Big Changes Ahead For Oakland

Oakland's season began with high expectations, but the A's flopped in the first half, never to recover.

The team's plunge in early June took manager Bob Geren with it, after nine losses in a row, and also claimed underperforming third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and first baseman Daric Barton, both demoted. Neither returned to the team, and Kouzmanoff was traded. At one point, the A's had five starting pitchers on the disabled list: Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy, Rich Harden and Tyson Ross.

General manager Billy Beane replaced Geren with Bob Melvin, who brought a new energy to the clubhouse, and players complimented his communication skills and management style. A week before the season ended, the A's gave Melvin a three-year contract to manage the club.

Melvin's work will be cut out for him in several areas, going by this season's disappointing results. The first order of business will be to restore the team's once-strong defense. The A's made 124 errors in 2011, the most in the American League, and the pitching staff was particularly poor in the field, with 19 errors.

The A's will bring back a solid group of pitchers, particularly their rotation, with young right-hander Trevor Cahill and left-hander Gio Gonzalez at the forefront. Anderson potentially could return from Tommy John surgery in July, and Braden hopes to be only slightly behind the other starters during spring training following July shoulder surgery. The only significant free agent is Harden, who might return to Oakland anyway.

The Athletics' primary question marks, as in most winters the past several years, are on the offensive side. The team's entire starting outfield, Josh Willingham, Coco Crisp and David DeJesus, is heading to free agency, as is designated hitter Hideki Matsui. Oakland is unlikely to retain more than one or two.

First base and third base remain gray areas. Scott Sizemore, a converted second baseman, was serviceable at third, and first baseman Brandon Allen initially was hot after coming over from Arizona in a July 31 trade, but he cooled off considerably. It's not clear if the team has long-term answers at either position; the A's did not receive enough production from the corner-infield spots, period, this season.

The outfield could look entirely different next season, with prospects such as Michael Taylor getting a look there. Ryan Sweeney might wind up with a full-time job again, too. But with potentially four lineup spots to fill, Oakland's offseason could be very busy indeed.

One thing that is known about the 2012 season is where it will begin. The A's will start their campaign in Tokyo, Japan, taking on AL West rival Seattle in a two-game set on March 28-29. It will be the A's second trip to Japan. Oakland began the 2008 season with a split of two games versus the Boston Red Sox in Tokyo.

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