Maybe the movie “Moneyball” was just a teaser for the 2012 Athletics, a cast of misfits and role players who came together to shock the baseball world by winning the American League West on the final day of the season.
This team was certainly a typical production of general manager Billy Beane. With a payroll of only $52.8 million, the A's highest paid player, Yoenis Cespedes, made $6.5 million. Only 11 players made more than $1 million. And yet this group fielded the third best starting pitching staff in the AL and the second best bullpen. They hit the sixth-most home runs in the league (195), and the most for the franchise since 2002.
So how did they do it?
Dec. 14, 2007: Oakland trades P Dan Haren and 1B/LF Connor Robertson to Arizona for P Brett Anderson, 1B Chris Carter, OF Aaron Cunningham, P Dana Eveland, OF Carlos Gonzalez and P Greg Smith
The first seeds of the Athletics' 2012 American League West title were sowed all the way back in the winter of 2007. Cunningham, Eveland, Gonzalez and Smith all found their way out of Oakland over the years, but the other two players have been key this season. Anderson, who came back late in the season after recovering from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, went 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA in six starts. Carter, part of a first base platoon, hit .239 with a .350 on-base percentage and 16 home runs in only 218 at-bats.
Dec. 9, 2011: Oakland trades P Craig Breslow, P Trevor Cahill and cash to the Diamondbacks for P Jarrod Parker, P Ryan Cook and OF Collin Cowgill
With just one previous MLB game to his resume, Parker emerged as a standout for the Oakland starting staff. He finished the year 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA. Cook, meanwhile, bounced between the set-up and closer role and back again, but was dominant, striking out 80 in 73.1 innings and going 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA.
Dec. 23, 2011: Oakland trades P Gio Gonzalez and P Robert Gilliam to the Nationals for C Derek Norris, P Tommy Milone, P Brad Peacock and P A.J. Cole
This is a trade that worked out for both teams. Gonzalez is a Cy Young candidate and the Game 1 playoff starter for the Nationals. Milone led the A's in games started (31) and wins (13) to go along with a 3.74 ERA. Norris, a catcher, hit just .201, but added seven home runs and played his position so well, the A's were confident enough to trade incumbent backstop Kurt Suzuki to the Nationals.
Dec. 28, 2011: Oakland trades P Andrew Bailey and OF Ryan Sweeney to Boston for OF Josh Reddick, 1B Miles Head and P Raul Alcantara
During three partial seasons in Boston, Reddick hit 10 home runs. So it was a bit curious when Beane traded his established closer and a solid right fielder for the unproven, spare-part Reddick. But Reddick responded by leading the A's with 32 home runs, more than quadrupling his previous career-high.
Jan. 16, 2012: Oakland trades P Guillermo Moscoso and P Josh Outman to Colorado for OF Seth Smith
Colorado had one-too-many outfielders and Oakland had had trouble luring good hitters to the spacious O.co Coliseum. Smith had a hot start, but underperformed in the second half, hitting a career-worst .240 for the season. But he did add to the A's surprising home run numbers with a 14-homer campaign.
Aug. 20, 2012: Oakland trades SS Sean Jamieson to Arizona for SS Stephen Drew
Drew has a pricey option that's likely to be declined for the 2013 season, and the going-nowhere Diamondbacks decided to get what they could for him before he hit free agency. After hitting .193 with two homers in Arizona, Drew improved to .250 with five home runs for the A's while settling the shortstop position.
Major free agent signings:
Jan. 18, 2011: P Grant Balfour
For four seasons, the fiery and combustible Balfour was a stalwart of the Rays bullpen. He filled the same middle-relief/set-up role with Oakland in 2011, before eventually taking over as closer in 2012. Balfour was 3-2 with a 2.53 ERA and 24 saves in 2012 and recorded the final out of the season.
Dec. 1, 2011: 1B Brandon Moss (minor league contract)
Here are Moss's numbers in parts of five previous seasons with Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia: .236 average, .300 on-base percentage and 15 home runs. Here is what Moss did with Oakland this season: .291 average, .358 on-base percentage and 21 home runs. Of all of Beane's finds this season, Moss might be the most surprising and given him the greatest return on his small investment.
Jan. 5, 2012: OF Coco Crisp
Crisp said he chose the A's in the offseason because he wanted to sign with a winner. Many scoffed at the remark, however, it was Crisp who caught the final out of the A's division-clinching victory over the Rangers on Wednesday. He hit .259 with 39 stolen bases and was caught just four times.
Jan. 26, 2012: OF Jonny Gomes
Gomes has made a career out of hitting lefthanded pitching and being a part-time outfielder. But he had one of the best seasons of his career (career-high tying 140 OPS+) in 2012, hitting .262 with a career-best .377 on-base percentage and 18 home runs.
Feb. 13, 2012: OF Yoenis Cespedes
If not for Mike Trout's standout performance with the Angels, Cespedes might be the runaway candidate for AL Rookie of the Year. The Cuban defector answered any questions about his readiness to play in the U.S. With a .292 batting average, .356 on-base percentage and 23 home runs.
April 30, 2012: 3B Brandon Inge
After spending his entire career in Detroit, the slick fielding Inge was released by the Tigers after hitting .100 with one home run in nine games to start the season. He made an immediate impact with the A's, however, smashing 11 homers in 283 at-bats. And lest we forget, Mike Francesa likes Inge. A lot.
Major waiver claims:
May 15, 2012: P Travis Blackley
Blackley had allowed five earned runs in five innings with San Francisco before they cut him lose a little more than a month into the season. But he was re-energized as a swingman in Oakland, going 6-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 24 games (15 starts).