It's been an exciting year to be an Oakland A's fan. A solid team to start the season got off to a good start, the role players are doing very well, and the front office has given the team the uncharacteristic aggression and win-now attitude it needed in July to really turn the team into one of the favorites in the American League. On the heels of an exciting few weeks for Athletics Nation, the Twins visit the Coliseum for a weekend set.
It's a few hours late, but thanks to Alex for his time. You can find my answers to his questions here. (I'm particularly proud of my haikus, even if the final line is actually seven syllables).
1 - First thing's first, let's talk about the Jon Lester trade. I've read more about that from the Boston side because of a great article (which I no longer have the link to), so what can you tell us from the Oakland side? Is there a touch of evil genius to Billy Beane?
This trade was bittersweet from our perspective. Yoenis Cespedes is a massive fan favorite, and for good reason. He's one of the most incredible talents that any of us have seen, between his mammoth power and his cannon arm and the general intensity with which he plays. Watching him hit is one of the best experiences baseball has to offer.
However, talent doesn't always translate into success. For all of his athleticism, Cespedes was only the third- or fourth-best position player on the team, and possibly only the sixth-best hitter (after Donaldson, Moss, Jaso, Norris, and Coco) according to measures like OPS+ and wRC+. He struggled to get on base (.294 OBP last year, .303 this year at time of trade), and for all his flashy power he was only third on the team with 17 homers. His defense is also shakier than advertised, between poor routes to fly balls and the tendency to bobble the ball once he gets to it. The fact is that La Potencia is a flawed player whose reputation exceeds his production. That, plus the fact that he is a free agent after next year, made him a perfect trade candidate.
Beane decided that the top-ranked offense in baseball could afford to lose a guy who wasn't its best hitter if it meant turning his starting rotation into the best in the game. There were legitimate concerns about the rotation -- Scott Kazmir still has to prove he's good for 200 innings, Jason Hammel has been a sick joke, and Jesse Chavez has already matched career highs in starts and innings and looks like a No. 4/5 starter (still a great success story for a guy who was previously a journeyman reliever). Now the A's have a true No. 1 in Lester, a guy who can pitch Game 1 and Game 5 of a playoff series. It's the thing I wanted all winter, and the thing I wanted at the trade deadline. I didn't expect that it would cost Cespedes, but I'm happy that Beane is here to make that kind of tough choice -- this is the difference between going after your goal with 100 percent effort or with only 90 percent effort. This isn't the time to hold back for emotional reasons, and Beane didn't. And hey, we got back Bay Area native Jonny Gomes to replace some of Cespedes' power as well as remove some of the sting of losing one fan favorite by bringing back an old one.
2 - Will the A's miss Yeonis Cespedes and his bat? Do the A's have enough offense? Do they even need an offnse?
Don't let that first answer fool you. We loved Yoenis and we're all sad to lose him. When I woke up to the news, it took about an hour of staring at the computer screen for the shock to wear enough for me to start thinking again. We're accustomed to losing our favorite players, though, so this is kind of business as usual for A's fans; most of us knew, in the backs of our minds, that he wouldn't be playing for Oakland when his contract expires.
The team will certainly miss his bat, and could have used it during this low-scoring first week of August. But the offense will still be one of the best in the game, because it takes more than one good hitter to lead the Majors in runs for four months. Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss are the other two engines who drive the machine, and Coco Crisp and John Jaso (and now Sam Fuld) are fantastic table-setters. Josh Reddick is on fire for the first time since the first half of 2012, and Derek Norris made the All-Star team based on his strong hitting. The role players -- Stephen Vogt, Alberto Callaspo, etc. -- provide a bit of extra punch now and then while they move around the diamond filling whatever need the team has that day. This lineup, and this team, is probably as well-suited to withstand the loss of an intimidating player like Cespedes as any team in the bigs. And, again, adding Jonny Gomes against lefties isn't a bad consolation prize.
3 - I talk about offense, but one of the few weak spots on this team right now is at second base. Is that something Oakland can shore up in an August deal? Do you have any targets in mind?
