Billy Beane. Moneyball. The big three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito... well, three and a half, let's include Rich Harden too.
It's 2012 and these are still what's associated with the Oakland Athletics. Which, if you're a fan of the A's, isn't a good thing. Oakland hasn't been to the playoffs since 2006, which is also the last year the team finished over .500. Ken Macha's 2006 A's, as you may recall, were swept by the Tigers in the ALCS.
Ever since then, it's been rough being an A's fan. Oakland has finished with a losing record in each of the last five seasons, save 2010 when the A's finished an even 81-81.
After another offseason fire sale by Billy Beane and Oakland's ownership as they try to move the franchise to San Jose, the A's are in store for another rough year -- much to the delight of Rangers fans.
Two of Oakland's best starting pitchers won't be back in 2012, as the club traded off Trevor Cahill to Arizona, mainly to acquire Jarrod Parker, and Gio Gonzalez to Washington in exchange for A.J. Cole, Derek Norris, Brad Peacock and Tom Milone.
So, who does that leave in Oakland's 2012 staff?? Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden, Bartolo Colon, Milone and maybe Parker or Tyson Ross as the fifth starter. McCarthy, when healthy like he was last year, is certainly a very good starting pitcher. Whether or not he can maintain his health and repeat his 2011 success remains to be seen. Braden is a question mark in his own right, coming off a shoulder injury, but when healthy, is also an effective starter.
After that, though, are three question marks at the big league level, and certainly nobody that is going to really push Oakland toward competing in 2012. That's not to say that Colon, Milone, Ross or Parker are awful, but they're just not guys you'd want taking the ball in the middle of a playoff race. While Parker certainly could and should develop into a guy who can pitch at the front of the rotation, he's not there yet.
Beane's fire sale didn't stop with the starters. He also dealt off former Rookie of the Year award winner Andrew Bailey, trading him to the Red Sox, along with Ryan Sweeney, in exchange for J.J. Reddick, Miles Head and Raul Alcantara. You certainly can't fault Beane for shipping off a closer during a rebuild, (Hey, Joakim Soria!), but the haul is rather uninspired.
Instead of Bailey at the end of games, Bob Melvin announced that Grant Balfour will be Oakland's closer. Hardly an imposing ninth inning presence, but he's certainly a capable reliever and should be able to effectively close out games. Balfour will likely be setup by Brian Fuentes, Fautino De Los Santos, and eventually when healthy, Joey Devine. Again, not awe-inspiring, but really, not awful either.
The storyline for Oakland offensively is going to be Yoenis Cespedes, who surprisingly signed with the A's over the winter. Cespedes is likely to man center for Oakland, shifting Coco Crisp to left field. Cespedes is a pretty huge unknown, as he's a massive talent... just extremely raw, and already 26 years old. To expect him to carry an offense is not only unrealistic, it's unfair.
The rest of Oakland's lineup looks to feature Josh Donaldson, Cliff Pennington, Jemile Weeks, Brandon Allen, Jonny Gomes, Kurt Suziki and J.J. Reddick or Seth Smith. In a word: inept. Oakland is going to struggle to score runs, unless everything clicks for each of those hitters, which simply isn't terribly likely.
There is of course the big signing of Manny Ramirez, who will be sitting out the first 50 games of the season due to suspension. It's unlikely that Manny will be a huge factor, or a factor at all, but it's certainly something to watch, and he'll likely put a few more fans in the seats in Oakland.
Oakland's transactions over the offseason prove that they are once again rebuilding, and likely aiming to compete by the time they, in their minds, arrive in San Jose. Beane certainly did fairly well in the trades with Washington and Arizona, as Parker, Peacock, Cole and Norris are all very nice prospects.
Still, they were acquired at a cost, and that cost is going to take its toll this season, as the A's compete with the Mariners to stay out of last place in the AL West yet again.