The Oakland A’s heartbreaking loss to the Royals in the AL Wild Card Game pretty much summed up their entire season. Oakland had a 7-3 lead with just 5 outs left to get, but ended up losing in 8-9 in 12 innings. The A’s had the best record in baseball on Aug. 9th (72-44), but went just 16-30 over their final 46 to finish 10-games out of the AL West lead and were barely able to hold on to the final Wild Card spot with an overall record of 88-74.

Unlike previous years, Oakland took an all-in approach to try and win their first World Series title since 1974, trading some key prospects for starters Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Unfortunately it didn’t pay off and Oakland will go into the 2015 with a drastically different look.

Pitching:

Lester and Hammel both signed with the Cubs in free agency, while Samardzija was traded to the White Sox, leaving Oakland to turn to Sonny Gray as the ace of their staff on opening day. Gray might not be one of the more recognized starters just yet, but he certainly proved his worth in 2014, going 14-10 with a 3.08 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over 33 starts (26 quality starts).

Scott Kazmir will also return to the rotation, but a second half slump has lowered expectations. Kazmir ended up leading the team with 15 wins, but was just 4-6 with a 5.42 ERA in the second half after a sensational first half that saw him go 11-3 with a 2.38 ERA.

It’s still up in the air on which three starters will complete the A’s rotation until A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker make their return from Tommy John surgery (both expected back around the All-Star break). Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Hahn and Kendall Graveman are all in the mix going into spring training.

The A’s were so impressed with Sean Doolittle was able to do in less than a full season as the closer, that they signed him to a 5-year contract worth $10.5 million. The A’s lost setup man Luke Gregerson in free agency, but were able to acquire Tyler Clippard in a trade with the Nationals. Ryan Cook, Eric O’Flaherty, Dan Otero and Fernando Abad will be the other key arms out of the pen in 2015.

Hitting:

A’s fans weren’t exactly pleased when the team traded away their biggest offensive weapon in third baseman Josh Donaldson, whose 15.4 WAR was second only to Mike Trout over the last two seasons. Oakland also parted ways with outfielder Brandon Moss, catchers Derek Norris and John Jaso, shortstop Jed Lowrie and second baseman Alberto Callaspo.

While losing Donaldson might not sit well, the A’s did their part to remain competitive in the AL West. Oakland signed free agent designated hitter Billy Butler, while acquiring an entire new infield via trades. They landed first baseman Ike Davis, second baseman Ben Zobrist, shortstop Marcus Semien and third baseman Brett Lawrie.

While none of these guys will be able to match Donaldson’s production on their own, Oakland has made a lineup full of lesser names work in the past. Zobrist and Butler both have been consistently solid. Davis and Lawrie have disappointed in years past, largely due to injury, but those are the type of guys who the A’s seem to turn around.

With Norris and Jaso both no longer in town, the primary catching duties will fall on Stephen Vogt with newly acquired Josh Phegley will serve as the backup. Coco Crisp is back in center, Josh Reddick returns in right field and Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry are expected to split time in left field. The key player out of this group is Reddick, who showed signs of returning to the form of 2012 (32 homers) in the second half. There appears to be a good chance that Reddick will return to form, as he’s finally fully recovered from a right wrist injury.

Betting Odds

  • To Win World Series: +2,000
  • To Win AL Pennant: +1,000
  • To Win AL West: +200
  • Win Total: 81.5

Prediction: 4th AL West (80-82)

Even though the A’s look like they have taken a major step back from the talent they put on the field in 2014, I had a difficult time picking Oakland to finish with a losing record in the bottom half of the division. We have seen this team win with a less impressive roster than the one they will have in 2015. I don’t think it will happen, but I wouldn’t be shocked if this team surprised and was in the running for the division title.

Had they had a healthy Parker and Griffin to start the year, I probably would have projected them closer to 85 wins, but that’s not the case. Even if the pitching holds up until those two return, I think the offense is going to take a major hit with the loss of Donaldson. I just don’t feel this team will be able to score enough runs to be a serious threat in what should be a much improved AL West.

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