Many of us thought that Beane would do something about second base at the deadline, but he went after other positions instead. Eric Sogard, Alberto Callaspo, and Nick Punto (plus a dash of Andy Parrino) have combined for a .579 OPS; Callaspo is the only one who doesn't at least supply positive defense, but he's also the best hitter of the group.
4 - It feels like baseball is writing off everyone in the AL but the A's and Tigers now, with both teams boasted a killer rotation. Is anything less than a trip to the AL Championship a let down, or is that getting too far ahead of things?
Anything less than a World Series title would be disappointing. That probably sounds a bit arrogant, a bit Yankee-esque, but that's the point we're at. We've sat through six ALDS Game 5 losses in the last 14 years, with our biggest success being the honor of being swept out of the ALCS in 2006. Meanwhile, the team 30 miles down the road just got done winning two championships in three years, which means we got to see what winning is like, right in front of our faces, plastered all over the news and the T-shirts of many of our friends and family, without getting to taste it ourselves.
It's fun to make the playoffs as often as our team does, but at some point the novelty wears off and you start to yearn for more. We've had young upstart teams, solid contenders, heavy favorites, and every time the result is the same. We're sick of just making it, and we want it all this year. That's why so many (not all, but many) AN'ers are totally OK with trading away a top prospect like Addison Russell and an exciting star like Cespedes -- we, like Billy, are all-in on a ring this year. In what seems like an un-Athletics move, we're mortgaging as much of our future as possible for the big one right now. And when you do that, anything less is a disappointment.
Oh, and don't sleep on the Angels. This is at least a three-team race in the AL.
A's fans would love to have the Compliant Pork back, but we basically got him in Jonny Gomes. Or at least, Gomes is filling the role that Willingham would have had, as a right-handed, slugging corner outfielder. This team is designed to have complementary parts that fit together in various different ways, so having two of that player would be redundant. On the other hand, with Craig Gentry out and Coco Crisp dealing with a neck injury, a player of Fuld's skills was missing from the mixture. I couldn't be happier with the outfielders Beane brought in, and I can't overstate how thrilled A's fans are to have Gomes (the Pride of Petaluma) back for another title run.
6 - Looking ahead, and it's really early to do so (sorry), but do the A's have any chance of keeping Lester around? Or is this a one-and-done deal?
Nope. Lester is gone after this year. Granted, I also said there was no way that the A's would trade for him in the first place, but the fact is that he'll be a 31-year-old pitcher (hopefully coming off winning his second straight ring) looking for a market-rate five- or six-year contract. There's just no way. The most likely result is that he'll re-sign with the Red Sox after the season, but wherever he ends up it won't be Oakland. Thanks in advance for the memories, though!
7 - I just wanted to bring up again that I have Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson on my fantasy baseball team. Still feeling like the smartest guy in the room about that. Not a question.
8 - Tell us about Oakland's original rotation early in the season - where is everybody now?
Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are still going strong, with Kazmir earning an All-Star berth this year. Tommy Milone and Dan Straily have been traded. Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin both went down with torn UCL's on the same day in spring training, so neither of them will be back until 2015 -- and who knows if Parker will be able to stick as a starter after his second Tommy John surgery. Those six guys were supposed to make up the rotation, with one left over in Triple-A.
Drew Pomeranz started the year as a reliever, but he got a turn in the rotation and is now the only Triple-A backup who inspires any confidence at all. Jesse Chavez did a great job in the rotation, but he's now finishing out the year as the long man in the pen; I expect that he'll get another crack at starting next year when Lester and Hammel are gone, and hopefully he'll build on this year's success.
9 - I'll be pulling for the A's in the post-season, and I'm sure that'll be the case for a lot of people from Minnesota. For that reason, can you let us win one this weekend?
I'm sorry, Jesse, I'm afraid I can't do that. The Angels are hot on our heels, just two games back. If you truly want to help the A's in the postseason, make sure they get these games and then sweep the Angels when they come to town in September so that Oakland can go in as division champs rather than facing Felix Hernandez in a Wild Card play-in game. Also, because screw the Angels, right?