Getting To Know The 2015 Oakland Athletics


This is the third in a series of posts previewing the 2015 AL West. Previous posts: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Houston Astros. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

Welcome to Oakland! Recognize anyone? Didn’t think you would! After spending the first half of 2014 masquerading as the best team in baseball, the Athletics made a series of deadline moves to boost their chances at winning the World Series. All they did after renting Jeff Samardzija, Jon Lester, and others was completely collapse, barely grabbing the second wild card and then blowing that game, too. Their pitiful second half led to a massive roster overhaul over the winter.

The 2015 Oakland Athletics were supposed to be scary. Maybe they would have been, maybe they wouldn’t have been. They still might be, even with new starters at every single non-outfield position. Had last season ended a little differently, maybe they’d still have the best third baseman in the league and a bonafide slugger at first. But things went south for the A’s, and Billy Beane tore his team down. But while the quailty of the 2015 product has been somewhat sacrificed in order to sustain the product long-term, this team still has a chance at being pretty alright.

The Rotation

RHP Sonny Gray
LHP Scott Kazmir
LHP Drew Pomeranz
RHP Jesse Hahn
RHP Jesse Chavez
RHP Jarrod Parker
RHP A.J. Griffin

Aug 5, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; San Diego Padres starting pitcher Jesse Hahn (45) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

This rotation isn’t horrible, or even bad. Gray’s an ace whether the world’s noticed or not, and Kazmir has been excellent since his miraculous return to form two years ago. So you’ve got a strong top two. Nice, nice. Always good to start strong at the top.

After that… well, Chavez was unexpectedly awesome as a swingman a year ago, but who knows, since he’s still largely a reliever in starter’s clothes. Pomeranz was another successful starter/reliever a year ago, but the year before that he had an ERA and FIP in the mid sixes. He’s only pitched a full season as a starter once, and last year was really his first-ever taste of MLB success. Hahn was pretty good in San Diego last year! For all we know he’s the safest bet of the three.

Then there’s soon-to-be returning Tommy John boys Parker and Griffin, who are really key to all of this. You lose two ace-caliber arms in Lester and Samardzija, replace them with nobody, rely on a rotation full of relievers… sounds like a disaster, until you realize there’s a legitimate insurance policy in place. To say nothing of Kendall Graveman and Sean Nollin, either of whom could conceivably help the A’s win games in 2015.

It’s a deep group, even if the opening day rotation is less-then-inspiring (and best suited as the middle of a bullpen). There’s upside everywhere, to the point where the team can simply play whoever’s hot. Obnoxious, right? Surprised? This is the A’s we’re talking about, and this whole “be really annoying and somehow good despite trading away all the star players” thing is kind of their thing.

The Bullpen

LHP Sean Doolittle
RHP Tyler Clippard
RHP Dan Otero
RHP Ryan Cook
LHP Fernando Abad
RHP R.J. Alvarez
LHP Eric O’Flaherty
RHP Eric Scribner

October 6, 2014; San Francisco, CA, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Tyler Clippard (36) delivers a pitch during game three of the 2014 NLDS baseball playoff game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Doolittle’s one of the best closers in the league, or at least he was a year ago. Before that he wasn’t a closer at all, and you know how these careers go. Anyways, he’s hurt right now, perhaps opening the door for Clippard or O’Flaherty. Probably Clippard, who might just hold the job even after Doolittle is back. As is, the last seven of these eight names are probably the opening day ‘pen, with Abad most likely to lose his spot when Doolitle’s healthy.

The first thought is that this group must be pretty good, right? It’s Billy Beane’s A’s, and so you just kind of assume that they’re going to be obnoxiously talented. Indeed, Alvarez is a relative unknown who just so happens to strike a bunch of dudes out. But he also walks the world. Is that indicative of this group as a whole? Are they excellence masked by potentially meaningless warts? Or are the warts real, and contagious?

The truth is almost always somewhere in the middle, and that’s probably the case here. A lot to like in here, and a lot of legitimate quabbles. This is a strikeout-heavy group that also might let a lot of guys get on base. I’d hesitate to call this anything more or less than an average bullpen. But in a month or two it might be obviously great or obviously trash. Who knows! It’s a bullpen! Don’t try to predict bullpens, especially middle-of-the-road ones.

