OAKLAND — The Oakland A’s are often a confounding enigma, an unlikely assemblage that always seems to over-achieve and mystify the experts.
The 2015 roster, unlike the 2014 squad, has next to nothing in the consistent power department. They’re lacking chemistry — many of the guys are meeting each other for the first time just before Spring Training — and some veterans are even resentful for this.
One thing they do have, now, is superior youth and speed, which they plan on maximizing. It’s something they’ll need to exceed the 88 wins that left them essentially short of the playoffs last season.
Manager Bob Melvin will have to reinvent the A’s, something he did in 2012 when the team made a series of big trades that brought in a healthy crop of major league up-and-comers.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
Addressing the media before fans invaded the Coliseum for A’s Fan Fest, Melvin said he was meeting some of his new players for the first time Sunday:
“Our makeup isn’t going to be as station-to-station as it was. When Coco (Crisp) got hurt, (Craig) Gentry was out for awhile, the speed dynamic for our team kind of took its toll on us. I think this is a group where we try to run a little bit more, hit-and-run, and do some things that maybe we haven’t in the past.”
Oakland’s biggest power threat is Ike Davis, who arrived in November from the Pirates for basically nothing. Davis hit 22 home runs in 2014 and 32 jacks in 2012.
Of course no team is going to dump a player if he’s flawless. Davis’ knock is inconsistent at-bats coupled with what appears to be a steep drop-off in power.
Davis may supplant Moss as the team’s everyday first baseman, with newly-signed Billy Butler as a stand in. The roster has several players who have hit 20 or more home runs in a single season, though none have done it recently.
Crisp hit 22 homers in 2013, and that’s the most of any player currently on the roster over the last two seasons, tied with Davis.
Melvin says he’s not going to ask guys to do things they’re not prone to doing:
“It’s my job to acclimate to the group that we have here. You’re not going to jam a square peg into a round hole. If you’re more suited to draw some walks and hit some homers, you’re not going to run into outs. But if you have the ability to run a little bit more, and it looks like we do this year, we’ll definitely take a hard look at it.”
Pitching is one strength that isn’t going anywhere, at least not on paper. Sonny Gray will return for his second full season with the club, as will Scott Kazmir and Jesse Chavez. The rotation has barely been decided, if at all, and probably won’t be until the end of March.
But whomever is taking the mound for Oakland will have a nice setup behind them. There isn’t any position on the roster outside of first base that is lacking for speed. None of the position players are prone to errors, and most veterans have a track record of making the smart decisions.
Assistant general manager Dave Forst said:
“Certainly with outfield defense, Reddick, Crisp, Gentry and Sam Fuld, those guys are all returning, we’re not going to lose anything there. We know what Brett (Lawrie) is capable of at third base, and (Ben Zobrist) is outstanding at second, so we certainly put a lot of focus on that in our offseason moves, and we expect the defense to be as good as it’s been.”
Forst declined a comparison to the San Francisco Giants in terms of their player management, though speed and defense have been key components of a Giants’ formula which has brought three World Series titles in five seasons.
The Royals, too, who beat the A’s in the Wild Card game and eventually fell to the Giants in the World Series, similarly succeeded on the back of speed and defense.
Neither team has been much of a power hitting club, though the Giants won their titles on the back of clutch at-bats and even modern miracles. The A’s could get there too, though there’s no way for anyone to know yet.
They’ll figure some of the kinks out when they begin playing Spring Training games March 3 against the Giants, and then find out whether they have real grit in August and September.
To be fortunate enough to play in October, which Melvin has experienced in two of his three full seasons as manager, they’ll need some quick relationship building, as well as maximization of all their traits.