Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Oakland Athletics
How does one handicap Oakland's cramped outfield?
It's rather simple, really.
In his first year against top-level competition, Yoenis Cespedes proved that he not only belongs but is already closing in on rotisserie stardom. (And having his personal chefs prepare a lovely roasted crow, topped with a luscious demi-glaze, for certain detractors. Ahem.) A greater test awaits the 27-year-old in Year 2, to be sure; there is still room, as his sub-75 percent contact rate suggests, for a precipitous drop-off from his rookie-season pace because of his overt, aggressive style. But his organized, chaotic control of the strike zone has so far kept him in position to punish opposing pitchers' blunders ... as well as some of their successes. Power? Plus-plus. Speed? Plus. Batting average? TBD, but so far, so good.
Josh Reddick, 26 in February, hit home runs at a torrid pace prior to the All-Star break, particularly in May (10), and ended up with 32 of them by season's end. His propensity for lengthy slumps (like, say, for more than a month to close out the campaign) became apparent in the second half, however. His average may be heavily dependent on his home run total, which is very likely to recede by several bombs. Paying for his 2012 marks is reckless.
The A's "bought low" on Chris B. Young, who, like Coco Crisp, has a pricey club option for 2014. There's a good chance that at least one of them will be on the trade block this summer. The switch-hitting Crisp should be good for another strong pace in the SB category.
Young will open the season as a "benchwarmer," but the buying opportunity for him is ripe. Although the tradeoff in run environments from Chase Field to O.co Coliseum is a minus, Oakland's emphasis on taking pitches (they led the league in P/PA after tying for fourth in 2011) will be a positive for his destabilizing plate discipline. Young, 29, should play when left-handed DH Seth Smith sits, and Crisp has played in more than 120 games only once in his past five seasons. Oakland frequently looks for opportunities to flip houses, and Young, with 25-25 ability, may have looked to them like a fixer-upper.
What kind of job security does Grant Balfour have this time around?
It's hard to say, because he really didn't deserve to lose his job so quickly last season. The right-hander's rough stretch last May coincided with some minor ailments, like back pain and illness, but Bob Melvin didn't give him much of a break and for some reason thought that Brian Fuentes was a better alternative, at least in the short term. Soon after that, Melvin resorted to a committee approach, followed in short order by the appointment of rookie Ryan Cook as lead dog. All the while, a healthy Balfour was in the midst of an 18-inning stretch in which he gave up only one run.
In theory, because the veteran closed out last season by saving 17 straight beginning on Aug. 11 - a stretch of 20 2/3 innings during which he yielded only five runs and held opponents to a .130 average - he's built up some credibility with Melvin. Little about the skills of Balfour, 35, have changed in the past few seasons, at least to the point that suggests he's close to serious decline.
The competition should be a little fiercer, however. Cook, 25, established himself as the prime candidate for closer of the future. Not because of his 14 saves, although those helped; the right-hander who'd struggled with his control throughout the first half (4.93 BB/9) was spot on after the break (1.54 BB/9). Sean Doolittle, 26, a failed first baseman who - lo and behold! - has a wicked left arm, quickly established himself with an 11.41 K/9 and 2.09 BB/9 in 47 1/3 major league innings. Keep in mind that he essentially made the conversion from position player to major league pitcher in the span of a calendar year, maybe less.
Balfour is still in Oakland because the A's determined that he was more valuable to them in a run to the postseason than as a bartering chip. Picking up his 2013 option was a no-brainer, but Oakland will almost certainly be gauging outside interest in him later this season. The frugal franchise has already seen the future, so Balfour has a good four months, at best, to rack up them saves.
Who'll serve as tricks up this rotation's sleeve in 2013?
The A's have already revealed most of the science behind the magic. Right-handers A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily are projected to begin 2013 in the rotation, but they're unlikely to find that pitching in the majors is as easy as they made it seem in their initial exposure. Griffin, in particular, is due for some a rude awakening in hit rate against him. Straily found that his stuff isn't so swing-and-miss against MLB batters, but the positive for him is that, with some easily projected improvement in control rate, he could see better results in 2013.
The nice thing about southpaw Tom Milone: What you see is what you get. Unquestionably, he has the skills and smarts to succeed year after year. He leaves a fair bit of his outcomes up to the BABIP gods, but that's nothing new. He doesn't hurt himself. The soon-to-be 26-year-old won't win you a rotisserie title, but he probably won't lose it for you, either, because of his stable, modest K/9, extremely low BB/9 and, thankfully, a spacious home park.
That brings us to the front of the starting five. Jarrod Parker, in his first full season after having Tommy John surgery, was astounding, maturing before fantasy owners' eyes in the second half (6.82 K/9 and 2.06 BB/9), although his 3.92 ERA didn't completely reflect his advances. The right-hander pitched more than 130 frames in 2011, so his progress from TJS wasn't miraculous; Parker is simply back on the track of a potential No. 1 or No. 2 starter. There'll be more bumps and bruises, but look out, in the long run.
And, of course, there's the reconstructed elbow of lefty Brett Anderson. It looked pretty good (6.43 K/9, 1.80 BB and 2.57 ERA in 35 MLB stanzas), didn't it? An oblique strain cut short his comeback effort, which reminds roto managers of his fragility. The big plus: That muscle pull is, hopefully, just a case of poor timing and nothing like his previous injuries that suggested or resulted in structural damage. With a full winter spent on preparation for the spring, and not rehab, there's a lot of reason to be interested - once again - in Anderson, 26.
At some point, southpaw Travis Blackley will probably be called upon to fill a hole. Expectations shouldn't be too high, but in short stretches, he can be effective, as he was in the first last season (3.20 ERA). Left-hander Andrew Werner may get some nods, as well, and he should have a little more luck if so.
But the real rabbit could be right-hander Brad Peacock, who endured quite a trying season at Triple-A Sacramento (6.01 ERA, 9.29 K/9 and 4.41 BB/9). A number of writers have pointed to extraneous factors affecting his results, last season, however; more than anything, fantasy players should probably view it as a growth campaign that'll make him stronger in the long run. He improved as the season wore on. He may not warrant more than a reserve pick in AL leagues, but at some point, he'll debut and could be a factor in mixed leagues.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570. Follow @NicholasMinnix
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