New-look A's expect to contend
OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Athletics topped even their most trade-happy of days by making nine swaps involving 27 players in a wild offseason for Billy Beane and his front-office mates.
As far as Beane is concerned, the A's wouldn't have even had a chance to close the gap on the reigning AL West champion Los Angeles Angels without a major offseason overhaul.
Even if that meant shipping out a trio of All-Stars in third baseman Josh Donaldson, first baseman Brandon Moss and catcher Derek Norris.
"Our expectations don't change, not with the guys we brought in," manager Bob Melvin said. "You look at it early on and you're thinking, 'What are we doing here?' Then we see the last few moves ... and it all came together at the end as far as what this team would look like going into spring. ... We feel real good about this group."
There were so many changes that Melvin had to search for names on the backs of jerseys during February's FanFest.
Billy Butler is the new designated hitter, and two-time All-Star infielder Ben Zobrist can play just about anywhere for Melvin, who is always one to mix and match his lineups based on matchups and who's playing well. Ike Davis came in a November trade from the Pirates to play first base, while third baseman Brett Lawrie came from the Blue Jays in the swap that sent Donaldson to Toronto.
"It's unique. I don't think many teams have taken turnover like this," reliever Dan Otero said. "Who are we to judge? Everybody's here for a reason, so it's going to be great."
Still, all the change took some getting used to this spring for an Oakland clubhouse known for its easygoing nature.
You first must know your teammates' names.
"Team chemistry's a little funky. You have to spend time with people and get to know people for team chemistry to fully come," center fielder Coco Crisp said. "You can't expect it just to happen. We'll be fine. We have a good group of core guys, guys that talk and mingle."
Here are some things to know as the A's chase a fourth straight playoff berth:
BUTLER'S BIG MOVE: Butler makes the first move of his career and is coming off a down season with the Royals, who lost in a seven-game World Series to San Francisco. He batted .271 with nine home runs and 66 RBIs in 151 games last year, 108 of those as a DH. "Everybody's awesome to be around," Butler said. "I couldn't be happier to get ready for another year with them. There are a lot of talented major league guys in this room."
FILLING THE VOIDS: Lawrie batted .247 with 12 home runs and 38 RBIs in 70 games for Toronto last season and takes pride in his defense to back up a talented rotation led by Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir. "We have a lot of ability out there and that's a plus for the pitching staff," Lawrie said. "All they have to do is take care of business."
GRIFFIN AND PARKER: Both right-handers are recovering from elbow ligament reconstructive surgery that sidelined them all of 2014. Parker hopes to return shortly after the season begins, while June has long been the target goal for these two. "There's no reason to start ripping the slider," Parker said. "I'm going to focus on command."
SPEEDY OUTFIELD: Despite the losses around the diamond, Melvin likes the look of his speedy outfield with Crisp, Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry. "They can cover a lot of ground," Melvin said. "In the case of Gentry and Fuld, they throw very well, too. Especially in our outfield at home, the field can play big and you need to cover a lot of ground out there. It's a comfort to have, and I know our pitchers feel good about it, too, that on a cold night in Oakland, you can stay. It's tough to go opposite field and know that when a ball's hit in the air and stays in the ballpark it's probably going to get caught."
ZITO'S COMEBACK: Back in his original uniform two years removed from the end of a $126 million, seven-year contract with San Francisco, lefty Barry Zito looks to be a factor for the A's out of the bullpen — or even to start when needed. After a year off, Zito arrived in Arizona motivated to show he could still pitch at the highest level.