The Lineup

LF Coco Crisp
2B Ben Zobrist
RF Josh Reddick
DH Billy Butler
1B Ike Davis
3B Brett Lawrie
C Stephen Vogt
SS Marcus Semien
CF Sam Fuld

Sep 15, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist (18) hits the game winning RBI single during the ninth inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the New York Yankees 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Recognize anyone? ANYONE?? Okay, so the outfielders were all here a year ago. Vogt, too, though in a less prominent role. There’s been a huge infield turnover, with one superstar being traded and another being traded for. It’s a weaker group, but maybe not by a whole lot.

Zobrist is the A’s best player, stepping into a nice pair of Donaldson-sized shoes and (hopefully) making himself right at home. His acquisition was hilarious, as the A’s had spent the previous months shipping out all of Oakland’s darlings and acquiring apparent stopgaps like Davis and Butler. When the team pulled the trigger on a deal for Zobrist, it was kind of like “heh, okay, you got us, we now have absolutely no idea what’s going on here.” But he’s one of the game’s finest, and makes the A’s a lot better than they would have been otherwise.

The group as a whole is pretty good. Crisp is still a nice player, and the 3-4-5 hitters all have the potential to do damage. But they could all also be flops, which is where most of the risk lies. Center field is without a bat, and Fuld seems likely to play at least a little too much. Vogt can hit, but his defense is still something of an unknown.

Trade acquisitions Semien and Lawrie are upside ploys who, like much of this lineup, could either excell or fail. The hope with this group is that enough of the young guys break out and enough of the hitters hit. If they get a big year from Lawrie or Semien, it will bode quite well for their long-term future. If Country Breakfast hits, great. But there’s less room for error here than it might appear, given that everyone save for Zobrist qualifies as some kind of a question mark.

The Bench

C Josh Phegley
OF Craig Gentry
IF Eric Sogard
1B Mark Canha

Feb 28, 2015; Mesa, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics second baseman Eric Sogard (28) poses for a portrait during Photo Day at HoHoKam Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Gentry and his defense will platoon with Fuld in center, while regularly spelling Crisp and Reddick. He’s probably going to be one of the more oft-used “bench” guys in the league, and for good reason: he’s pretty good. Unfortunately, the Oakland bench drops off pretty significantly after that.

Sogard wears glasses. Spectacles, not sports goggles, and yes, he plays the middle infield while wearing them on his face. Sogard is a spectacle in spectacles, one might say not at all inaccurately. Nobody in MLB looks less like an athlete than Sogard, and hey, he also hits like a pitcher. He’s the backup at just about every infield position this year, but could be called on to be something more than that.

Phegley represents a big downgrade behind the plate from what Oakland’s been running out the last few years, as they’ve regularly had at least two starting-caliber catchers on the roster at any given time. Phegley is not starting caliber. Canha is a 26-year-old slugger who, to this point, has played exclusively in the Marlins’ farm system. He’s expected to make the team, if only out of Oakland’s curiosity.


Feb 22, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Oakland Athletics infielder Eric Sogard poses for a portrait during photo day at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland Athletics are projected to finish 83-79, five games behind the Seattle Mariners and in third place in the AL West. Sounds reasonable, though really I would be just as unsurprised by 73 wins as I would by 93. There’s a lot of variance built into this year’s A’s, with the idea being that it’ll help them better situate for the future.

This should make for a compelling season, yet I just can’t get myself to care about this team at all. The Angels are fun to hate. The Astros have youth and sleepers. The Rangers are finally some sustainable kind of awful, as we’ve always dreamed of them being. And the A’s might be a threat, or they might be the cellar, but either way I don’t think I can get myself to care. If they challenge for the division title, so what? They’ve been doing that a lot lately, and so it wouldn’t be surprising. If they suck, yeah, you trade Donaldson and expect not to?

The rotation’s worse, the lineup’s worse, and yet this still might be a good team. There’s MLB depth, and where there isn’t, there’s youth. There’s even a rented Ben Zobrist! Weird, weird team, these 2015 A’s. Maybe we’ll all be charmed and annoyed by them come season’s end, but right now they’re just kind of an abstract speck floating through our subconscious, hyperreal to the point of being ignorable. And as far as that 83-79 projection goes? Sounds spot on to me. Which means they’re going to either way overshoot it or way undershoot it. Either way they’ll be some kind of obnoxious.