Oakland A’s 2010 preview

Once again, the A’s will have the smallest payroll and the biggest young arms in the American League. This offseason, Oakland added veteran Ben Sheets to the rotation and gave up on oft-injured Eric Chavez returning as its starting third baseman. There is depth in the rotation and the outfield, and more talented young players are on the way. The bottom line should be familiar, however: a fourth-place finish in the AL West.

Led by Rajai Davis, the A's plan to run more this year.
Led by Rajai Davis, the A’s plan to run more this year.

Three questions

1. Where will the offense come from?
Not from the home run. After having success with small ball in the second half last season, the A’s—led by Rajai Davis—will be running from the start of 2010. "We don’t have a ton of power," manager Bob Geren said. "We’ll pay a lot of attention to the little things—moving a runner over, getting a run in with less than two outs." Geren said Oakland got used to competing in low-scoring games last year. "We have to learn how to win those close games," he said.

Oakland also hopes two of its new starters—Coco Crisp in center and Kevin Kouzmanoff at third—will give the club a lift in the speed and power departments, respectively. Neither, however, is an offensive force. Crisp has a career .331 on-base percentage, and Kouzmanoff has only 59 homers over the past three seasons (though Petco Park was his home park).

2. How deep is the rotation?
If Justin Duchscherer is healthy, the A’s will have enough starters to field two four-man rotations. Sheets and Duchscherer are the only 30-somethings in the group. The rest come from all corners of the country but have a couple of things in common: "Youth and talent," Geren said. Brett Anderson, 22, is the lone lock among them after making 30 starts with a 4.06 ERA last season as a rookie.

Dallas Braden, 26, will make the rotation as long as he is recovered from a season-ending foot injury in 2009. Trevor Cahill, 22, posted a 4.63 ERA in 32 starts in 2009. Gio Gonzalez, 24, has looked good in camp and is competing with Vin Mazzaro and Josh Outman. "The depth is going to make a big difference," Geren says. "If somebody has a setback, we have a lot more quality in our organization."

3. What can Chavez contribute?
After all the injuries he has endured, 20 homers and 400 at-bats would be a bonus. After another winter of rehabbing, Chavez reported to spring training as healthy as he has been since having two back and three shoulder surgeries in the past two years. Hoping that reduced playing time will help him last a full season, the A’s plan to use Chavez as a utility player. Chavez has been working at third, first and shortstop.

"Eric feels strong and is open to the idea of being a part-time player and playing other positions," Geren says, adding something he has said more than once regarding Oakland’s longest-tenured player. "We’re optimistic but time will tell how he does."

Projected lineup
1. LF Rajai Davis: .360 OBP, 41 SBs after April arrival.
2. CF Coco Crisp: Coming back from 2 shoulder surgeries.
3. C Kurt Suzuki: Led AL catchers with 83 RBIs in ’09.
4. DH Jack Cust: At least 25 HRs, 93 BBs past 3 seasons.
5. 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff: 9 HRs at Petco last season; 9 on road.
6. RF Ryan Sweeney: .348 OBP but just 6 HRs in ’09.
7. 2B Mark Ellis: .663 OPS at home last season; .751 on road.
8. 1B Daric Barton: Could lose playing time to Chavez.
9. SS Cliff Pennington: Must hold off Adam Rosales for job.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Ben Sheets: Missed all of ’09; has made 30 starts once since ’05.
2. LHP Dallas Braden: BB/9 has improved past two seasons.
3. RHP Justin Duchscherer: Missed ’09 with injuries, depression.
4. LHP Brett Anderson: Allowed .313 AVG vs. lefties in ’09.
5. RHP Trevor Cahill: 27 HRs in 178 2/3 IP last season.

Projected closer
RHP Andrew Bailey: AL rookie of the year had 1.86 ERA, second among AL closers.

Grades

Offense: C. Once the A’s started running last season, they started scoring. Only the Angels, Yankees and Red Sox scored more runs than Oakland in the second half. Crisp brings more speed, but a team-wide lack of power and a pitcher-friendly ballpark likely will result in another average offensive attack.

Pitching: B. Oakland’s staff will earn an "A" if Sheets and Duchscherer are healthy and effective after their season-long layoffs, and if a couple of the young starters continue to develop. The A’s bullpen led the AL with a 3.46 ERA last season and returns intact. As a bonus, reliever Joey Devine should return early in the season from Tommy John surgery.

Bench: B. Chavez, though not an everyday player, still could be the club’s best power threat. Gabe Gross and Travis Buck add depth to the outfield, as Rosales does to the infield. Backup catcher Landon Powell provides a bit of pop.

Manager: B. Geren has yet to have a winning season with 76, 75, and 75 wins in his three seasons as Oakland’s manager. But he does a nice job of bringing along the club’s young talent, of which there is plenty.

Sporting News prediction: Given the youth of their pitching staff last season, the A’s actually overachieved by winning 75 games. They will be improved and could push .500. But Seattle and Texas will be better, too, so another last-place finish is likely.

