A bettered Rangers club may hold that title. No matter, the A's have thrived as underdogs in recent times, and the organization plans to christen Spring Training with a club that very much resembles the one it took to the AL Division Series last year.
There are plenty of new faces, following a bevy of creative offseason moves by general manager Billy Beane, but expect to see much of the same in 2014: strong pitching backed by a platoon-generated offense.
Camp will feature a good amount of intrigue in position battles, with jobs up for grabs in both the rotation and bullpen, as well as on the bench. Then the real battle begins, in an improved AL West the A's hope to call theirs yet again.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Away vs. Giants, Feb. 26 at 12:05 p.m. PT
Home vs. Indians, March 31 at 7:05 p.m. PT
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Who fills out the rotation?
Youngsters Jarrod Parker and Sonny Gray, along with veteran Scott Kazmir, are set to fill out the front end of the rotation. It is less certain who will join them out of camp, though a depth-minded A's club has plenty of options. The battle should be fierce, as holdovers Dan Straily, A.J. Griffin and Tommy Milone will have competition in newcomers Drew Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom.
2. Who's at DH?
With Seth Smith out of the picture following his trade to the Padres, the A's are likely to turn to a familiar face to handle the bulk of DH duties this year. Catcher John Jaso, who missed the second half of the 2013 season while recovering from a concussion, appears best suited for the job, but it remains to be seen whether that is indeed the direction the A's will go.
3. What to do with so many infielders?
Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie remain fixtures on the left side of the infield, but the right side is rather crowded. Brandon Moss will be at first base on most days, but the A's are also eyeing to test Alberto Callaspo there, with Nate Freiman and Daric Barton wanting in as well. Callaspo will also be in the mix at second base alongside Eric Sogard and Nick Punto. If the A's want to keep six infielders on the roster, they will be able to keep only four outfielders.
96-66, first in American League West
Projected batting order
1. CF Coco Crisp:
.261 BA, .335 OBP, .444 SLG, 22 HR, 66 RBIs in 2013
2. 3B Josh Donaldson:
.301 BA, .384 OBP, .499 SLG, 24 HR, 93 RBIs in 2013
3. SS Jed Lowrie:
.290 BA, .344 OBP, .446 SLG, 15 HR, 75 RBIs in 2013
4. LF Yoenis Cespedes:
.240 BA, .294 OBP, .442 SLG, 26 HR, 80 RBIs in 2013
5. 1B Brandon Moss:
.256 BA, .337 OBP, .522 SLG, 30 HR, 87 RBIs in 2013
6. DH John Jaso:
.271 BA, .387 OBP, .372 SLG, 3 HR, 21 RBIs in 2013
7. RF Josh Reddick:
.226 BA, .307 OBP, .379 SLG, 12 HR, 56 RBIs in 2013
8. C Derek Norris:
.246 BA, .345 OBP, .409 SLG, 9 HR, 30 RBIs in 2013
9. 2B Eric Sogard:
.266 BA, .322 OBP, .364 SLG, 2 HR, 35 RBIs in 2013
1. Jarrod Parker, 12-8, 3.97 ERA in 2013
2. Sonny Gray, 5-3, 2.67 ERA in 2013
3. Scott Kazmir, 10-9, 4.04 ERA in 2013
4. Dan Straily, 10-8, 3.96 ERA in 2013
5. A.J. Griffin, 14-10, 3.83 ERA in 2013
Closer: Jim Johnson, 50/59 saves, 2.94 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Luke Gregerson, 2.71 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Sean Doolittle, 3.13 ERA in 2013
The new guys
LHP Kazmir: Kazmir was signed to a two-year, $22 million deal in December to fill a big void left by the departed Bartolo Colon. That is a lot of money -- and risk involved -- for a lefty who was out of the Majors for most of 2011 and '12 while fixing mechanical issues, but the A's saw significant upside in Kazmir's 2013 starts with the Indians, particularly in the second half.
RHP Johnson: Watching Grant Balfour enter free agency was not easy for the A's, but they are feeling a lot better about the ninth inning after landing Johnson in a trade that sent Jemile Weeks to Baltimore. This 30-year-old All-Star has totaled 101 saves since 2012, most in the Majors.
