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Oakland Athletics 2012 Preview

To say the Oakland Athletics are in a rebuilding mode may be the understatement of the season.

On the heels of a disappointing 74-88 finish to last season, general manager Billy Beane, who reaped worldwide recognition this past year with the box office success of the movie "Moneyball," dealt away two of the team's best young pitchers in Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez along with closer Andrew Bailey.

In all, Oakland received a total of 10 prospects in those deals, as the team looks toward the future with the hopes of competing by the time they open a new ballpark, hopefully by 2015.

That's still not a lock, though.

But Beane wasn't just jettisoning players this winter and surprisingly won the sweepstakes for highly-coveted Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, landing him with a four-year, $36 million deal.

That seems to be an awful lot of money for a player who's barely faced major league pitching from a team that just doesn't do business this way. But early reviews have been positive and he will be in the lineup right from the start when the team begins play in Japan next week.

Cespedes wasn't the only bat Beane brought in either, as Oakland gave the enigmatic Manny Ramirez another shot, signing him to a one-year deal after a self-imposed retirement.

Of course, Ramirez must first serve a 50-game suspension for a second violation of the league's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2012 edition of the Oakland Athletics, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2011 FINISH (74-88) - Fourth Place (AL West)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Yoenis Cespedes (OF); Bartolo Colon (RHP); Jarrod Parker (RHP); Josh Reddick (OF); Brad Peacock (RHP)

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Trevor Cahill (RHP); Andrew Bailey (RHP); Gio Gonzalez (LHP); Hideki Matsui (OF); Josh Willingham (OF), David DeJesus (OF)

PROJECTED LINEUP: Jemile Weeks (2B); Cliff Pennington (SS); Coco Crisp (LF): Seth Smith (DH); Yoenis Cespedes (CF); Josh Reddick (RF); Kurt Suzuki (C); Brandon Allen (1B); Josh Donaldson (3B)

PROJECTED ROTATION: Brandon McCarthy (RHP); Bartolo Colon (RHP); Dallas Braden (LHP); Tom Milone (LHP); Tyson Ross (RHP)

PROJECTED CLOSER: Grant Balfour (RHP)

MANAGER: Bob Melvin

WHO EXACTLY IS YOENIS CESPEDES?

One of the more intriguing free agents this past winter was a player who didn't even play last season. In fact outfielder Yoenis Cespedes has never even played a major league game.

Despite that, multiple teams were in on him before he decided on the Athletics' four-year offer.

So why all the fuss?

Well, the baseball public first got wind of the 26-year-old slugger at the 2009 World Baseball Classic, where by all accounts Oakland general manager Billy Beane fell in love with him.

Cespedes hit .458 in his six WBC games, then hit .333 with 33 home runs, 99 RBI and 11 stolen bases over 90 games in Cuba during the 2010-11 season. His 33 home runs were a Cuban National Series record.

He defected from Cuba last winter and was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball on Jan. 25. However, he was not allowed to sign with a team until he was legally cleared by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

And with the way the contract is structured, Cespedes is not eligible for arbitration and can become a free agent after the 2015 season. Meaning, if Cespedes is this five-tool stud who everyone thinks he is going to be, the A's likely won't be able to retain him at that point.

The thought, of course, is that a stadium will be opening just as his deal is expiring and the team will be coming together as a contender, making the A's all that more enticing.

But, it's way too early to even get into that.

SO WHO'S GOING TO PITCH?

With Trevor Cahill in Arizona, Gio Gonzalez now in our nation's capital and Brett Anderson expected to miss most of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery, the role of staff ace has fallen almost by default to oft-injured right-hander Brandon McCarthy.

McCarthy was able to stay relatively healthy last season after missing all of 2010 and started a career-best 25 games, going 9-9 with a 3.32 ERA and set a franchise record for strikeout-to-walk ratio at 4.92-to-1 -- 123 strikeouts and 25 walks in 170 2/3 innings.

Now who takes the ball after McCarthy is a great concern.

Beane plucked the ageless Bartolo Colon in free agency, getting the big right- hander to sign for $2 million. After missing all of the 2010 season, Colon pitched well for the Yankees last season, posting an 8-10 mark in 29 games -- 26 starts -- with a 4.00 earned run average and 135 strikeouts.

Left-hander Dallas Braden missed most of last season and is still recovering from Tommy Jon surgery, but should return at some point in April. Fellow southpaw Anderson is also recovering from elbow surgery and probably won't be a factor until the second half, if at all.

So, that leaves a bunch of the youngsters that Beane acquired this offseason to fill out a rotation that at the start of last year was as promising as any in the American League.

Right-hander Jarrod Parker, acquired from Arizona as part of the Cahill deal, seems to have the most promise of the pitchers Beane picked up this winter and could find himself as one of Melvin's five starters at some point.

But it looks as if the final two spots in manager Bob Melvin's rotation will fall to lefty Tom Milone and righty Tyson Ross.

MANNY RAMIREZ ... REALLY?

Who knows what Beane was thinking when he brought Manny Ramirez in on a minor league contract, but the disgraced slugger is in Oakland, hoping for a second shot at ending his career on his terms.

Ramirez played just five games with Tampa Bay last April and suddenly announced his retirement after a second violation of the league's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. The penalty would have included a 100-game suspension, but he instead chose to hang up his cleats.

In December, Ramirez applied for reinstatement. The Office of the Commissioner and the Players Association then decided that Ramirez must first serve a 50- game suspension.

Ramirez, a 12-time All-Star who will turn 40 years old on May 30, previously served a 50-game ban in 2009 as a member of the Dodgers for his first drug violation.

Obviously, Ramirez is one of the best right-handed hitters to ever play the game. But what exactly is he now?

X-FACTOR: GRANT BALFOUR: Brian Fuentes has appeared in four All-Star Games but Melvin has chosen righty Grant Balfour to be his closer this season. Balfour was tremendous for the A's last season, pitching to a 2.47 ERA while batters hit .199 against him. Balfour made his intentions known all winter that he wanted to be a closer, despite having just 10 career saves to his credit. Fuentes actually made it easy on Melvin with an atrocious spring.

OUTLOOK

Despite signing Cespedes, Beane's offseason fire sale has left the cupboard bare at the major league level for the A's, a team that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2006, which is also the last year the team finished over .500. In case you haven't noticed the AL West got significantly better with the addition of Albert Pujols, and the A's are starting McCarthy on Opening Day. Saddle in, it could be a long year in the Bay Area. But, then again isn't that what they said about that team in that movie "Moneyball?"