Coming Monday: Dodgers preview

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Once again, the A’s will have the smallest payroll and the biggest young arms in the American League. This offseason, Oakland added veteran Ben Sheets to the rotation and gave up on oft-injured Eric Chavez returning as its starting third baseman. There is depth in the rotation and the outfield, and more talented young players are on the way. The bottom line should be familiar, however: a fourth-place finish in the AL West.

Led by Rajai Davis, the A's plan to run more this year.
Led by Rajai Davis, the A’s plan to run more this year.

Three questions

1. Where will the offense come from?
Not from the home run. After having success with small ball in the second half last season, the A’s—led by Rajai Davis—will be running from the start of 2010. "We don’t have a ton of power," manager Bob Geren said. "We’ll pay a lot of attention to the little things—moving a runner over, getting a run in with less than two outs." Geren said Oakland got used to competing in low-scoring games last year. "We have to learn how to win those close games," he said.

Oakland also hopes two of its new starters—Coco Crisp in center and Kevin Kouzmanoff at third—will give the club a lift in the speed and power departments, respectively. Neither, however, is an offensive force. Crisp has a career .331 on-base percentage, and Kouzmanoff has only 59 homers over the past three seasons (though Petco Park was his home park).

2. How deep is the rotation?
If Justin Duchscherer is healthy, the A’s will have enough starters to field two four-man rotations. Sheets and Duchscherer are the only 30-somethings in the group. The rest come from all corners of the country but have a couple of things in common: "Youth and talent," Geren said. Brett Anderson, 22, is the lone lock among them after making 30 starts with a 4.06 ERA last season as a rookie.

Dallas Braden, 26, will make the rotation as long as he is recovered from a season-ending foot injury in 2009. Trevor Cahill, 22, posted a 4.63 ERA in 32 starts in 2009. Gio Gonzalez, 24, has looked good in camp and is competing with Vin Mazzaro and Josh Outman. "The depth is going to make a big difference," Geren says. "If somebody has a setback, we have a lot more quality in our organization."

3. What can Chavez contribute?
After all the injuries he has endured, 20 homers and 400 at-bats would be a bonus. After another winter of rehabbing, Chavez reported to spring training as healthy as he has been since having two back and three shoulder surgeries in the past two years. Hoping that reduced playing time will help him last a full season, the A’s plan to use Chavez as a utility player. Chavez has been working at third, first and shortstop.

"Eric feels strong and is open to the idea of being a part-time player and playing other positions," Geren says, adding something he has said more than once regarding Oakland’s longest-tenured player. "We’re optimistic but time will tell how he does."

Projected lineup
1. LF Rajai Davis: .360 OBP, 41 SBs after April arrival.
2. CF Coco Crisp: Coming back from 2 shoulder surgeries.
3. C Kurt Suzuki: Led AL catchers with 83 RBIs in ’09.
4. DH Jack Cust: At least 25 HRs, 93 BBs past 3 seasons.
5. 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff: 9 HRs at Petco last season; 9 on road.
6. RF Ryan Sweeney: .348 OBP but just 6 HRs in ’09.
7. 2B Mark Ellis: .663 OPS at home last season; .751 on road.
8. 1B Daric Barton: Could lose playing time to Chavez.
9. SS Cliff Pennington: Must hold off Adam Rosales for job.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Ben Sheets: Missed all of ’09; has made 30 starts once since ’05.
2. LHP Dallas Braden: BB/9 has improved past two seasons.
3. RHP Justin Duchscherer: Missed ’09 with injuries, depression.
4. LHP Brett Anderson: Allowed .313 AVG vs. lefties in ’09.
5. RHP Trevor Cahill: 27 HRs in 178 2/3 IP last season.

Projected closer
RHP Andrew Bailey: AL rookie of the year had 1.86 ERA, second among AL closers.

Grades

Offense: C. Once the A’s started running last season, they started scoring. Only the Angels, Yankees and Red Sox scored more runs than Oakland in the second half. Crisp brings more speed, but a team-wide lack of power and a pitcher-friendly ballpark likely will result in another average offensive attack.

Pitching: B. Oakland’s staff will earn an "A" if Sheets and Duchscherer are healthy and effective after their season-long layoffs, and if a couple of the young starters continue to develop. The A’s bullpen led the AL with a 3.46 ERA last season and returns intact. As a bonus, reliever Joey Devine should return early in the season from Tommy John surgery.

Bench: B. Chavez, though not an everyday player, still could be the club’s best power threat. Gabe Gross and Travis Buck add depth to the outfield, as Rosales does to the infield. Backup catcher Landon Powell provides a bit of pop.

Manager: B. Geren has yet to have a winning season with 76, 75, and 75 wins in his three seasons as Oakland’s manager. But he does a nice job of bringing along the club’s young talent, of which there is plenty.

Sporting News prediction: Given the youth of their pitching staff last season, the A’s actually overachieved by winning 75 games. They will be improved and could push .500. But Seattle and Texas will be better, too, so another last-place finish is likely.

Coming Monday: Dodgers preview

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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