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Richard Justice

Beane making things interesting in Oakland

Justice: Beane making things interesting again

Beane making things interesting in Oakland
I was tempted to write something really silly. You know, like saying the Oakland A's might contend for a playoff berth in 2012. I took a deep breath and didn't do it.

It's not that I'm afraid of looking silly. Been there, done that. It's just that there are too many moving parts with these A's.

Almost everything that can be measured says that the A's will be terrible in 2012, but the problem with that assessment is that there's only so much that can be measured.

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Unless you know what Collin Cowgill, Josh Reddick, Jemile Weeks, Michael Taylor, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Brad Peacock and, now, Yoenis Cespedes, will do, it's impossible to know what the A's are capable of.

Still, it's silly to predict anything until we actually see some of these young players on the field. Besides, it's a serious stretch to think they could finish in front of the Angels and Rangers in the American League West.

That said, this is going to be a fun Spring Training for general manager Billy Beane and assistant GM David Forst. Can you imagine how they're going to feel as they get their first real look at the players they believe will lead the franchise back into contention in the years ahead?

Beane didn't trade Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey with the idea of making the playoffs in 2012 anyway. In fact, his entire offseason blueprint was based on his belief that the A's probably couldn't catch the Angels and Rangers this season.

Beane's goal is to contend in, say, 2014, when the A's could be on the verge of moving into a new stadium. His model is the Cleveland Indians, a franchise that began to win the moment it opened the doors to Jacobs Field in 1994.

Beane points out that the stadium itself didn't change the Indians. That change came in the years before the move as then-GM John Hart and former assistant GM Dan O'Dowd constructed a model baseball operation.

The Indians hadn't made a postseason appearance in 40 years when Jacobs Field opened, but beginning in 1995, they went five years in a row.

Likewise, Beane and Forst want to have the A's positioned for long-term success whenever the doors to a new ballpark open, and if that means taking a step back, so be it. Their goal was never to be just respectable anyway.

Oakland acquired 10 players between the ages of 19 and 25 in the Gonzalez, Cahill and Bailey trades. They received some young players who could make an impact this year, but that's a bonus.

And then, on Monday, the A's agreed to terms with Cespedes, the 26-year-old Cuban center fielder, on a four-year, $36 million deal. Cespedes was a five-tool star in Cuba, and though it's impossible to know how his skills will translate to the Major Leagues, Beane and Forst are betting he'll be special.

Is Cespedes a gamble? Absolutely. So is every young player, whether he's coming from Cuba or the Dominican Republic or Stanford.

It's impossible to know how a player will change both physically and emotionally. But if Cespedes were a sure thing, the A's wouldn't have the money to sign him.

Cespedes will have a chance to make the club in his very first Spring Training. A four-year contract isn't ideal, since it carries him right into free agency, and if the evaluations comparing him with Raul Mondesi and Justin Upton are correct, his re-signing could be problematic.

But the A's believe they'll have a new stadium by then and that they will be able to afford to keep him. Regardless, Beane views him as an asset to the organization, and regardless of how that asset is used, the A's believe they got better on Monday.

Suddenly, an already interesting roster situation got more interesting. There was already competition up and down the depth chart. Now there's a bit more, and if that competition brings out the best in the young guys, everyone benefits.

For instance, there's outfielder Cowgill, who is 25 years old and who has been on Beane's radar for years. He finally got him in the Cahill deal with Arizona.

With Coco Crisp guaranteed one starting spot, Cowgill is going to have to earn his playing time in Spring Training and beyond. If Cespedes wins a job, it's unlikely that the A's would keep both Cowgill and another youngster, Reddick, on the Opening Day roster.

There's similar competition on the pitching staff. Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden and Bartolo Colon are penciled in for the first three spots in the rotation, but Beane hopes Parker, Peacock and Milone will make those decisions difficult.

Regardless of when it happens, it does appear the A's are on their way back. It may not happen this season, but they were already interesting, and Cespedes simply makes them more so.

If Beane's goals this offseason were to accumulate power arms, speed and youth, he ought to go to Arizona feeling pretty good about things. As for winning in 2012, that's definitely out. I think.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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