Alex Hall, my counterpart at Athletics Nation asked if I'd answer a few questions about the Indians in advance of this week's series. I told him I was happy to, and asked if he'd answer a few questions for us, which he did. You can find my answers to his questions at this link, and you can find his answers to my questions below:
Jason: I think a lot of people would look at the A's roster and wonder how they've won so many games the last two years, and are projected to do so well again this year. What do you think the average outsider misses when they look at the team?
Alex: It's easy to overlook any of the A's players on an individual basis, but they each bring something to the table and they complement each other's skills very well. They all have their flaws -- Cespedes and Reddick struggle to get on base, Moss strikes out a lot, Jaso is a poor defender, etc. -- but when you put them together, they add up to a good offense and a good defense. Bob Melvin also knows how to deploy his players in ways that exploit their strengths and put them in the best positions to succeed, so he often squeezes a little extra value out of them. On the pitching side, Beane has made a living identifying overlooked talent and continues to do so. The best course of action is just to assume that the A's will have a good-to-great pitching staff, regardless of the names that comprise it -- since 2000, the they haven't ranked worse than 13th in MLB in team ERA in any season.
Since 2000, Oakland's pitching staff has had the following finishes in all of MLB in overall ERA:
- 2000: 11th
- 2001: 2nd
- 2002: 3rd
- 2003: 2nd
- 2004: 10th
- 2005: 6th
- 2006: 7th
- 2007: 13th
- 2008: 10th
- 2009: 11th
- 2010: 4th
- 2011: 10th
- 2012: 6th
- 2013: 7th
Jason: Yoenis Cespedes made a big splash in 2012, but seemed to take a step back last year. Is he going to bounce back?
Alex: Cespedes has been a bit of an enigma. At times he looks amazing, and at time he looks lost. Sometimes he makes quick adjustments, sometimes he doesn't. He's been messing around with his swing this spring, and our resident swing expert has analyzed him to great length. The results could be anywhere from a breakout year to a month of flailing followed by damage control. He plays balls-to-the-wall and so he has a tendency to hurt himself (on slides, swings, diving catches, running, blinking, breathing, etc.), and he's looked horrible all spring, but I'm confident that he will build on last year's sophomore slump and start looking like the hitter he was in 2012. He's so talented that it's hard to see him failing to get it together.
Jason: What was your reaction when the A's signed Scott Kazmir? Where does he rank in your eyes among the team's starting pitchers?
Alex: Athletics Nation had already been calling for a Kazmir signing, so we were all pleased with the move. A's fans know that they can't bid on the top pitchers who get $20M+ per year, so they have to target flawed players and hope to hit on their upsides. Kazmir fits the bill perfectly, as his injury concerns lower his price tag and he represents a big gamble overall. However, his comeback campaign screams Bartolo Colon deja vu to me -- they had nearly identical stats in their first seasons back after being out of the league for a year. I'm not saying that Kazmir will be as good as Colon was here, but it gives me hope that the younger and fitter hurler could feasibly put up above-average numbers now that he's back in the swing of things. He is currently Oakland's No. 2 starter after Sonny Gray, but there isn't much difference between the No. 2-5 starters and any of them could step up and be the best of the group.
Jason: I was surprised to see the A's go after Jim Johnson this offseason. How do you feel about having him as the closer?
Alex: I always found Johnson to be overrated because of his gaudy save totals, but that doesn't mean that he's not an excellent pitcher. I see him as roughly equal to Grant Balfour (a good-but-not-elite closer), except that he goes about run-prevention in a different way (with ground balls instead of big strikeout numbers). The price tag is outrageous, but it isn't hurting the team's flexibility or costing them at other positions so it's more or less irrelevant. I think he'll get the job done, and if he doesn't, there is no shortage of closing candidates behind him in Oakland's ridiculously deep bullpen.
Jason: The stadium situation in Oakland seems like a complete mess (literally and figuratively). What's your sense of where things are headed? Will there be some sort of resolution in the next few years, and if so, what do you expect that resolution to be?
Alex: One of our writers did a great piece on the stadium situation last week. The title of the article sums it up well: At a Crossroads, Standing Still. The pissing match between the A's, the Giants, MLB, Oakland and San Jose is at something of a stalemate at the moment, and things could go in any number of directions and take any number of years to resolve. Personally, I've sort of stopped caring about the whole thing; all I want is for it to be over and to have a final word on the future of the team, whatever that may be. I think they're staying in the Bay Area, so I don't care that much which city they are in -- I can come up with positives and negatives for both Oakland and San Jose. As for which city ends up with the team? I haven't the foggiest idea. Just fix the plumbing, please.
Jason: There seems to be a lot of talent in the AL West (outside of Houston anyway), but every team seems to have a lot of question marks. Which divisional rival are you most concerned about in 2014?
Alex: The Rangers still present the biggest threat to Oakland's division crown. They made a couple of big win-now additions this winter, and, despite their recent injuries, their roster is stacked. If the rotation can keep it together and stay healthy, they should be in it all year. The Angels improved over the offseason, but I don't see them competing for more than the Wild Card -- Pujols and Hamilton may bounce back, but they aren't likely to reach their past heights of greatness. The Mariners are still several pieces away from competing, unless they get some breakout years from the graduated prospects who haven't yet panned out (Ackley, Smoak, etc.).