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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
Scott Kazmir strikes out six in no-decision vs. Astros
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:56 am ET) Athletics pitcher Scott Kazmir wasn't a factor in Tuesday's decision, giving up two runs (one earned) on seven hits and one walk in seven innings and striking out six in his team's extra-innings game against the Astros.

Kazmir wasn't able to pick up his third straight win despite holding the opposition to one earned run or fewer for the fourth straight start. The Oakland pitcher has been at the top of his game over the last few months, aside from an ugly seven-run outing in late June. Kazmir owns a 2.32 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 114:28 K:BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. He's slated to take on the Rangers Sunday.


Brett Oberholtzer gives up two runs in no-decision Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:56 am ET) Astros pitcher Brett Oberholtzer didn't factor into the decision Tuesday after surrendering two earned runs on six hits and two walks in seven innings and not recording a strikeout in his team's extra-innings game against the A's.

Oberholtzer was handed a 2-0 lead after the top of the third innind, but he gave back one run in the bottom of the frame and the other on a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning. He has given up two runs or fewer in five of his last six starts, but he hasn't earned a win since rejoining the team in late June. Oberholtzer owns a 4.32 ERA and 51:19 K:BB ratio in 77 innings. He'll likely be taken out of the rotation if Collin McHugh is ready to return this weekend.


Michael Wacha may not pitch again this season
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha admitted before Tuesday's game that team doctors told him he might not pitch again this season after discovering a shoulder "fissure," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Wacha had an MRI and CT scan over the weekend but wasn't cleared to resume throwing Monday. He'll rest for a few more weeks before being re-evaluated. A best-case scenario would find Wacha getting a couple of starts in September, and the pitcher remains optimistic he'll be able to return before the end of the season.


Mike Trout slugs 24th home run Tuesday vs. Orioles
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:41 am ET) Angels outfielder Mike Trout provided his team's only offense Tuesday, going 1 for 4 with a two-run home run in his team's 4-2 loss to the Orioles.

Trout was one of only two Angels to get a hit in the game, and while his hit sailed over the outfield fence for a home run, it wasn't enough to avoid the loss. He has hit .309/.395/.610 with 24 home runs, 76 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 369 at-bats.


Jonathan Schoop knocks eighth home run Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:39 am ET) Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run in his team's 4-2 win over the Angels Tuesday.

After J.J. Hardy drove in the first run of the game with a double in the sixth inning, Schoop immediately followed with a home run to give his team the cushion needed to hang on to the win. He has hit .220/.256/.338 with eight home runs and 26 RBI in 287 at-bats, but two of his homers have come since the All-Star break.


Mariners send Erasmo Ramirez to Triple-A
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:36 am ET) The Mariners optioned pitcher Erasmo Ramirez to Triple-A Tacoma after Tuesday's loss.

Ramirez pitched well Tuesday, giving up just two runs in seven innings while striking out 10, but he still loses his roster spot to Wednesday starter Taijuan Walker. Ramirez owns a 4.12 ERA and 43:11 K:BB ratio in 54 2/3 innings over nine starts with Tacoma.


Lucas Duda slugs 15th home run Tuesday vs. Mariners
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:34 am ET) Mets first baseman Lucas Duda went 2 for 4 with a solo home run in his team's 3-1 victory over the Mariners Tuesday.

Duda gave his team an insurance run with his eighth-inning blast, and he now owns a modest six-game hitting streak. The first baseman has hit .261/.357/.485 with 15 home runs and 50 RBI in 299 at-bats.


Aaron Hill slugs eighth home run Tuesday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:32 am ET) Diamondbacks second baseman Aaron Hill went 1 for 3 with a solo home run and three RBI in his team's 5-4 win over the Tigers Tuesday.

Hill started his day with a blast over the left-field fence in the first inning to tie the game at 1-1. He added another RBI on a sacrifice fly in the third inning and drove in a third run on a groundout in the sixth. Hill has put together a seven-game hitting streak to help boost his line to .251/.284/.380 with eight home runs and 48 RBI in 363 at-bats.


Zach Britton strikes out two in 18th save
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:23 am ET) Orioles pitcher Zach Britton recorded two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 ninth inning Tuesday, picking up his 18th save in his team's 4-2 win over the Angels.

Britton threw nine of his 12 pitches for strikes and got ahead 0-1 against all three of the batters he faced. He was rocked in the second-half opener but has settled down since, tossing 2 1/3 perfect innings with four strikeouts. Britton owns a 1.78 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 42:14 K:BB ratio in 50 2/3 innings.


Miguel Gonzalez surrenders two runs in win vs. Angels
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1:21 am ET) Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez earned a win Tuesday, giving up two earned runs on three hits and four walks in 7 2/3 innings and striking out five in his team's 4-2 victory over the Angels.

Gonzalez (5-5) rejoined the Orioles Tuesday after spending the break in the minors, and he put together seven scoreless innings before surrendering a two-run home run in the eighth. He owns a 3.91 ERA and 74:36 K:BB ratio in 96 2/3 innings. Gonzalez is lined up to face the Mariners Sunday.


 
 
 
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