A's season looks over before it starts

Pitching was the strength of the otherwise underperforming Oakland A's in 2011, so why did they blow up their rotation in the offseason?

First, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim made a big bet in the AL West, signing not only free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols, but also left-handed starter C.J. Wilson, the Opening Day starter last season for the two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers.

Then the Rangers raised the ante, landing Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, amid speculation that they well could wind up signing Prince Fielder as well.

The Oakland A’s?

They folded. And the 2012 season hasn’t even begun.

The A’s seem more concerned now with excuses than successes.

Yes, they are a small-budget operation, and their plight in Oakland is seemingly hopeless, which has them basing their future off the hope that commissioner Bud Selig can pull off some hocus pocus and force the San Francisco Giants to open the door to the San Jose area in an effort to salvage the A’s franchise.

On the field? Well, these A’s may be stars of screen and stage because of author Michael Lewis’ man crush for A’s general manager Billy Beane, but they certainly are no Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays face even bigger challenges with a non-existent fan base and minimal working capital — but somehow manage to enjoy success on the field, even if they are an afterthought among the Hollywood set.

Even in a rebuilding season, the Rays managed to claim the AL wild card in 2011, enjoying their third postseason appearance in four years despite a totally revamped bullpen and a lineup that included only three of the 10 regulars from 2010.

Then there is Oakland, which has been proclaimed to have discovered the secret to low-cost success and to have turned rebuilding into a fine art. The A's have advanced to the postseason just once in the last eight seasons and have failed to post a winning record in any of the last five.

And so the A’s reshuffled their deck once again this offseason, for some strange reason deciding that their route to improvement is to tear apart a starting rotation that was the franchise’s one claim to respectability.

What’s new?

Remember, in detailing the greatness of the A’s, Lewis virtually ignored any impact of the rotation trio of Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, who were a combined 194-94 during a four-year postseason run from 2000-03.

Apparently that lesson was lost amid the computer printouts that are the guiding light to an A’s organization where manager Art Howe was belittled because he wasn’t receptive to front-office meddling. Before being run out of town, Howe advanced to the postseason his final three years on the job, including 100-win seasons the final two; the team has played in October only once in the nine years since.

The reality check came a year ago when Beane’s high school buddy, Bob Geren, was fired in the midst of what was to be the fifth non-winning season under his guidance, even though the A’s had a starting rotation that ranked third among AL teams. Their 3.71 earned run average was better than three of the four AL playoff teams — Texas, New York and Detroit.

So how did the A’s approach the offseason? They shredded the rotation, their strength, without adding a single impact player to an offense that scored fewer runs (645) than any AL team other than the last-place teams from Seattle and Minnesota, and 430 fewer runs than Boston, which led the AL in touching home plate.

This is, after all, a team that has speculation brewing it could wind up with Coco Crisp hitting third on Opening Day.

They dealt Gio Gonzalez, who led the team with 16 victories in 2011; Trevor Cahill, who ranked second with 12 wins, and Guillermo Moscoso, who was fourth with eight, along with lefty Josh Outman. Those moves came despite the fact that Bret Anderson (Tommy John surgery) and Dallas Braden (left shoulder) are coming off serious surgeries and most likely won’t open the season on the active roster.

That means the A’s go into spring training where the only rotation holdover is Brandon McCarthy (9-3, 3.32 ERA), and the only other sure thing about the rotation is Bartolo Colon, a free-agent signee. Bartolo Colon? Yep, Bartolo Colon, a 38-year-old right-hander, who after four-injured plagued seasons in which he was 11-14 in 35 starts and didn’t appear in a game in 2010 went 8-10 with a 4.19 ERA for the Yankees last year.

And he stumbled to the finishing line last season – 0-4 with a 5.37 ERA his last 10 starts.

The A’s will point to the cache of young arms they collected, in part through the trades they made in the offseason.

The A’s feel that shows they have hope for the future.

Their recent actions, however, belie their claims.

Here’s a stat to kick around: In the last five years, there have been 18 pitchers who have made at least 20 starts for the A’s.

Only three of those pitchers are still with the franchise — Anderson, Braden and McCarthy.

That’s not a track record that generates much hope for the franchise, in 2012 or beyond.

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