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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Oakland Athletics

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After two straight American League West titles and two straight ALDS losses to the Tigers, it appears that Athletics general manager Billy Beane's "stuff" still doesn't work in the playoffs. It may not work particularly well in Fantasy either. Though Beane's squad had more than enough power and pitching to earn a postseason berth, they were short on elite players and well-rounded talents who are sought out by Fantasy owners.

Consistent with their reputation for exploiting market inefficiencies, the A's were led by an overlooked 27-year-old catcher-turned-third baseman (Josh Donaldson), a 33-year-old outfielder who finally turned in his first 20-20 season (Coco Crisp), an injury-prone shortstop who managed to deliver a full season's worth of games (Jed Lowrie), a platoon first baseman (Brandon Moss) and a 40-year-old contact pitcher (Bartolo Colon). Yoenis Cespedes, probably the most recognizable Fantasy entity coming into 2013, couldn't clear the bar he set as a rookie, when he was a top 20 Rotisserie outfielder. Difficulties in making contact helped to shave 52 points off Cespedes' batting average, as he languished with a .240 mark and No. 33 ranking among Roto outfielders.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

Despite the team's collective success, you could easily get through the first three or four rounds of your upcoming mixed league drafts without seeing a single Athletic go off the board. Still, Donaldson and Cespedes are legitimate early-round options (if not the very early rounds), and Crisp and Moss can be targeted in the middle rounds, particularly in Roto leagues. Colon is out of the picture, having signed with the Mets this offseason, but Sonny Gray and A.J. Griffin are solid candidates for your mixed league rotation. New closer Jim Johnson is also an appropriate pick for the middle rounds. Lowrie, outfielder Josh Reddick, catcher John Jaso and starting pitchers Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily are all players worthy of late-round fliers.

The A's did lose a few key pieces from their 96-win team, but they found solid replacements during the offseason. Colon and closer Grant Balfour departed via free agency, but Beane signed Scott Kazmir and traded for Johnson to take over for them. Kazmir is another name to add to your late-round sleeper list after completing a successful campaign with the Indians last year. The team also added bullpen depth by trading outfielder Seth Smith to the Padres for Luke Gregerson, and they maintained their outfield depth by acquiring Craig Gentry from the Rangers.

Fantasy teams don't usually face the same payroll constraints that the A's do, so they don't have to mimic the franchise's no-stars approach. That said, the organization still offers plenty of players who can help Fantasy owners win a title this coming season, if not the centerpieces to build a team around.

Injury-risk sleeper No. 1 ... Scott Kazmir, starting pitcher

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Coco Crisp CF
2. Josh Donaldson 3B
3. Jed Lowrie SS
4. Yoenis Cespedes LF
5. Brandon Moss 1B
6. Josh Reddick RF
7. John Jaso DH
8. Alberto Callaspo 2B
9. Stephen Vogt C
Bench Nick Punto IF
Bench Craig Gentry OF

Kazmir gave us a nice comeback story last year, just by virtue of cracking the Indians' rotation and staying there through the end of the season. What he accomplished, especially from late June on, was actually much more impactful than simply winning and keeping a job. Kazmir gave owners strikeouts all year long, and his 4.04 ERA and 1.32 WHIP obscure how dominant he was over his final 18 starts. Over that three month-plus stretch, he posted a 3.06 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, as he threw more than two-thirds of his pitches for strikes and recovered from poor early luck with hits on balls in play. As long as Kazmir doesn't revert to his prior history of injuries and wildness, he has a shot at pitching like a top 30 starter.

Injury-risk sleeper No. 2 ... John Jaso, catcher

Jaso's first season in Oakland got off to a slow start, as he hit just .252 with one home run through the end of May. His Fantasy owners didn't get to enjoy the fruits of a midseason revival for long, as Jaso's year was done for good on July 24 when he was concussed as a result of taking foul tips off his mask in back-to-back games. Any time a player returns from a concussion, it's a risk to assume they can pick up where they left off, but Jaso is in a situation that is as close to ideal as possible. He will spend most of his time as the designated hitter, spared from the rigors and injury risks of catching, and assuming he is healthy, Jaso should be able to amass more than his previous career high of 404 plate appearances. Given that you may be able to get the likes of Geovany Soto, Alex Avila or Welington Castillo off waivers in a two-catcher mixed league, it's worth giving Jaso a try with a late-round pick, as there is minimal cost if he doesn't work out. If all goes well, he could provide a decent batting average and power with a high on-base percentage.

