This is part of an occasional series comprising MLB season previews.
Oakland A’s fans tend not to get too attached to any one player, as in all likelihood they won’t be around very long. Even if you abhor the cult of the general manager in sports, about the only thing to do is place your trust in Billy Beane and let it ride. It’s not that Beane’s moves don’t make sense, necessarily, but that you’ve barely gotten to know the players he’s shipping out, so you’ve just gotta hope he’s found some new market inefficiency.
Uncharacteristically, the A’s were very active in free agency this offseason, signing Matt Joyce, Santiago Casilla, Rajai Davis, Trevor Plouffe, and Adam Rosales. Granted, the total value of the deals given to these players was about a quarter of the $110 million the Mets paid to re-sign Yoenis Céspedes, and according to CBS Sports, Joyce and Casilla were the 42nd and 66th best free agents available, respectively. Still, it’s not nothing, and now the A’s have a bunch of mediocre-to-bad players to give innings and at-bats to. That’s an upgrade from the just-plain-bad players they had last season.
Sonny Gray finished third in the 2015 AL Cy Young voting, looking like an All-Star pitcher for years to come. And then he fell apart, finishing last season 5-11 with a ghastly 5.69 ERA and two trips to the DL for a “strained right trapezius” and a “strained right forearm.” He’s followed it up this spring by being denied insurance coverage to pitch in the WBC, giving up seven runs during a two-inning outing, and then getting shut down for three weeks because of a “moderate lat strain.”
So, if you’re banking on a resurgent Gray, good luck!
Behind Gray in the rotation are Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman. Manaea is a big dude who throws hard and certainly has the profile of a future ace; Graveman was the only A’s starter to make it through all of last season, and he also batted cleanup at Yankee Stadium that one time.
Last season the A’s acquired Khris Davis for a couple of minor leaguers, and he proceeded to mash 42 dingers, tied for third most in the majors. He also struck out 166 times and hit just .247. If you squint (really, really hard), Davis is basically a latter-day Mark McGwire or Jason Giambi.
The A’s also have Marcus Semien, an East Bay native who attended nearby UC Berkeley. Semien is great because he’s not the best at traditional shortstop duties—he’s led the AL in errors by a shortstop the past two seasons, though advanced fielding stats suggest he’s just a bad, not godawful, defensive player—but he goes up to every at-bat swinging like it’s his last, which led to clubbing 27 homers last season. He has supposedly been working on getting on base more this spring, which hasn’t exactly been working.
Finally, there is 25-year-old third baseman Ryon Healy, who hit a stellar .305 after getting called up in the middle of July, winning September’s AL Rookie of the Month award. And then, for some reason, the A’s signed third baseman Trevor Plouffe, likely shifting the promising Healy to designated hitter.
The real MVP here is dad’s jacket.
He might not even make the roster out of spring training—though his monster performance for Team Israel during the WBC certainly helped—but this U-looking thing that Ryan Lavarnway has going on is great.
Uhhh, define good? The A’s will likely be better this year, winning a few more games than they did last season, and are likely to be closer to middle of the pack than bottom of the barrel. The bad news is they only won 69 games last season and would need a monster improvement just to get to 81, and they play in perhaps the best division in baseball, with four other teams who will probably have winning records.
Frankly, I cannot in good conscience recommend that anybody root for the Oakland A’s. Their wonderful fans, however, would really be grateful for some company! Fewer than 19,000 showed up every night to that shit-filled concrete monstrosity of a stadium to watch them lose games last season, but man, they tried and cheered their lungs out, and they still have those good drummers in the outfield. Just start out by watching a couple of A’s games, and you might just find yourself sucked in by the underdog weirdness of it all.