Oakland Athletics: Breaking Down the 2014 Season


The Oakland Athletics’ 2014 season came to a heartbreaking end in an extra-inning thriller in Kansas City two weeks ago in the one-game AL Wild Card playoff. This epic collapse seemed to begin after the Yoenis CespedesJon Lester trade, but it actually started about a week before. A lot of fans say that Billy Beane ruined the team with the Lester trade. While that is a fair point, there was more behind the A’s struggles than just that transaction.

Looking at the A’s as a whole in the first half of the season, they had a solid starting rotation in Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz and Tommy Milone to go along with an undeniable amount of confidence on offense. The A’s offense was one with the mentality of “if the guy in front of me can’t be the guy, then I can be the guy.” There was always a sense that anyone could get that big hit to start a rally or productive inning, and that was backed up by quality pitching.

The starting pitching could go deep into games, allowing the bullpen to only have to come in for no more than three to four innings. Everything about the A’s was clicking on all cylinders, and the fans were in love with this team.

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Then, in the middle of June, Pomeranz got injured and left the question: who can fill his shoes? The answer at the time was to trade a single dollar to the Milwaukee Brewers for left-handed pitcher Brad Mills. However, Mills did not make a good first impression going just four innings, recording four walks, and allowing two earned runs on four hits in his first start with the A’s.

Mills’ next two starts were somewhat of an improvement, as he tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings with no walks, but he still gave up nine hits against the New York Mets and threw for six innings with six strikeouts, despite giving up three earned runs in a loss to the Detroit Tigers. It was clear the Mills wasn’t going to work out as Beane had hoped.

Shortly after Mills’ start in Detroit, the A’s traded right-handed pitcher Dan Straily to the Chicago Cubs for right-handed pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. This trade shook up the rotation and sent Tommy Milone down to the minor leagues, even though Milone had been 6-0 in his last six starts. The A’s new rotation was Gray, Hammel, Kazmir, Samardzija and Chavez.

Alongside this issue of filling Pomeranz’s spot in the rotation, Josh Donaldson fell into a major slump starting in the first week of June, going 0-for-31 in at-bats starting June 6th. After June 15th, he continued to struggle up until the All-Star break, going 21-for-72 in 25 games with three home runs and four walks.

Although the A’s were winning a majority of their games during this time, they were not getting the right wins. They split a two-game series with the Mets, they were swept by the Tigers, and they lost two out of three games to the Seattle Mariners to round out the first half of the season.

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This brings us to the All-Star Game, where the A’s had seven All-Stars for the American league. Fans were excited, players were excited, and it was all good vibes for Oakland. With the selection of seven All-Stars, everyone felt that the A’s got the recognition and respect that they rightfully deserved in the baseball world.

Although this was a positive note for the A’s, it seemed that after the All-Star break, the players lost their mentality of proving themselves and picking each other up both offensively and defensively. The resilience was gone.

In the A’s first 12 games after the break, the team went 7-5 with three of the five losses being against the Houston Astros. In those games, the team lost a struggling Coco Crisp, who came out of the break hitting only 3-for-27 in seven games, to a neck injury. The A’s also lost backup center fielder Craig Gentry to a broken hand that he suffered in the three-game series against the Texas Rangers.

Now without their everyday leadoff man, the A’s struggled to find an offensive rhythm, similar to the slump the San Francisco Giants had after Angel Pagan (the Giants’ leadoff man) had gone on the DL with a back injury. This is because a leadoff hitter sets a certain tone and certain energy for the rest of the lineup, and when that player isn’t there, the rest of the lineup is not as strong and struggles to play as a cohesive unit offensively. Realistically, the A’s began their downfall after the Crisp injury, since that was initially what caused the offensive struggles.

Now it’s August 1st, and Beane made a deal that sent the A’s star left fielder Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for left-handed pitcher Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. Beane also dealt Milone to the Minnesota Twins for outfielder Sam Fuld.

With an already struggling offense, this trade only exacerbated the cause by getting rid of the A’s main offensive spark in Cespedes, in return for an average hitter in Gomes and outstanding pitcher in Lester. Now with Lester on the team, Chavez got bumped out of the rotation, instead of the struggling Hammel, to become the A’s long reliever out of the bullpen.

Jul 27, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Oakland Athletics left fielder Yoenis Cespedes (52) follows through for a two-run double against the Texas Rangers during the second inning of a baseball game at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

Things would only get worse from there for the A’s. Not only did they lose a huge bat in Cespedes, but they also lost a threat in Cespedes. Cespedes was a major threat to pitchers because of his power that he can put on the ball. On the base paths, Cespedes was also a fast runner despite being a larger player. He could steal, and he could score from first. He was more of an all-around threat than people gave him credit for.

They also lost a defensive asset in the outfield, being that Cespedes had a cannon arm that could throw people out at the plate or at second from the deep corners of the park. The threat of being thrown out as base runner no longer existed with Cespedes out of the A’s lineup. This trade affected the team greatly on both offense and defense.

After the Cespedes trade, the A’s became plagued with injuries. Crisp consistently missed games with his bad neck, Gentry still had a broken hand, Jed Lowrie fractured his finger, Nick Punto had a hamstring injury, John Jaso was put on the concussion DL and never came back, Stephen Vogt had a foot issues that made him unavailable for catching, Derek Norris was in and out from being banged up by back swings and foul tips, and the A’s lost Sean Doolittle as the closer for a stretch of games due to an oblique issue.

All of these injuries brought down team chemistry and team confidence. Without chemistry and without confidence, it is hard to be a successful baseball team. The Doolittle injury was a major factor in losing some games down the stretch, because there was no else in the A’s bullpen that could properly close out a game. Because of this, the A’s lost more one or two-run games than they should have.

After the Lester trade, the A’s would go 12-17 before trading for DH/1B Adam Dunn to try and get an offensive flow going again and to try and close out the season strong. However, there was not much of an improvement after this trade was made, as the A’s record in September was 10-16.

If Beane was interested in Dunn initially, then what should have happened would have been to keep Cespedes, let the A’s have a minor slump while Crisp and Gentry were out with their injuries, and then bring in Dunn if the slump continued. That way, the A’s would have two power bat threats with Cespedes and Dunn sandwiched between Donaldson and Brandon Moss in the batting order.

The A’s also could have made Hammel the long reliever rather than Chavez, because Chavez needs to stay in a pitching rhythm in order to perform well. Coming out of the bullpen in 2013 did not show off his talents as a pitcher, and he became a surprising quality starting pitcher for the A’s this past season. Hammel struggled for the majority of his starts with the A’s, and coming out of the bullpen might’ve boosted his confidence.

Going forward, the A’s will most likely lose Lester, as he stated early in the season that he planned on returning to the Red Sox since his contract expired this season.

What the A’s need to do in the offseason is check in with A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker and see where they are at in terms of recovery. Going into spring training, the A’s eight starting pitcher options are Gray, Kazmir, Samardzija, Hammel, Chavez, Parker, Pomeranz and Griffin. If Griffin and Parker are healthy, the A’s should cut Hammel and Chavez, make Pomeranz the long reliever, and have the starting rotation be Gray, Kazmir, Samardzija, Griffin, and Parker.

Lastly, the A’s should look for a bat that can replace Cespedes. The A’s need a player who can provide an offensive spark to reinstate the confidence this team used to have.