Hudson in 2000, Mulder in 2001 and Zito in 2002). Oh, and something about on-base percentage too.

The new future of sabermetrics and smart, forward-thinking management? Apparently, that’s exemplified by splurging on a Cuban defector and hoping he can make the transition to the majors sooner rather than later. And a lot of trading. And re-signing a centerfielder at a high price to potentially play left field if your $36 million investment lives up to the hype. It might seem crazy. Crazy like a fox.

In “30 Teams in 30 Days,” the Fantasy Baseball Cafe will preview each team in Major League Baseball on a daily basis. In addition to projecting starting lineups, rotations and closing situations, the Cafe will identify potential targets for 2012 fantasy baseball drafts.

Offensive Starters

C Kurt Suzuki.237.301.3855414442460 
1B Daric Barton.212.325.267270212236 
2B Jemile Weeks.303.340.4215023622406 
SS Cliff Pennington.264.319.3695785814515 
3B Josh Donaldson.261.344.43979177013444in AAA
LF Coco Crisp.264.314.3796985449531 
CF Yoenis Cespedes.333.424.66789339911354in CBA
RF Josh Reddick.280.327.457417281254w/BOS
DH Seth Smith.284.347.48367155910476w/COL

Unsettled: 3B/OF. The big question on everyone’s mind is, “Where is Yoenis Cespedes going to start?” Considering the A’s are shelling out $36 million for the guy and that they have about as much power as a Third World country, he should be in the A’s lineup sooner rather than later. That would push Coco Crisp to left field and Seth Smith to DH. If Cespedes isn’t ready for the bigs at the start of the season, we could see Brandon Allen or Chris Carter at DH. Oh, and Manny Ramirez will hope he gets the opportunity to “be Manny” after serving a 50-game suspension. At third, Scott Sizemore’s season-ending injury opens up a spot for Donaldson, who should look like Babe Ruth next to the rest of the Oakland infield. That is, if he wins the job (he hasn’t looked too hot in early spring action). Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales are the alternatives unless Billy Beane can Scott Hatteberg himself a 3B.

Target: Yoenis Cespedes. This guy looks like the total package, so even with a decent spring, I think he makes the team as a starter. I wouldn’t overpay for him in a draft or auction, but he’s definitely worth the gamble at a reasonable price, even if you have to wait a few weeks with him on the bench. Donaldson is another interesting target in two-catcher or AL-only leagues, as he happens to have a “C” attached to his position eligibility. You’re not winning with him as a starting 3B or CI, but as a second catcher? Sneaky, sneaky. He could provide 15 HRs, a handful of SBs and a mediocre average if he winds up the everyday 3B for the A’s.

The Rotation

Brandon McCarthy (R)9-93.321.1312325170.2 
Bartolo Colon (R)8-104.001.2913540164.1w/NYY
Brad Peacock (R)15-32.390.9917747146.2in MiLB
Tom Milone (L)12-63.221.0315516148.1in AAA
Dallas Braden (L)1-13.001.2815518.0DL

Unsettled: Braden is shown as the fifth starter here, but he’s likely to start the season on the DL as he completes his recovery from shoulder surgery done early last season. He could miss just a few weeks of the season, or he could be out a little longer. Brett Anderson is also headed to the DL, but don’t expect to see him till the second half. That leaves the youngsters to step up behind McCarthy and Colon, and Jarrod Parker or Tyson Ross could see some April starts as a result. If top prospect Parker can impress, he could run away with a rotation spot as well.

Target: Brad Peacock and Tom Milone. Peacock picked up a lot of buzz last year by burning through the minors and striking out almost 11 batters per nine innings while maintaining a WHIP under 1.00 for the year. Milone was a control freak, walking just 16 guys in Triple-A last season in 24 starts. Both were shipped to the A’s in the Gio Gonzalez deal, which puts them in a nice pitching environment with a clearer path toward the majors. Keep a close eye on spring training to see which of these guys has the best chance at sticking in the rotation all year. I think both can, which make them excellent end-of-draft options. Don’t forget about McCarthy, another guy with plenty of control who usually goes later than the stats say he should (if you can get past the lowish-K totals).

The 8th and 9th Innings

Grant Balfour (R)22.471.03592062.0 
Fautino De Los Santos (R)04.321.32431733.1 

Chasing Saves: There are roughly four to forty guys competing for the closer gig right now, and when you have that many options, you have no closer. Balfour seems like the best shot at winning the job early; he was fantastic last year, striking out nearly a batter an inning while keeping his ratios nice and low. De Los Santos offers the most upside as a high-K pitcher, but he may be a little raw for the job right away. I don’t think Brian Fuentes or Joey Devine will factor in at all. Ryan Cook is considered a dark horse. The A’s could also end up trading for their main closer this year. I’d draft Balfour super-late and ignore the rest in mixed leagues. De Los Santos also deserves a roster spot in AL-only leagues.

Final Thoughts

This is a team with a lot of good young pitching that could surprise a few people this year, but while they added an exciting young bat in Cespedes, the offense just doesn’t seem good enough to maintain any kind of scoring needed to keep up with the big boys in the AL West (and the AL in general). That leaves Beane and the A’s brain-trust to hit the books and find some different ways to uncover value. Can they do it? Hollywood is watching.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe, writes for FanDuel and Razzball and has previously written for FanHouse. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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