RHP Gregerson: With Gregerson in tow, the A's have only strengthened their late-inning core, with the righty joining an already elite setup mix behind Johnson that also features Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Dan Otero. Gregerson, brought over in the Smith trade, owns a 2.88 ERA with 352 strikeouts against 107 walks in 363 relief appearances over five years in the big leagues.
LHP Pomeranz: The 25-year-old Pomeranz, a former first-round Draft pick, came to the A's via Colorado in the Brett Anderson trade. He has a 5.20 ERA in 34 big league appearances and will be stretched out as a starter during camp, with the A's also keeping him in mind for a bullpen job.
OF Craig Gentry: As stellar as Oakland's defense was in 2013, expect it to be even better with Gentry on board for 2014. Acquired in a trade with righty Lindblom that relinquished top outfield prospect Michael Choice to the Rangers, Gentry brings not only great defense and the ability to play all three outfield positions, but great speed. He will start against lefties.
IF Punto: Already collectors of versatile infielders, the A's added another early in the offseason by signing Punto to a one-year contract with a vesting option for 2015. The 36-year-old veteran has spent the majority of his 13-year career at third base, second base and shortstop, and it is at second where he is expected to pick up the most time.
Prospects to watch
SS Addison Russell: Oakland's top pick in the 2012 Draft could very well be entering his last Spring Training as a prospect. Russell is said to be nearly Major League ready, and a solid spring showing at shortstop followed by continued improvement in the Minors could easily lead to a callup by year's end. However, the A's will not rush the 20-year-old, so long as Lowrie can stay on the field.
A's on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list:
C Bruce Maxwell: Maxwell, also part of the A's 2012 Draft class, is one of three catchers listed on the club's non-roster invite list, after finishing the 2013 campaign at high Class A Stockton. He split the year between Stockton and low Class A Beloit, hitting .275 with a .348 on-base percentage and seven home runs.
On the rebound
C/DH Jaso: Jaso has not played in a big league game since July after sustaining a concussion that kept him off the field for the rest of the season. In an effort to avoid a repeat of this, the A's are most likely inclined to give Jaso the majority of DH at-bats, while keeping Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt in a platoon behind the plate.
OF Reddick: After compiling 32 home runs in 2012, Reddick managed to hit just 12 in 2013. But the outfielder did not just lack power. Consistency was missing from his entire offensive game -- he managed a .226 average and .686 OPS -- and the A's believe an early-season wrist injury was the biggest factor. Reddick had surgery on the wrist in October and is expected to be fully healthy by the time camp opens, leaving the A's optimistic that better days are ahead for him.
LHP Eric O'Flaherty: The A's awarded O'Flaherty a two-year, $7 million deal, despite knowing they will not get his services unit midseason. The lefty setup man is on the mend from Tommy John surgery after appearing in just 18 innings for the Braves last year. But his track record says enough: He has a 1.41 ERA in 161 appearances over the last three years.
RHP Balfour: Following three seasons in Oakland, the last of which resulted in 38 saves and a trip to the All-Star Game, Balfour left as a free agent and reunited with the Rays on a two-year, $12 million deal.
RHP Colon: The 40-year-old Colon won 18 games for the A's in 2013, joining Balfour at the All-Star Game. Oakland would have welcomed the veteran back on a one-year deal, but Colon wanted more and got it from the Mets, who gave him two years for $20 million.
LHP Anderson: Anderson was dealt to the Rockies during the Winter Meetings, a trade that netted the A's another young southpaw: Pomeranz. Anderson went 26-29 with a 3.81 ERA in 84 games (73 starts) during his injury-laden five years with the A's.
LHP Jerry Blevins: Dealing from a position of strength, the A's made yet another trade at the Winter Meetings, dealing Blevins to the Nationals for outfielder Billy Burns, who will be in camp fighting for a bench job. Blevins was the A's longest-tenured pitcher, having been with them since 2007.
OF Chris Young: Young will join Colon in New York after finding a one-year, $7.25 million deal with the Mets. He struggled as a roving outfielder in his one year in Oakland, batting just .200 -- the lowest of his eight-year career -- with a .659 OPS.
OF Smith: Smith moved to the National League in December, when the A's shipped him to San Diego while acquiring Gregerson. The outfielder spent two years with the A's, batting .246 with 22 home runs and 92 RBIs in that time.