This is the fourth of a seven-part Around the Horn series that features a position-by-position look at the A's projected starters and backup options heading into the 2014 season. Up next: Outfielders.
OAKLAND -- Defending their American League West title in 2013 proved rather easy for the A's, who managed to increase their '12 win total by two en route to running away with the division crown.
That they reached the 96-win plateau while corner outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick -- their two key cogs in 2012 -- endured constant struggles was rather remarkable, and it was also telling of the impact made by the likes of Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie.
Center fielder Coco Crisp was also susceptible to offensive woes at times, but he enjoyed a solid year overall thanks in part to a late-season resurgence that saw him hit 12 of his career-high 22 homers after Aug. 21.
As a whole, though, 2013 wasn't the finest year for Oakland's outfielders. In fact, they ranked 28th in the Majors with a collective batting average of .239, down from the .262 mark posted the year before. Their on-base percentage also slipped from .330 to .311, and they struck out 420 times, sixth most in the AL.
Cespedes' encore to a sensational rookie campaign was rather disappointing, even though he collected 26 homers. After batting .292/.356/.505 in 2012, he fell off in nearly every major offensive category in 2013, hitting .240 with an alarmingly low .294 on-base percentage, his OPS dropping from .861 to .737.
That was even after Cespedes hit .314 with six homers and 19 RBIs in September.
"Maybe, numbers-wise, he had a disappointing season," said manager Bob Melvin, "but you saw him show up at the end. He's a spotlight guy. I expect him to have better numbers overall next year, but he certainly didn't disappoint coming down the stretch."
Reddick was actually worse, in part because of ongoing wrist woes following an April incident at Minute Maid Park in Houston. His home run total fell by 20 -- from 32 to 12 -- and he hit a dismal .226/.307/.379. Reddick succumbed to right wrist surgery in October, and he is expected to be at 100 percent by Spring Training.
Throughout it all, though, Reddick maintained the standout defense that made him an American League Gold Glove Award winner in 2012 -- an asset that continually kept him on the field last year, despite his problems at the plate.
"What he did the year before, he hit home runs, his average wasn't that high, but he does a lot of great things on the bases and in the outfield," Melvin said, "so I think he has the ability to get better, to hit for a higher average.
"I don't know that he's going to hit 30-some home runs again, but based on where he is in his career, I think he can get better, and that's certainly the intent."
The A's outfield is considered one of the best defensive groups in the league, and it only got better in that regard with the December addition of Craig Gentry, whose range and speed perfectly complement the Coliseum's vast outfield.
In 227 games and 556 plate appearances in 2012 and '13, Gentry hit .292 with a .370 on-base percentage and a .389 slugging percentage. The 30-year-old also stole 37 bases in 47 attempts as Texas' fourth outfielder.
Gentry's role will likely remain unchanged in Oakland, where he is expected to play all three outfield positions. He could potentially platoon with Reddick in right field -- though Melvin maintains "Reddick is our right fielder" -- and lend a backup option to Crisp in center.
Gentry's versatility also allows Melvin to utilize Cespedes and Crisp in the designated-hitter role occasionally.
"It's very hard to get a good right-handed defensive center fielder," general manager Billy Beane said when he traded for Gentry. "There's not a lot of them out there, and of the guys that are out there, we thought Craig was the best fit for us."
The A's are likely to stick with four outfielders out of camp following the departures of Chris Young and Seth Smith, rather than the five they employed most of last year. It's an exceptional group, one that could do plenty of damage if able to avoid the type of prolonged struggles documented in 2013.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less