Baseball Season Preview: Oakland A's

For the third consecutive season, we are proud to introduce the Deadspin Baseball Season Previews. Yes, baseball is awfully close now; it's spring training, after all.

Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.

Today: The Oakland A's. Your author is Tyler Bleszinski.

Tyler Bleszinski is the editor of Athletics Nation. His words are after the jump.

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I once interviewed Billy Beane and he compared the Oakland A's to the 80s Latin pop sensation Menudo. He said, "It is like Menudo, where guys reach a certain age and are kicked out of the band. And they go on to be Ricky Martins somewhere else."

That was in 2006 when he said this. Never has this been truer than the offseason in 2007-2008. Beane decided to basically jettison emerging stars in Nick Swisher and Danny Haren. But he did so in hoping that this next version of Menudo would be bigger than anything he had previously constructed.

2007 was a lost season for the Oakland Athletics, but largely because they lost more players to injury than in any season in Oakland Athletics history. In fact, the 54 players used during 2007 was the second highest number in franchise history in one season. Only the 1915 Philadelphia Athletics used more players in one season. They used 56 players.

That issue, and the fact that many of the players coming back to the A's this year had injury histories, prompted Billy Beane to accelerate a rebuilding plan for the green and gold. Three key components to the A's are coming off major surgeries. And one has been a nonentity for the A's for two seasons now. Eric Chavez had surgery on his back and shoulder this offseason. Justin Duchscherer and Chad Gaudin both had hip surgery. And Rich Harden is, well, he resides in the Guinness Book of World Records under "World's Largest Question Mark."

That led to Beane selling some of the teams' best assets in favor of prospects who replenished the A's system but won't necessarily make an appearance in 2008. Nick Swisher, Danny Haren and super-sub Marco Scutaro were all traded to the White Sox, Diamondbacks and Blue Jays respectively. Mark Kotsay was also moved as well in a deal to Atlanta.

The A's got back a bunch of players who are thought to be very high-upside prospects. In 2008, they will probably mix a few of the players they acquired. Dana Eveland is likely to be with the team and possibly Ryan Sweeney. Carlos Gonzalez has a chance to be a part of the team as soon as opening day if he can make a splash in spring training. And Brett Anderson could also see some time with the team this year.

But for the most part, the A's will be going with basically what's left over on their roster in 2008. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, because Beane kick started the extreme makeover mid-season last year. Gone was light-hitting and expensive catcher Jason Kendall in favor of youngster Kurt Suzuki. Gone was oft-injured Milton Bradley in favor of Travis Buck. Dan Johnson wound up essentially being pushed aside for phenom Daric Barton. Mike Piazza got injured and wound up being replaced at DH by Jack Cust. Cust, Suzuki, Buck and Barton are going to be the foundation of an offense that has the potential to be significantly better than 2007. If Steve Austin, ahem, I mean Eric Chavez finally got what has ailed him for several seasons fixed, he could also be a key to the offense actually having some life this season after several years of a sludge-like offense. If Gonzalez lives up to expectations and becomes a regular, then the A's should have the makings of a pretty damn good offense over the next few seasons. They also picked up some experience in Mike Sweeney recently so he should be a good right-handed stick if he can manage to somehow avoid the DL.

The biggest question marks with the A's this season will be with the rotation.

Joe Blanton may or may not start the year with the team. His name is making the rounds on the rumor circuit right now, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him dealt for a package similar to what the A's got for Swisher. Beane doesn't really do rebuilding in a half-assed fashion, so seeing Blanton traded for a package of young players wouldn't shock anyone.

The aforementioned Justin Duchscherer will be making the transition from bullpen to starter, which shouldn't be a big transition for him because he was an excellent starter in the minors before becoming one of baseball's best set-up men. The question becomes, can he stay healthy pitching all those innings after hip surgery in the offseason? He's also had a myriad of back issues.

Chad Gaudin was a huge surprise last season making a similar transition. He was dominant in the first couple of months in the season only to fall off a cliff later in the year which was likely the result of his injury. Beane once told me that he felt like Gaudin had the best arm in the organization behind Rich Harden. And he's still young. He'll turn 25 the day before the season opens in Japan against the Red Sox.

Harden is the eternal question mark. He recently went on the record saying that he felt as though his injury issues were exacerbated by someone in the A's organization that basically encouraging him to try and pitch when he wasn't fully healthy. Of course, he didn't mention whom that person was. Harden allegedly followed his own rehab path this past offseason and claims that he is 100 percent healthy for the first time in several years. Whether that translates to more than 10 starts this year is anyone's guess. But obviously his presence makes the A's a much more formidable team in the scope of the AL West.

The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs. Dan Meyer, Lenny DiNardo, Dana Eveland, Kirk Saarloos and a bunch of other guys who've made cameos in the spot before. My bet is that Eveland will emerge as the fifth starter.

As for the bullpen, it actually shapes up pretty nicely with Andrew Brown (came over in the Bradley trade), Alan Embree, Huston Street and, believe it or not, former A's closer Keith Foulke is back in the mix. The A's have enough solid arms in the pen along with whatever pitchers don't make it as the fifth starter to be a decent collection of relief. It won't be the best pen in baseball, but it looks more solid than people think. Especially if Foulke is truly healthy and back in form the A's will essentially have three pitchers who have the ability to close games (Embree showed he is up for the task last season when Street was out for an extended time).

The 2008 A's will feature a lot of young and unproven players like Buck, Barton, Chris Denorfia (who came over in a deal and was injured for the year), Suzuki, Eveland and Gonzalez. And Beane is probably not done dealing. Street and Blanton could also be dealt to set the team up for future dominance and its move to Fremont, California.

There are so many unknown quantities for the A's. Will Harden be healthy for a full season and if he is, does that make him really attractive trade bait as well? Will Blanton and Street be dealt and if they are, do the A's get some players who could help immediately? Will the A's young guns like Buck and Barton take the leap forward most expect? Will Duchscherer, Chavez and Gaudin be fully healthy? And will the A's continue to have to use the DL more than any other team in baseball?

That's a lot of questions that need positive answers in order for the A's to be anything other than AL West cellar dwellers in 2008. But stranger things have happened. The best thing about the A's is that with all the moves that Beane has made, you just know that the team will rise to the top of the MLB again in the very near future and this time, it appears like the team will be great for a very long time. Fortunately, the same can't be said about Ricky Martin and the rest of Menudo.