Bust ... Jed Lowrie, shortstop

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Jarrod Parker RHP
2. Scott Kazmir LHP
3. A.J. Griffin RHP
4. Sonny Gray RHP
5. Dan Straily RHP
ALT Drew Pomeranz LHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Jim Johnson RHP
2. Luke Gregerson RHP
3. Ryan Cook RHP
4. Sean Doolittle LHP
5. Jesse Chavez RHP

As part of a crowded infield situation a year ago, Lowrie headed into spring training looking poised for a utility role, but he emerged as the starting shortstop. Then Lowrie did something unprecedented, turning in a full season in a regular role. He finally answered the question, "What could Lowrie do if he could just stay healthy for a full season?", and the answer was to his owners' liking. Hitting .290 with 15 home runs, 75 RBI and 80 runs, Lowrie finished fourth in standard Head-to-Head scoring among shortstops and seventh in Rotisserie value. Lowrie was aided by his career-high batting average and 45 doubles, which were partially boosted by a drop in strikeouts but also by a 28 percent line drive rate. That's more than 10 percentage points higher than his rates from each of his three previous seasons, and it has regression written all over it. Health permitting, Lowrie should be able to provide 15-plus homers for the third straight season, but don't be surprised to see his batting average and doubles total plunge. Despite his lofty rankings from 2013, Lowrie is best viewed as a late-round option this spring.

Prospects Report

Addison Russell's stock has been enhanced by his rankings on top prospects lists, and he put up stats in the California League that back up the hype. Then again, lots of hitters do in that hitter-friendly circuit, but Russell's home park in Stockton is not an especially favorable environment. The 20-year-old shortstop could bring his power-speed combination to Oakland sometime this season, making him worthy of a flier in deeper leagues. ... Michael Ynoa may be the best known of the A's current pitching prospects, but Raul Alcantara is younger, fared much better after making the jump from Class A to Advanced Class A, and doesn't have Ynoa's history of elbow injuries. Both pitchers should be targeted in deeper dynasty leagues. ... Other than Russell, first baseman Maxwell Muncy is probably the prospect closest to the majors, but he may not arrive this year, and when he does debut, he may not hit for much power. ... Outfielder Billy McKinney and third baseman Renato Nunez are still working through the lower minors, but both have sufficient promise to merit a pick in dynasty formats.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs .

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Player News
Edinson Volquez picks up no decision after strong start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:08 pm ET) Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez turned in a scoreless start Saturday against the Brewers.

Volquez allowed three hits over seven scoreless frames. He struck out six and issued three walks during the appearance. Though he was mostly unhittable during the outing, Volquez never seriously flirted with a no-hitter. He gave up a double in the first inning, but was able to get out of the frame without giving up any runs. Volquez put two runners on base during the third inning, but was otherwise able to prevent multiple base runners during the start.

Volquez left with the game tied, picking up a no-decision. He’ll take on the Braves in his next start. 


Matt Garza gets ejected during scoreless outing
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:08 pm ET) Brewers pitcher Matt Garza was ejected during a scoreless start Saturday.

Garza allowed three hits over 4 2/3 scoreless innings. He struck out six and walked two during the outing. Tensions were high after Garza hit Andrew McCutchen with a pitch in the third inning. At that point, both benches were warned. Garza managed to work until the end of the fifth inning. After striking out the first two batters, Garza hit McCutchen again, and was ejected from the game.

Garza earned the no-decision for his performance. He’ll take on the Cubs in his next start. 


Chris Archer wins No. 10
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:22 pm ET) Rays pitcher Chris Archer was able to pitch around his control issues Saturday.

Archer allowed two hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings. He struck out three and walked four during the outing. Archer was mostly unhittable during the appearance. He gave up a first inning single to Jose Abreu, but kept the White Sox from doing much else over the next two innings. Avisail Garcia added the other hit in the fourth inning, but that was it for Chicago. Walks became an issue late for Archer. After putting two men on via the free pass to start the seventh inning, Archer was pulled. 

With the win, Archer improved to 10-8. He’ll take on the Indians in his next start. 


