As is usually the case with all sports, it becomes enticing to make bold predictions before the regular season even commences. While the majority of these predictions are based purely on historic trends, it hardly ever pans out the way most analyst believe it will. Every year, there is always a general consensus between most sports writers on who the dominant favorite will be come the end of the regular season. This year, the baseball analysts of ESPN have once again honed in on their favorite juggernaut in the Los Angeles Dodgers (highest payroll in baseball, over $235 million). Although the Dodgers have a great chance of winning it all this year, there is one team that has once again slipped under the radar: the Oakland Athletics. While the Athletics payroll may be miniscule compared to that of the Dodgers (6th lowest payroll in baseball at just over $83 million), they have proven that they can do more with less as the Athletics have won their division two years in a row for the first time since 2002-2003 regular seasons. Despite the Athletics post season flops as of recently, this team has continually asserted itself as one of the most well managed teams in the majors that can win consistently when no one expects them to do so.
While the Athletics are known for their intuitive stinginess when it comes to finding great players at an even better price, this year, Oakland made a bold move to acquire closer Jim Johnson from the Baltimore Orioles. Despite Johnson’s uncharacteristic struggles during the 2013 season, he still proved to be a fairly reliable closer as his ERA only increased from 2.49 in 2012 to 2.94 in 2013. At $6.5 million, Johnson is hands down the highest paid pitcher in the Athletics bullpen while being the 3rd highest paid player on the roster behind outfielders Coco Crisp ($7 million) and Yoenis Cespedes ($8.5 million). Of course, when it comes to the Athletics financial decisions, there is always more to story than meets the eye. While some may look at Johnson’s generous contract as a mistake, the Athletics viewed it as a grand opportunity to acquire a clutch closer. Despite Johnson’s fall from grace last year, the Athletics looked at the bigger picture and realized that this poised athlete was capable of winning 66.7% of the time when he was on the mound while holding an opposing offense to a meek batting average of just .220 (both came during the 2012 season and were career highs).
Aside from the new blood the Athletics sought out, they also have two great base hitters that are coming back this year to give Oakland the offensive explosiveness that it had last year. Between Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp, these two tenacious outfielders combined for 146 RBI’s and 48 home runs. Looking at the Athletics other intriguing offensive weapons it becomes easy to see that this team is built to methodically move runners across the bases rather than going for a glorious grand slam. Amongst the Athletics infielders, Alberto Callaspo (totaled 58 RBI’s between Angles and Athletics last year) and Jed Lowrie (75 RBI’s last year, career high) look to be avid contributors this yea as both of these player excelled in Oakland last year.
Still, even with Oakland’s commitment to their unique system of finding the unwanted hidden gems of baseball, they still have to utilize these beloved misfits to the greatest extent if they want to garner their first World Series victory in 25 years. Although general manager Billy Beane has always been known for vehemently condemning the post season as a luck of the draw rather than skill, it is still paramount for the Athletics to set their sights higher than just winning their division. Given the potential that exists on this roster, the Athletics should feel confident in their abilities to put away a team such as the Detroit Tigers who invested $29.2 million in a single player, a luxury the Oakland Athletics will never have. Still, if the Athletics could win the World Series, they would once and for all change the perception of what it means to realistically invest in solid players rather than dishing out egregious contracts to athletes who may not remain consistent.
In the end, the Athletics are fighting an uphill battle against an old fashioned financial system that rewards cities with monetary leeway over those that are strapped for cash. However, the Athletics have fought to change this perception by using their wits and vast intellect to compile a group of underappreciated athletes that have more to offer than their overpaid counterparts. While it may be hard to find believers in this scrappy organization, as long as this franchise remains relentless and committed to excellence, as they have been since Billy Beane arrived, this team could not only win a World Series but also simultaneously change the outlook fans and critics have for the future of baseball.