Is there a more anonymous good team in Major League Baseball right now than the Oakland A's? Seriously, name one. Not Tampa Bay, as the Rays have stars like David Price and Evan Longoria. Pittsburgh has NL MVP Andrew McCutchen. Arizona has Paul Goldschmidt. Oakland likely has just one player who is known by a casual baseball fan: Cuban Yoenis Cespedes, and that might be pushing things.
Actually the franchise's biggest star is Mr. Moneyball himself, general manager Billy Beane. Thanks to smart trades, drafting and under-the-radar signings, the A's have won the American League West in each of the past two years despite a payroll that is dwarfed in the division by both Texas and the L.A. Angels. Unfortunately for the A's, they have run into Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers in the past two ALDS, losing both in five games. That could be one issue with the A's: they are built to win in the regular season with several solid players but perhaps not in the postseason where the star-laden teams usually come out on top.
LHP Brett Anderson, CL Grant Balfour, LHP Jerry Blevins, OF Michael Choice, RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Pat Neshek, IF Scott Sizemore, OF Seth Smith, C Kurt Suzuki, 2B Jemile Weeks, OF Chris Young
LHP Fernando Abad, CF Craig Gentry, C RHP Luke Gregerson, RHP Jim Johnson, LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Josh Lindblom, LHP Eric O’Flaherty, LHP Drew Pomeranz, IF Nick Punto
Oakland finished third in the American League a season ago with 767 runs and was a solid 87-75 on the runline for sports bettors. The A's didn't hit for a high average (.254) but were third in the AL with 186 home runs. Third baseman Josh Donaldson was a breakout star. He entered the season with barely 300 career at-bats but played in 158 games and hit .301 with 24 home runs and 93 RBIs while finishing fourth in the AL MVP voting at a salary of $492,500. He was the best value in the AL not named Mike Trout. Brandon Moss, a journeyman, blew up with a team-high 30 home runs while knocking in 87. Shortstop Jed Lowrie also had his best season and finally stayed healthy, playing in 154 games -- previous high 97 -- and hitting .290 with 15 homers and 75 RBIs. Cespedes hit only .240 but had 26 homers. Even Coco Crisp had a career-high 22 home runs. These guys swing for the fences.
While the lineup will look largely the same -- the A's use more platoons than any other team, all based on pitching matchups -- the pitching staff will look different. Colon was perhaps the biggest pitching surprise in the majors last season in going 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA to finish sixth in the Cy Young voting at age 40. The team may have thought that was somewhat flukish as it let him walk in free agency, with Colon signing with the Mets. Oakland hopes it found another reclamation project in Kazmir. The lefty got a two-year, $22 million deal after going 10-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 29 starts for Cleveland. He had pitched just 1.2 innings in the majors the previous two seasons due to arm issues. It will be Kazmir and all youngsters in the rotation, led by Jarrod Parker. Oakland was second in the AL in starters' ERA in 2013. The A's stole Johnson from Baltimore in an offseason trade to replace Balfour. Johnson tied for the big-league lead with 50 saves. Oakland also added one of the majors' best set-up men in Gregerson. The A's had the sixth-best bullpen ERA in baseball last year and it looks better now.
The A's are +160 on baseball odds to win the AL West again, +1000 to win the AL pennant and +1800 to win the World Series. They are given a wins total of 86.5 at sportsbooks, with the over a slight -115 favorite. Cespedes is +6000 to lead the majors in home runs.
Parker, A.J. Griffin and Sonny Gray give the A's the clear top rotation in the AL West, with Kazmir at least matching last year's numbers. Oakland avoids the Tigers for once in the playoffs and reaches its first World Series since 1990.
Kazmir, the only lefty starter, breaks down again. All those guys who had career years in 2013 come back to earth. The Angels and Rangers play up to their potential and payrolls, leaving the A's to fend for the second wild-card spot.
Free MLB Pick: Oakland won't claim the division but will win at least 90 games for a third straight season.