As fun as it was to knock the Manny Ramirez story around before and after the A’s surprised much of the baseball world by bringing in one of the game’s most polarizing players, Ramirez is more likely to be little more than a sideshow in 2012.
If he’s got something left in his 40-year-old tank, great. But he’ll be sitting out 50 games before anyone gets to even start trying to figure out what his impact might be, and by then the A’s could be virtually out of contention in an American League West race that features two deep-pocketed clubs — the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers — hell-bent on running away from the rest of the division.
While Ramirez serves his drug-related suspension, though, the A’s will find out quite a bit more about what could be in store beyond 2012, a year marked by so many unknowns that the club wouldn’t look out of place wearing uniforms ripped from the closet of The Riddler, or government-money maven Matt Lesko.
Step right up, Yoenis Cespedes. This is your team for the taking.
In fact, the team would LOVE for you to take it. Make it your own, by all means. The more authority with which you do it, the better.
Cespedes, 26, is the single most compelling component of the club, and it’s not even close. Yet to say the A’s success and failure this season is tied to the 26-year-old slugger — he defected from Cuba and signed a four-year, $36 million contract with Oakland late in the offseason — is to greatly underestimate the depth of the problems that run throughout the rest of the roster.
The starting rotation, not long ago considered the bedrock on which future glory were to be built, was devastated by a busy offseason of trades designed to restock the farm system.
All-Star closer Andrew Bailey was shipped out, too, leaving the bullpen weakened in several ways.
The situation at first and third base figures to be, as they like to say in baseball circles, “fluid.” And rare is “fluid” good. It’s a nice word for, “We’re not quite sure what the hell we’re doing there.”
Aside from second baseman Jemile Weeks, who was so good in 2011 that most people seem to be quietly taking for granted that he’ll be every bit as good this season, there isn’t a lot that doesn’t look like it might be fluid in Oakland.
Cespedes, of course, should be the other exception.
Blessed with mind-blowing talent and impressive at camp this spring with a work ethic that appears well-suited to maximize his many gifts, Cespedes is the highest-paid player on the team and will be expected, fair or not, to perform as such despite dealing with myriad cultural and professional adjustments.
He can’t be expected to carry the team as a rookie, but he is expected to provide something A’s fans desperately need, and that’s hope.
“The potential to be a guy who can lead a young group of other guys toward success isn’t easy to find or keep,” A’s general manager Billy Beane said after pulling off the coup of beating out richer clubs for the Cuban’s services. “It’s more difficult than normal for a team without particular obstacles.”
Yet Cespedes is one of those guys, and everybody in Oakland knows it. Manny’s sideshow, in the big picture, will mean very little.
Cespedes is THE show, and for now it’s the only real reason to watch.
Three keys to the A’s season
When’s the last time this wasn’t the No. 1 question heading into the season? Only this time, injuries won’t kill their shot at winning the division. That ship has sailed.
Yoenis Cespedes’ development
He’s the most compelling player in green and gold since the Big Hurt, but he’s starting out, not winding down. A big year generates even bigger excitement.
Highly likely at least a couple of starting spots change hands a number of times this year. Some sense of mound stability is absolutely key for the future.
Recapping the A’s 2011 season
The A’s finish the opening month a decent 13-15 powered by speedster Coco Crisp and four early-season homers from newcomer Josh Willingham.
The A’s rotation took a big blow when Dallas Braden, who threw a perfect game in 2010, underwent surgery on his pitching shoulder.
In the midst of a nine-game losing streak, the A’s fired manager Bob Geren and brought in former Arizona Diamondbacks skipper Bob Melvin as his replacement.
With the A’s out of the race, reliever Brad Ziegler was shipped off to the Arizona Diamondbacks for first baseman Brandon Allen and left-hander Jordan Noberto.
Starter Trevor Cahill endured a miserable month of August, going 0-4 in six starts with a 7.15 ERA and the A’s eventually traded him this offseason.
Rookie Jemile Weeks cemented his status as the future at second base by hitting .323 in the final month of the season as the A’s finish with a 74-88 record.