A’S WRAP UP SPRING TRAINING, HEAD TO JAPAN

The Oakland A’s, who had one of the more interesting offseasons of any MLB club, will be one of the first teams to start getting a report card as they open the season in Japan vs. the Mariners on March 28. As such, the A’s have concluded their spring games in Arizona and will now take their retooled roster to the far east.

As if to celebrate the mainstream notoriety he gained from the movie Moneyball, GM/VP Billy Beane was busy this past offseason with moves that have been talked about far and wide on the baseball landscape. Rotation stalwart Trevor Cahill was shipped to Arizona in a package for the D’Backs’ top prospect, Jarrod Parker. Typical Beane move.

Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes came aboard when the A’s outbid several other teams to sign the outfielder to a 4yr/$36M contract. Not very Moneyball-like.

And it is that kind of mix that has the 2012 A’s looking so much different than last year’s model. OF Josh Willingham, lefty starter Gio Gonzalez and closer Andrew Bailey are all gone. OF Manny Ramirez has signed on for a minor league deal while OF Coco Crisp returned on a two-year deal, both somewhat surprising.

The Ramirez deal was somewhat of a no-brainer. For a mere $500,000 it was easy to take a chance that the slugger could regain some of his form while staying out of trouble. All after serving a suspension for the first 50 games due to last year’s positive test for PEDs.

Cespedes was a bit of a reach. With the question of how his Cuban stats will translate to MLB in the balance, Cespedes was signed to be, and has been named, the club’s Opening Day centerfielder. It all looked good when he went deep in his first spring game. But after 25 AB’s, Cespedes managed a line of .200/.286/.360.

It is easy to see that the talent of Cespedes could overcome the transition and blossom early in his MLB career. But with the position the A’s find themselves in overall, it is a bit of a head-scratcher to see them spend this kind of money. The division they’re in, the already-strong AL west, got stonger this offseason with marquee additions Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson (Angels) as well as Yu Darvish (Rangers).

The A’s are trying desperately to get out of their stadium, the outdated O.co Coliseum. (You thought that the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum was a goofy name?) The timetable for that is…who knows? The best laid plans would have a young (inexpensive) team maturing into a contender about the time they open the doors of their new stadium, be it in San Jose or elsewhere. Jarrod Parker, Collin Cowgill, Josh Reddick….these guys fit into that plan quite nicely.

Cespedes? That’s a lot of money to spend for this season and next when the Rangers and Angels still figure to be hard to surpass. Who knows where things stand after that, but the A’s will be $15M into Cespedes’ contract and staring at a $10M payout in both 2014 and 2015. The A’s will either be asking “are we there yet?” or, hopefully, Cespedes will have played well enough to have the value to flip for more young, controllable players.

It’s never easy in Oakland. Limited finances that lead to inexperienced players all over the roster and small crowds is a pretty vicious circle. Playing in the shadow of a team across the Bay that recently won a World Series while your own division gets stronger around you is a pretty tough recipe to follow.

But, hey, it’s spring and there’s always hope. Their 14-5 record is the third-best in baseball. They get to open against the Mariners. Let’s see if that starts a rally.

 

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