MLB Spring Training 2012: Oakland A’s Contenders? Very Possible.

That sound you hear? That’s the sound of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane cheering on his ball club with increased vigor this spring. 

You see as a baseball fan I loved the movie Moneyball even if it was an over-dramatization of the way baseball executives do business. It told the story of how a man decided to implement something different and have it pay off in a big way for him. Since 2006, we’ve all buried Oakland as a team that had a nice little run but otherwise an anomaly on how things work in baseball. Those of us who have noticed the success of Tampa Bay, San Diego, and other small market teams can fully appreciate what Beane and some of his disciples have done for the sport to bring it into the modern age. That being said I have somewhat of a bold prediction and the more I think about it the more I am comfortable with it.

With the expansion of the playoffs beginning in 2012, the Oakland A’s could very well compete for the play-in game and second Wild Card spot in the American League. No, that is not a joke. Keep in mind, there are a few surprise teams I have in mind that can make that jump this year but Oakland has the make-up of a ball club on the rise. Despite their payroll still hovering well below what is expected for contention the A’s still rank among the most cost-effective teams in baseball. Now add an influx of quality talent and we are looking at a team that finished (81-81) in 2010 and (74-88) in 2011 possibly taking that next step necessary to compete with the second level clubs (Tampa, Toronto, etc.).

Yoenis Cespedes, who I highlighted in a piece here on The Locker is receiving rave reviews so far this spring.  He joins young talents Josh Reddick and Jemile Weeks to make a formidable stable at the top of the lineup. Weeks, who is Oakland’s home-grown star, is as exciting as any player in the game and should be very good after a year of experience. Reddick, acquired in the trade that sent All-Star closer Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox, hit .280 in 87 games last season in Boston and showed some pop hitting seven home runs in 254 at-bats. There is also the signing of Manny Ramirez which, in my estimation, was a good low- risk by the A’s who have historically gotten good production out of aging veterans looking for a second chance. Although he will be serving a 50-game suspension to start the year if Manny, who hasn’t shown much to this point in spring training, can find some semblance of his stroke he could provide much-needed pop to that A’s lineup.

What is most exciting about Oakland is the pitching. Even after losing Gio Gonzalez (16-12, 3.12 ERA, All-Star) and Andrew Bailey (24 saves) they bring back great talent in both the bullpen and rotation. Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, and Brett Anderson return to make up a young rotation that is figuring it out quickly, and that is topped off by 28-year old Guillermo Moscoso who down the stretch was as reliable as any starter in the league despite his record (3.34 ERA, 42 K’s in 62 innings pitched from August 5th through September 24). They have the necessary talent to pitch with anyone in their division but a lot will rely on the development of its young hitters and veterans if they plan on keeping pace with the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers within their division.

It won’t be without a struggle, but Billy Beane should be proud of the work he’s done this off-season making the A’s competitive to the point where the argument could be made that they are well equipped to play good baseball this season.

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