When Spring Training 2012 began I wrote a series of six articles for SI.com, one for each division, that took a look at the “big question” “big battle” and “big prospect” for all 30 teams. I wrote the AL West first, because the A’s and Mariners were opening the season early in Japan. In the short time between when I submitted it and when it was published, the A’s signed Yoenis Cespedes, forcing me to scrap my “big question” section for something on Cespedes. With the A’s having clinched a playoff berth Monday night, I thought it would be interesting to see what wound up getting scrapped. Here it is:
The Big Question: How much of a step back did the A’s really take? Hope springs eternal in February, and in that spirit, it’s possible to squint at the A’s 2012 roster and see a team that hasn’t lost much ground compared to the year before despite trading Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey and losing Josh Willingham, David DeJesus, and, eventually, Hideki Matsui to free agency. It might not happen this year, but Jarrod Parker, obtained from the Diamondbacks for Cahill, could be as good or better than Gonzalez. Brad Peacock, part of the package received from the Nationals for Gonzalez, could be as good or better than Cahill. Brian Fuentes has plenty of experience closing ball games. Free agent signings Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes could form a platoon that is more productive than Willingham was last year (see below), and DeJesus and Matsui had lousy seasons last year, setting the bar low for new right fielder Josh Reddick, acquired from Boston in the Bailey deal, and whoever fills Matsui’s spot in the lineup.
I didn’t exactly nail it. Peacock was lit up in the Pacific Coast League and didn’t throw a single pitch for the A’s. Fuentes saved just five games before being released in mid-July. Gonzalez was a Cy Young candidate for the Nationals (though Parker did compare favorably to Cahill). Meanwhile, the A’s won just 74 games in 2011, so “hasn’t lost much ground” is still a huge miss, but I feel as though I was one of the few mainstream writers who was even remotely positive about the A’s offseason, at least prior to the Cespedes signing (you know, the guy who filled Matsui’s spot in the lineup). Here’s the version that was published in February.