Three story lines to follow for the A’s in 2014 

1. Defending their AL West title

Yoenis Cespedes has no problem making a bold prediction at this early stage: The A’s are headed back to the playoffs. Somehow, he says, the overachieving, small-budget club will find a way to do it again — even if they’re not the favorite. These guys thrive on the underdog role, even as two-time defending division champion. “I think we’re still trying to prove people wrong,” center fielder Coco Crisp said.

2. A bullpen to beat

With last season’s AL saves leader, Jim Johnson, joining an already-stout bullpen, manager Bob Melvin realizes how good he has it once his starter is done. With All-Star Grant Balfour gone to Tampa Bay in free agency, the A’s would have been comfortable having Sean Doolittle or Ryan Cook handle the ninth inning. Then, they were able to acquire Johnson in a trade with Baltimore. “Bullpen depth is something that every team strives for,” Melvin said. “Not only do we have it, we have it in numbers.”

3. Crisp at the top

As Melvin repeats so regularly, the A’s start with Crisp at the top of the order. Crisp received a new two-year extension through 2016 that adds $22.75 million in guaranteed money. “There’s a reason Coco Crisp is still here,” Melvin said. Crisp is coming off a year in which he hit a career-high 22 home runs and surprised even himself with the display of power. He hopes to steal more bases this year with fresh legs. “Hopefully Father Time doesn’t kick me in the butt till I’m in my 50s,” the 34-year-old Crisp said.

A'S LINEUP

1. Coco Crisp, CF

(.261, 22 HRs, 66 RBIs)

Crisp played in 131 games last season and was missed when he was out of the lineup. His 22 HRs were a career high and may be tough to repeat, but Crisp is the spark plug that makes the A’s offense go and his leadership is invaluable.

2. Jed Lowrie, SS

(.290, 15 HRs, 75 RBIs)

Lowrie was terrific last year in his first season in green and gold. His ability to provide power and average is a huge boost. With Lowrie eligible to be a free agent after the season, another quality season would seem to be on deck.

3. Josh Donaldson, 3B

(.301, 24 HRs, 93 RBIs)

Clearly the breakout star of 2013, he took the AL by storm. His 8.0 WAR (wins above replacement) was fourth-best in baseball. Teams now have a year of data on Donaldson, so how he adjusts at the plate will be worth watching.

4. Yoenis Cespedes, LF

(.240, 26 HRs, 80 RBIs)

Despite a poor average, Cespedes still finished with great power numbers. He put that power on full display in winning the Home Run Derby. He needs to find a way to make it through a full season healthy and cut back on his strikeouts (137).

5. Brandon Moss, 1B

(.256, 30 HRs, 87 RBIs)

After shuttling between various teams the first five years of his career, Moss seems to have found a home in Oakland. You pretty much know what you are going to get with Moss: a lot of home runs and a lot of strikeouts.

6. Josh Reddick, RF

(.226, 12 HRs, 56 RBIs)

Reddick struggled all of 2013 at the plate, in part because of a nagging wrist injury. He had surgery on the wrist in the offseason and is hoping to bounce back in 2014. In the field, Reddick has a cannon arm and knack for making spectacular catches.

7. John Jaso, DH

(.271, 3 HRs, 21 RBIs)

A concussion ended Jaso’s season in July last year. He appears to be fully recovered and hasn’t show any lingering symptoms during spring training. Jaso provides the A’s versatility and will likely be the regular catcher against right-handed pitchers.

8. Derek Norris, C

(.246, 9 HRs, 30 RBIs)

The right-handed-hitting catcher usually starts against opposing left-handed pitchers, where he has found great success. He’s hoping to carve out an even bigger role in 2014. He’s solid defensively and provides occasional pop.

9. Eric Sogard, 2B

(.266, 2 HRs, 35 RBIs)

The runner-up in the #FaceofMLB competition this offseason turned in a decent first full year in the big leagues in 2013. He needs to show he can be more consistent at the plate. If he struggles, the versatile Alberto Callaspo is ready.

A'S ROTATION

Sonny Gray

5-3, 2.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 67 Ks

With Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin expected to miss the start of the season, the budding star seems to be the top candidate to start Opening Day. His terrific eight-shutout-inning performance in Game 1 of the AL Division Series last year put him on the national map.

Scott Kazmir

10-9, 4.04 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 162 Ks

His career has been riddled with injury after injury, but Kazmir made 29 starts with the Cleveland Indians last year. The A’s rewarded him with a two-year, $22 million free-agent deal this offseason in hopes he can duplicate the success Bartolo Colon had last year. However, Kazmir already had to miss a spring start with triceps stiffness.

Dan Straily

10-8, 3.96 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 124 Ks

After posting stellar numbers in his minor-league career, Straily is still in search of a full, consistent major-league season. Straily finished strong last year, posting a 2.10 ERA in five September starts and is looking to build off that.

Tommy Milone

12-9, 4.14 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 126 Ks

The left-hander has won 25 games over the past two seasons, but has been nudged aside with the emergence of Gray, Straily, Parker and Griffin. Milone struggled at times last season which led to a brief demotion to the minors and to the bullpen.

Jesse Chavez

2-4, 3.92 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 55 Ks

With the injuries to Parker and Griffin, Chavez seems likely to start the year in the rotation. Chavez has been one of the A’s top pitchers this spring. He had a 3.92 ERA in 35 relief appearances last season.

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Staff Report

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Monday, Sep 15, 2014

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