Dec 18, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane addresses the media in a press conference announcing the signing of shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima (not pictured) at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
It’s not easy being on top of an ultra-competitive division in pro baseball.
The A’s know this and their fearless leader Billy Beane knows that repeating as the AL West’s top team in 2013 won’t be an easy thing to accomplish. The A’s were sent into the playoffs last year by a strong pitching staff and a little bit of baseball magic courtesy of the baseball Gods.
While it’s likely the A’s won’t feature the same type of magic as they did last year—they led the majors with 15 walk-off wins in 2012—the team does figure to be a playoff contender. Expectations, if you will, have changed from a year ago.
Last spring the A’s were considered to be nothing more than bottom dwellers in a division that supposedly belonged to Albert Pujols. At their absolute best, the A’s were to be nothing more than a third-place team in a division staked with enormous talent. The division crown wasn’t supposed to belong to the A’s.
It was a shock to the baseball world, then, when the A’s outlasted the Angels and captured the division on the final day of the season with a sweep of the mighty Texas Rangers. The division crown, in the end, did belong to Oakland.
But rather than merely revisit the magic churned out by the A’s last year, the focus of this post should remain on Oakland’s one goal for 2013: proving to the baseball world that 2012 was no fluke.
It’s a lofty goal for a team that plays in baseball’s most competitive division. The aspiring A’s, however, are up for the challenge. This time around, the A’s know what it takes to get to October. The A’s should find themselves battling for the division crown alongside the Angels and Rangers all season long.
The A’s path to repeating as division champs in 2013 will come down to their investment in one thing: depth.
What makes the A’s a dangerous team this time around, even in the ultra-competitive AL West, is their depth. Oakland’s strong pitching depth was on constant display during last year’s historic run toward the postseason.
And this year should be no different. Oakland’s depth should make them the envy of the league.
Think about it for a moment.
If you take a look at Oakland’s rotation, you’ll notice, very quickly I might add, that it is going to be a very competitive one this year. Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, and Tom Milone will anchor the front-end of the rotation. Veteran Bartolo Colon, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, and Travis Blackley could help round out the back-end of the rotation.
In the end, the A’s will have plenty of pitching. Not too many teams in baseball have an excess of pitching, but the A’s are fortunate enough to be fully stocked in that department.
Oakland’s depth extends well beyond it’s pitching staff, though.
The team boasts an excess of talent in the outfield as well. The A’s have four everyday outfielders at their disposal.
Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, and offseason acquisition Chris Young will make up Oakland’s outfield in 2013. In addition to these four guys, the A’s also have Seth Smith who could lend a helping hand in the outfield while also spending time as the team’s DH.
Depth has become a very central theme in Oakland. Beane has become very invested in giving his team adequate depth all over the field. The A’s are restricted by their budget, but Beane hasn’t lost his edge, it would seem, when it comes to finding value in places other GM’s overlook.
Just look at last year’s surprise Brandon Moss. The A’s excelled in a platoon approach last year and Moss’ contributions at first base were greatly appreciated. The guy who spent a majority of his career in the minor leagues hit .291/.358/.596 with 21 HR and 52 RBI in just 84 games with Oakland.
Beane’s recent acquisition of Jed Lowrie from the Houston Astros is even more proof that the GM’s creative mind is still very active. With Lowrie, who hit .244/.331/.438 with 16 HR and 42 RBI last year, the A’s have another option for the infield.
Lowrie has had his share of injuries over the course of his short career, but the A’s are banking on Lowrie to fill a supporting role. Lowrie adds depth to Oakland’s already crowded infield and could be used primarily against left-handed pitching. The former highly touted prospect Lowrie has a career .292 average against lefties.
The A’s could end up sending Lowrie all over the infield this year. Assuming Lowrie stays healthy, the A’s could plug him in at first base when the team faces left-handed pitching or anywhere else they see fit. With Lowrie now in the mix, the A’s have some decent depth in the infield and that could go a long way for the cash-strapped A’s.
A lot of attention has been paid to the Angels and Rangers this offseason, but the A’s should be regarded as a threat to repeat as division champs in 2013. They may not have had quite the same “splash” as the Angels have had this offseason, but the A’s have made a few moves here and there that ultimately place them in a favorable position to contend.
This year won’t come down to the baseball “magic” courtesy of the baseball Gods. Instead, this year will come down to Beane’s faith in depth and it will be interesting to see how far that depth will carry the A’s into October.