Hector Noesi turns in quality start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:21 pm ET) White Sox pitcher Hector Noesi turned in a quality start Saturday against the Rays.

Noesi allowed three runs on six hits over six innings. He struck out one and issued three walks during the appearance. The long ball has been Noesi’s bugaboo all season, and came back to haunt him Saturday. With a man on in the second inning, Nick Franklin took Noesi out to right for the two-run shot. Noesi would give up another run in the fifth inning after a single plated a runner from second. 

With the loss, Noesi dropped to 8-11. He’ll take on the Royals in his next start. 


Mike Leake knocked around Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:20 pm ET) Reds pitcher Mike Leake got knocked around Saturday against the Cardinals.

Leake allowed six runs, five earned, on six hits over five innings. He struck out four and walked two during the outing. After a scoreless first, the Cardinals were able to get to Leake. With two outs in the second inning, the team mounted a mini-rally. After a double and a walk, Tony Cruz belted a three-run shot to left. A home run sunk Leake in the third inning as well. After hitting the leadoff man, Kolten Wong smacked a two-run shot. Leake would give up another run in the fifth inning, but it was due to an error. The run would be unearned. 

With the loss, Leake dropped to 11-13. He’ll take on the Pirates in his next start. 


Michael Wacha fails to go five innings Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:19 pm ET) Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha failed to go five innings Saturday against the Reds.

Wacha allowed two runs on six hits over 4 2/3 innings. He struck out one and did not issue any walks during the outing. Wacha got off to a solid start, tossing three scoreless innings to open the game. He gave up his first run in the fourth inning. After a leadoff single advanced to second on a wild pitch, Brandon Phillips managed to knock the run home with a single. A leadoff single again came around to score in the fifth inning after Kristopher Negron doubled. Wacha was replaced after giving up the hit.

Wacha didn’t go five innings, so he wasn’t eligible for the win. He picked up a no-decision, and will take on the D-Backs in his next start.


Jordan Zimmermann wins 13th game Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:18 pm ET) Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann picked up a quality start Saturday against the Marlins.

Zimmermann allowed two runs, one earned, on five hits over six innings. He struck out four and did not issue any walks during the outing. Zimmermann’s first run came in the first inning. With men on first and second, Zimmermann gave up a run-scoring single to Justin Bour. He would escape the inning without allowing any more damage. His second run would be unearned due to a couple of errors. Reed Johnson hit a double during the fourth inning, but managed to score due to throwing errors by both Denard Span and Zimmermann. 

Zimmermann improved to 13-5 with the win. He’ll take on the Marlins in his next start. 


Jarred Cosart loses despite quality start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:17 pm ET) Marlins pitcher Jarred Cosart turned in a quality start Saturday against the Nationals.

Cosart allowed three runs on nine hits over 6 1/3 innings. He struck out two and walked two during the outing. Cosart proved to be somewhat hittable during the appearance, but managed to keep the Nationals off the board until his final inning. After a single and two run-scoring triples, Cosart was pulled from the game. Another run would come around to score, and was charged to Cosart.

With the loss, Cosart dropped to 13-10. He’ll take on the Nationals in his next start. 


Jonathon Niese turns in a strong start
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:16 pm ET) Mets pitcher Jonathon Niese turned in a strong start Saturday against the Braves.

Niese allowed two runs on seven hits over 7 1/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one during the outing. Niese was excellent to open the game, throwing seven scoreless innings to start things off. He gave up both his runs in the eighth inning. With one out, Niese loaded the bases on three straight singles. He was pulled from the game at this point. Two runs would come around to score before the Mets could get out of the inning. Those runs were charged to Niese. 

With the win, Niese improved to 9-11. He’ll take on the Astros in his next start. 


Chris Tillman picks up 13th win Saturday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:05 pm ET) Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman turned in a strong start Saturday against the Red Sox.

Tillman allowed two runs on five hits over seven innings. He struck out six and walked two during the outing. Tillman gave up both of his runs in the first inning. After opening the game with a walk, Tillman allowed David Ortiz to belt a two-run homer to left center. Tillman would settle in at that point, keeping the Red Sox off the board for the rest of his outing. 

With the win, Tillman improved to 13-5. He’ll take on the Blue Jays in his next start. 


 
 
 
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