The A’s held their annual FanFest event on Sunday, giving fans a chance to meet the 2015 team – and, in this case, for many of the players to meet each other.
“It’s great that we have a name on the back of our jerseys,” closer Sean Doolittle said. “But we kind of need names on the front, too.”
The A’s roster overhaul this offseason included nine trades involving 27 players, infusing Sunday with a getting-to-know-you aspect for new and returning faces alike. Ten players on hand for FanFest were acquired this offseason, along with bench coach Mike Aldrete. Manager Bob Melvin, asked whether he could recognize his entire roster yet, answered: “When they turn around.”
But Melvin added that, despite the turnover, “expectations don’t change” for a team that has made the postseason each of the past three seasons. The common refrain Sunday was that the A’s – who traded away four All-Stars in December and January, made over their entire infield and go into spring training with three rotation spots up for grabs and their closer sidelined indefinitely – expect to be competitive again in 2015.
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“You looked at it early on (in the offseason) and you’re thinking, ‘What are we doing here?’ ” Melvin said. “And then when you see the last few moves … it all came together at the end, as far as what this team should look like going into spring.”
The acquisition of second baseman Ben Zobrist was perhaps the key to completing the makeover, which the A’s undertook after their second-half swoon in 2014 landed them in the one-game wild-card playoff, which they lost to the Kansas City Royals.
Assistant general manager David Forst reiterated Friday the A’s felt they “needed to get younger and healthier, and sort of change the direction.” Thus the trades of All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson, first baseman Brandon Moss and pitcher Jeff Samardzija – a flurry of activity that left many wondering if the A’s were in rebuilding mode for 2015.
“I think people (now) have had a chance to see the entire picture,” Forst said. “The trades we made early, with Josh and Samardzija, we understand people can’t see the whole plan, we’re not going to sort of put it out there. But now that everybody’s seen the players we added, things we did, public opinion has sort of changed.”
Not entirely, judging by the tenor of fans who braved the rain to attend FanFest. During a live question-and-answer session, one fan told general manager Billy Beane that Beane had figuratively “kicked me in the stomach” by trading Donaldson, while another asked Beane to go back and explain trading Yoenis Cespedes at midseason last year – a move that some blame for sending the A’s into a tailspin.
Beane said the Cespedes question was a “fair question,” but reiterated he felt the move was warranted to acquire pitcher Jon Lester. Aldrete, hired from the St. Louis Cardinals in October, said during the same Q&A session that he hopes the A’s succeed this year so that Beane can “tell America, ‘Take that!’”
Right fielder Josh Reddick, one of the returning A’s, said the turnover “seems to be a repeating thing every year” in Oakland, but that despite the players the A’s lost, “We’re still a very solid baseball team. It seems like we got a little bit younger … I think we brought in more energy.”
Reddick did acknowledge the challenge of replacing the players the A’s lost from the middle of the order.
“The last two years, I could go down and have Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss and Yo to pick up the slack,” Reddick said. “Now we don’t really have that. We don’t have those guys coming to pick up the slack, so we need guys to start producing.”
One such player is new designated hitter/first baseman Billy Butler, whom Melvin said could be a common presence in the No. 3 spot behind Coco Crisp and Zobrist. Butler said that having been in the Royals organization the previous 10 seasons, he’s used to being the guy welcoming in new players – not the other way around.
“It’s different being on the other side, but it’s the same type of scenario,” Butler said. “You have to respect what moves have been made and fit guys in, learn the roles in spring training. And you have to respect what the GM has done with this team. He knows talent, he knows what it takes to win. We just have to go out there and do it.”
Beane joked at FanFest that all the offseason trades were the idea of the A’s marketing department, “so they’d sell more jerseys.” In a more serious tone, he added:
“At the end of the day, we think this is a good team. We’ve done this before. And guess what, if this doesn’t work, we’ll make more moves.”