Heading into spring training 2011, the A’s were the boutique pick of many experts as the favorite to win the American League West.
They had finished at an even .500 the previous season, and the offseason additions of Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui and David DeJesus were thought to be, should everything break right, enough to bolster a previously anemic offense and give Oakland’s fine young starting rotation (and deep, versatile bullpen) a legitimate shot at unseating the defending division champs from Texas.
Suffice to say, things didn’t break right. Quite the opposite. In fact, it was as much a Murphy’s Law season for the Elephants as any in recent memory.
Matsui — “Godzilla” to his legions of Japanese fans — was anything but a monster at the plate until it didn’t really matter; DeJesus looked every bit the Kansas City Royals castoff he was; and the injury bug that has been biting Oakland for years went all Jaws on all things green and gold, particularly as it applied to the pitching staff.
Manager Bob Geren, long a running joke of a leader within the walls of the A’s clubhouse and press box, got the boot as things started to spiral out of control. And interim skipper Bob Melvin’s infectious presence did little to stop the train as it barreled toward irrelevance and a finish of 22 games behind the division-winning Rangers.
In short, the boutique went bankrupt shortly after it opened.
Then, an offseason of angst saw Oakland’s representatives at the past three All-Star Games — pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey — shipped off for prospects while we all waited for crazy Uncle Bud Selig’s frozen blue-ribbon panel to flip a coin on a decision regarding the club’s future stadium plans, which moved not a discernible inch.
So there’s not a soul in the baseball world expecting the A’s to do anything more in spring training 2012 than provide a glimpse of their uncertain future.
This is what rebuilding looks like, folks, and it ain’t pretty.
Sure, this week’s surprise signing of Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes — a 26-year-old outfielder said to be a five-tool talent with massive upside — spruces things up a tad. Manny Ramirez (and his impending 50-game suspension) remains an option, too, and that would certainly liven up the proceedings in the Valley of the Sun.
Yet with a pitching staff depleted of its top talent and now pocked with question marks, and with a roster of position players virtually devoid of proven, consistent big-league producers, it’ll test even the world-class optimists among A’s fans to remain sunny about this motley crew.
After all, it gets dark in the desert, too.
Three things to watch at A’s camp
1. Is Yoenis Cespedes, the Cuban defector who agreed to a four-year, $36 million deal that immediately made him the team’s highest-paid player, really ready to step right in and start in the big leagues as a heart-of-the-order stud?
2. Who’s on first? Daric Barton is running out of chances, and the other options are less than inspiring. The winner here could be by default.
3. Bartolo Colon is a house, and the rest of the rotation is a potential house of cards. Every candidate to start for the A’s is raw or a major injury risk. Oh, how times have changed in Oakland.