Billy Beane overhauled the Oakland Athletics this offseason off yet another playoff failure, and they are given a wins total of 81 on MLB odds. Find out whether we recommend placing your MLB picks over or under.
Recap of 2014
The A's weren't supposed to win the American League West Division in 2012 but did -- before losing to Detroit in Game 5 of the ALDS. They certainly weren't supposed to repeat in 2013 but did -- before losing to Detroit in Game 5 of the ALDS.
Last season, the A's looked like a juggernaut for the first half of the year. In early July, Beane made a rather out-of-character trade for a small-market club by trading his two best prospects, shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder Billy McKinney, to the Cubs for starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. The A's entered the All-Star break with 59 wins, the most in baseball, and by far the best run differential in MLB at plus-145. They were the World Series favorites.
Beane wasn't done. At the July 31 deadline he made an even more stunning trade, landing Red Sox ace pitcher Jon Lester for Oakland's cleanup hitter, Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Beane was clearly going all-in for his team to win its first playoff series since reaching the 1990 World Series. With a rotation led by Lester, Samardzija and Sonny Gray, the A's looked stacked. However, the loss of Cespedes clearly hurt the offense and the A's just weren't the same in the second half of the season. They were just 29-38 after the break and finished second in the division, 10 games behind the Angels.
Still, Beane had to feel confident in the wild-card game with Lester on the mound and the A's holding a 7-3 lead in Kansas City entering the bottom of the eighth. We all know what happened next: the Royals would score three in the eighth and one in the bottom of the ninth to tie, then two more in the bottom of the 12th, after the A's had taken an 8-7 lead, to win 9-8. Another elimination game, another loss for Oakland.
Beane's gamble clearly failed, so surely he would be rather conservative this offseason. Hardly.
Outlook for 2015
Lester was never going to return as the A's couldn't afford him. They didn't even get a draft pick for Lester because he was midseason acquisition. Perhaps Beane thought his current group had reached its ceiling because he traded the team's best player, All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson to Toronto, dealt All-Star catcher Derek Norris to San Diego, sent Samardzija to the South Side of Chicago and slugger Brandon Moss to Cleveland, all for young players.
So clearly Beane was rebuilding, right? No. He added designated hitter Billy Butler from Kansas City in free agency, swung a big deal with Tampa Bay for highly coveted infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar, and then turned around and traded Escobar to Washington to projected closer Tyler Clippard. Don't think that Beane is done, either. He could easily deal Zobrist, for example, by the July 31 deadline if the A's aren't contending.
So neither the lineup nor rotation will look anything like the ones that finished last season.
Outfielder Coco Crisp is back and should leadoff but he might have to begin the season on the DL. Right fielder Josh Reddick is still around and he will bat third. Center fielder Sam Fuld is back and so is catcher Stephen Vogt, who mostly got at-bats as a platoon first baseman last year. Other than that, the lineup should be new guys: Zobrist at second, Butler at DH, Brett Lawrie at third (acquired in Donaldson trade), Ike Davis at first and Marcus Semien (came over in Samardzija deal) at shortstop.
Gray, Scott Kazmir and Drew Pomeranz are back as starting pitchers, although don't rule out Kazmir being dealt in July as well because he can become a free agent. It looks as if Jesse Hahn (from Norris trade) and Kendall Graveman (Donaldson trade) will fill out the rotation. The A's should get back Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin off Tommy John surgery later in the summer. Clippard will start as the closer with Sean Doolittle expected to miss the start of the season.
MLB Free Picks: I have no idea what this team is yet, although for what it's worth (not much) it has been excellent this spring. You have to generally trust what Beane is doing, but he's just as capable of tearing things down again by July 31. If/when Griffin and Parker get back the rotation could be pretty solid. The lineup doesn't look great. Go 'under' the wins and no division title.