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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
A's OF Josh Reddick scratched from lineup with oblique strain
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) Athletics outfielder Josh Reddick was scratched from Friday's spring lineup against the Diamondbacks due to a right oblique strain

Reddick was limited to 109 games in 2014 due to knee issues. He has played less than 115 games the last two seasons and has played more than 115 games just once in six MLB seasons.

Reddick has a career .245 average, .305 on-base percentage, .431 slugging percentage and .736 OPS. Reddick is penciled in to be the A's starting right fielder.


Yankees' Girardi getting closer to playing A-Rod in the field
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:23 pm ET) Alex Rodriguez will make his second spring appearance at DH for the Yankees on Friday against the Pirates. While manager Joe Girardi feels Rodriguez is physically ready to play in the field, he is holding off a little longer before starting Rodriguez at third base.

"Right now, I think at-bats are the most important thing," Girardi said, per MLB.com. "And I think sometimes if you want to leave him in a little longer, it's easier to do it as a DH.

"I talked to him the other day, and he said he's ready to go at third. That's not an issue."


Padres OF Justin Upton scratched Friday due to illness
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:15 pm ET) Padres outfielder Justin Upton was scratched from Friday's spring game against the White Sox due to illness, per U-T San Diego. He was replaced in the lineup by Rymer Liriano.

"He's not feeling great," manager Bud Black said. "He should be back in a day or two, once he gets back to close to 100 percent. He's just a little bit under the weather. In this case, how he's feeling, it just doesn't make sense for him to be around the ballpark."

Upton hit a solo home run during his spring debut Wednesday.

"He's been working hard these first 10 days of camp, and leading up to camp, he was working hard," Black said. "This won't hurt him, a few days off the field."


Indians' Gavin Floyd sidelined due to soreness unrelated to elbow
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:04 pm ET) Indians starting pitcher Gavin Floyd said Friday his live batting practice session Wednesday was shut down after seven pitches due to "general soreness," per MLB.com. Manager Terry Francona said Floyd's general soreness is unrelated to the fractured elbow he suffered in June.

Floyd said he is not concerned about a setback. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway said the next step in Floyd's progression is still to be determined

Francona said he told Floyd not to focus on deadlines, such as opening day. Francona added it is important to have Floyd at 100 percent -- no matter the date.


Mariners SP James Paxton feels good after 30-pitch bullpen session
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:57 am ET) Mariners starting pitcher James Paxton (forearm) threw a 30-pitch bullpen session Friday. He reported no soreness and will throw another bullpen session in a few days, per the Tacoma News Tribune.

Cubs' Olt on first spring HR: One of the best at-bats I've had in a while
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:52 am ET) Cubs third baseman Mike Olt clubbed a two-run homer off Athletics starting pitcher Barry Zito during Thursday's spring game. He connected on an 0-2 changeup.

“It’s one of the best at-bats I’ve had in a while,” Olt said, per MLB.com. 

Olt spent some time this offseason working on refining his swing.

“I feel like it’s night and day,” Olt said of his swing now compared to last season. “Last year, I said I felt my swing was there, but secretly I knew in my head I was swinging at pitches I wasn’t supposed to. I’m feeling like I’m tracking the ball a lot better this year and a lot of the changes we’ve made to my swing are the reason why.”


Red Sox ready to consider Matt Barnes as option for bullpen?
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:45 am ET) The Red Sox have maintained they consider prospect Matt Barnes a starting pitcher. However, his performance Thursday against the Twins has opened the door for Boston to potentially consider Barnes as a bullpen option.

Barnes struck out three batters in two scoreless relief innings Thursday. His fastball reached 97 mph and he featured a tight breaking ball, per WEEI.com.

The Red Sox likely have just two spots in the bullpen open, but Barnes could change their plans. Barnes did make five relief appearances for Boston last season.

“If everyone was healthy, we probably viewed two spots in competition among a group of four or five,” manager John Farrell said. “Does an outing like last night increase the pool? I don’t know that we need to anoint that yet, but that was a really good outing to watch.

“I don’??t have a whole lot of history with Matt Barnes, but that was a different guy than even what we saw in September. Sometimes you look for silver linings in an otherwise frustrating year and talking with Matt Barnes, he has a better understanding of who he is as a pitcher, what’??s required at the major-league level and the constant focus and concentration needed, all those were talked openly by him. And he went out last night and demonstrated some of the things he learned last year. Breaking balls much tighter. I’??ve never seen that kind of velocity from him. He was a different guy last night.”


Blue Jays' Saunders amazed with how quick recovery from surgery is going
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:38 am ET) Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders, who underwent surgery last week to remove 60 percent of the cartilage from his left knee, threw from flat ground for a second straight day Friday, according to the National Post

“When they told me I was going to walk out of surgery, I basically called B.S., considering the way I felt two days prior to it,” Saunders said. “But I walked out of surgery and I’ve felt amazed at the way my knee feels, considering everything. It’s an amazing thing.”

Saunders expects to hit off a tee within a few days. He could also start running in about a week.

“So far, so good,” he said. “The training staff are pushing me, but we’re pushing each other. At the end of the day, I’ve got to listen to my knee, but we’re headed in a good direction.”


A's catcher Stephen Vogt getting closer to DHing in spring game
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:33 am ET) Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt, who is coming off foot surgery, will run the bases either Friday or Saturday, per MLB.com. If all goes well, he will soon get into a spring game as the DH.

Nationals 1B Mike Carp scratched Friday due to toe injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:29 am ET) Nationals first baseman Mike Carp was scratched from Friday's spring lineup against the Braves after taking a pitch off his pinkie toe Thursday, per CSNwashington.com. His toe swelled up overnight.

 
 
 
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