StrategyMarch 4, 2013

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Oakland Athletics

By Ken Kesterson

Year after year, the Oakland Athletics seem to defy the experts. They entered the 2012 season with the lowest payroll in all of baseball, in a division that boasts two of the six highest-spending teams, and only wound up winning the AL West with 94 wins and pushing eventual World Series participant Detroit to the brink before running into some Verlander guy.

The Athletics enter 2013 facing those seemingly long odds once again. The Rangers and Angels are again heavy favorites, bolstered by names recognizable to mainstream media and the early rounds of your fantasy draft. However, the A’s always play everyone tough, and it would never be wise to overlook them. From a fantasy perspective, there are only a few people I would even consider on my roster. It’is an uninspiring crew, but a couple surprises appear every year.

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 2013 fantasy baseball drafts.
Offensive Starters

C John Jaso.276.394.4564110505361w/SEA
1B Brandon Moss.291.358.5964821521296 
2B Jemile Weeks.221.321.3605422016511 
SS Hiroyuki Nakajima.311.382.4516913747567in JPN
3B Jed Lowrie.244.331.4484316422387w/HOU
LF Yoenis Cespedes.292.356.50570238216540 
CF Coco Crisp.259.325.41868114639508 
RF Josh Reddick.242.305.46385328511673 
DH Seth Smith.240.333.4205514522441 

Unsettled: Second base. Jemile Weeks followed up a promising 2011 rookie season in which he hit .303 and swiped 22 bases in only 97 games by setting a new baseline for the sophomore slump, as he hit .221 and posted a negative WAR (for my family that I’ve redirected from Facebook, he was so bad he actually cost his team a win). Scott Sizemore returns after missing the season as he tore his knee last spring, and the job is officially listed as wide open during camp. Weeks is once again having a good spring, and should he win the job outright he makes an intriguing late-round MI flier with his speed.
Target: Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes entered the 2012 season as a mystery with just a legendary Youtube video, but finished the season looking like a sure thing. Despite missing 33 games with various ailments, he managed 23 HRs and 16 SBs. He looks plenty capable of putting up some 20/20 seasons, and that could come as a reasonable investment. He is ranked No. 52 at ESPN, which is 10 to 15 spots too low. He hits lefties, righties, at home and on the road, and his second half numbers show improvement over his first half. Given that the injuries were random and the swing is unconventional and violent looking, he may not be the safest play, but I never met anybody who won a fantasy title by playing it safe.
The Rotation
Brett Anderson (L)4-22.571.0325735.0 
Jarrod Parker (R)13-83.471.2614063181.1 
Tommy Milone (L)13-103.741.2813736190.0 
Dan Straily (R)2-13.891.32321639.1 
A.J. Griffin (L)7-13.061.13641982.1 

Unsettled: A.J. Griffin. His surface stats look nice: strong W-L, great ERA, limited walks. However, he got rocked in three of his last four starts last season. Is that a function of the league catching up to him? Detroit, New York and Texas hit him hard; it’s possible there was just a bad run of tough teams. However, his fastball only averaged 89.7 mph, and he may have the shorter leash between him and Dan Straily, as Bartolo Colon is due to join the team after each one makes a start, likely pushing one of them back to Triple-A. The smart money here says Griffin goes back until Colon gets hurt (probably two to three innings into his first start).
Target: Brett Anderson. Is he another successful Tommy John surgery recovery story? Anderson returned in late August of last season and made seven starts, including one in the playoffs where he shut down the Tigers. Anderson is just barely 25 years old, so there is plenty of room for growth as he adjusts to major-league lineups. He gets adequate strikeouts and is a good enough ground-ball pitcher to not damage your ratios. (Five or so starts against the Astros will help too.)
The 8th and 9th Innings
Grant Balfour (R)242.530.92722874.2 
Ryan Cook (R)142.090.94802773.1 

Chasing Saves: Balfour had back surgery on Feb 14 but is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. Balfour took over closing duties from Cook last July and didn’t look back, converting 17 straight opportunities to close out the season. Cook had taken over for the now departed Brian Fuentes but eventually lost his grip on the job after a 5.33 ERA in that role. Balfour is 35 and has proven to be streaky during his career. There’s no reason to believe he’ll make the Oakland fans forget about Rollie Fingers, but saves are important in roto, and there are worse options out there. Should (or when) he struggle, or should he not be available to begin the season, Cook figures to get the chances.
Final Thoughts
The Oakland Athletics are built on a budget, which means they aren’t built to provide players that anchor your fantasy team. Nevertheless, they do have some smart buys if the price is right in the rotation, and you can usually get a couple offensive surprises (Moss and Reddick, anyone?) off the waiver wire if you act early enough.
Check back tomorrow for our look at the Seattle Mariners.

Ken Kesterson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Ken in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of bigken117 or on Twitter @kenkesterson where he barely posts.
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