The Oakland Athletics are coming off a last place finish in the American League West in 2015. Their record of 68-94 was not a surprise after the previous off season trades of Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Jeff Samadrzija. The Athletics added some younger players and 2015 was expected to be a transition year. Their latest off season consisted of three trades that can reshape their offensive look. The Athletics added first baseman Yonder Alonso (.282 batting average, 5 home runs, 31 runs batted in, .742 on base plus slugging) from the San Diego Padres, second baseman Jed Lowrie (.222, 9, 30, .712) from the Houston Astros, and outfielder Khris Davis (.247, 27, 66, .828) from the Milwaukee Brewers. In all three deals, the Athletics traded away younger players. They also shored up their bullpen by dealing for Toronto Blue Jays right handed pitcher Liam Hendricks (5 wins, 0 losses, 2.92 earned run average, 71 strikeouts in just under 65 innings pitched) and following it up with the free agent signings of Ryan Madson (1-2, 2.13, 58 Ks, just over 63 innings pitched) and John Axford (4-5, 4.20, 25 saves, 62 Ks in just under 56 IP). Left hand pitcher Drew Pomeranz (5-6, 3.66 ERA) went to the Padres in the Alonso deal and right hand pitcher Jesse Chavez (7-15, 4.18) went to Toronto in the Hendricks trade. They also dealt right handed pitcher Evan Scribner (2-2, 4.35) to the Seattle Mariners.
The Athletics should benefit by having one of the top starting pitchers in all of the American League in Sonny Gray (14-7, 2.73, 169 Ks, 208 innings pitched). The key to the rest of the starting rotation will rest in the likes of free agent signings Rich Hill (2-1, 1.55, 36 Ks, 18 IP in Boston) and Henderson Alvarez (0-4, 6.75). Both pitchers made just four starts last season and Alvarez is not expected back for a while as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Speaking of Tommy John surgery, right handed pitcher Jarrod Parker is expected back after missing the past two seasons. Young right handers Kendall Graveman (6-9, 4.05, 21 starts), Chris Bassitt (1-8, 3.56, 13 starts) and Aaron Brooks (3-4, 6.71, 9 starts) will hold the place in the rotation until the others are ready. Keep an eye on left hander Sean Manea, the 2013 first round draft pick who looks like he may be ready for the majors this season. Ideally, the Athletics would love to have a steady rotation of Gray, Hill, Alvarez, Parker and Manea by mid season. Out of the earlier group, Graveman has the best upside and is expected to remain in the rotation all season.
Projected starting right fielder Josh Reddick (.272, 20, 77, 149 games played) showed what he is capable of when healthy. Coco Crisp (.175, 0, 6, 44 games) is looking to return healthy and possibly play center field again. Billy Burns (.294, 5, 32) had a good year in Crisp's absence and will see a lot of time in center with a healthy Crisp in left. Davis comes over from Milwaukee and is expected to play every day due to his reverse splits (.260 batting average in 2015 vs right handed pitchers and .212 against left handers). Shortstop Marcus Semien (.257, 15, 45) and third baseman Danny Valencia (.290, 18, 66) are expected to round out the infield with Stephen Vogt (.261, 18, 71) behind the plate. Billy Butler (.251, 15, 65) is returning to be the designated hitter for the second year of his three year contract. The Athletics lineup could look like this: Crisp CF, Lowrie 2B, Reddick RF, Davis LF, Vogt C, Valencia 3B, Alonso 1B, Butler DH, Semien SS.
The Athletics bench will be led by Burns, who is expected to get a lot of playing time. Infielder Eric Sogard, outfielder Sam Fuld, OF Mark Canha and catcher Josh Phegley are will likely round out the Athletics' pine. A couple of interesting players in camp on minor league deals are former Colorado Rockies utility player Matt McBride and former Mets minor league infielder Josh Rodriguez. Both have a chance to make this roster, especially if there is an injury.
The Athletics bullpen could possess a great late game combination. It will all come down to the health of left hand closer Sean Doolittle (1-0, 3.95, 12 games). If Doolittle fully recovers from his injury, it will be a great combination with Madson and Hendricks getting the ball to him. Left hand pitcher Marc Rzepczynski (2-4, 5.66 in 72 games) came over in the Alonso trade and is looking to bounce back after a terrible 2015 season. Joining Axford from the right side is Fernando Rodriguez (4-2, 3.84, 56 games).
Down on the farm, it will be interesting to see how third baseman Renato Nunez (29 home runs in 2014) and first baseman Matt Olson (37 HR in 2014) continue with their development. Both struggled a little bit in Double A but have a ton of potential. Perhaps this is the corner infield for the Athletics in the future. Manea has top of the rotation stuff, but it may not be seen at its best until 2017. The Athletics acquired right hander Casey Meisner was acquired from the Mets in the Tyler Clippard trade and overall had a great season in 2015, winning 13 out of his 25 starts.
The Athletics have a little more talent this season than they had in 2015. I like the trades they made and really think that Hill and Alvarez can become great low budget additions. However, the Athletics lack the depth to be able to sustain an injury, especially if it affects their starting pitching staff, already having to count on Alvarez and Parker. I can see the team improving if the front office pushed the right buttons, but the truth is Oakland is looking at another tough season in 2016. Las Vegas put their over/ under at 75.5, but I have them finishing below that. The 2016 Oakland Athletics record- 67-95, last place in the AL West division.