Oakland general manager Billy Beane is probably right to not try to compete in the short term, given the stranglehold the Angels and Rangers have on the AL West. But things will get really ugly before they may get better.
2011 record: 74-88 (3rd in AL West). Projected 2012 finish: 58-104 (4th in AL West).
Projected starters: C Kurt Suzuki, 1B Brandon Allen, 2B Jemile Weeks, SS Cliff Pennington, 3B Josh Donaldson, LF Seth Smith, CF Coco Crisp, RF Josh Reddick, DH Chris Carter, SP Brandon McCarthy, SP Dallas Braden, SP Bartolo Colon, SP Brad Peacock, SP Tommy Milone, CL Brian Fuentes, RP Grant Balfour, RP Fautino De Los Santos.
Half-full outlook: I can feign optimsim about Oakland's future. Doing so about its present is much more difficult, but I'll try. Suzuki, Crisp and Smith are decent position players, and Weeks has a chance to become something better than that. I'm not a big believer in McCarthy, but he did manage a 3.32 ERA and a 123-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2011, and it's possible he duplicates or improves on that. Getting Braden back in what's expected to be late April and Brett Anderson back sometime after that will only help a rotation that won't be the same without Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill. If a lot goes right, the A's could finish ahead of the Mariners again and may only lose 90-ish games.
Half-empty outlook: McCarthy recorded 4.7 WAR last season — more than he'd managed in his career prior to it. That is also more than double the total by any other current Athletic, except for Colon, who managed a 2.9 WAR season — his best since 2005! — with the Yankees. I'm dubious of the ability of McCarthy or anyone on this team to come close to that total in 2012. Suzuki, Smith, Crisp, Reddick, Weeks, Pennington and Braden are all decent players, but their ceilings, not their floors, are all in the 2-3 WAR range. And they're the "stars" of the team! Scott Sizemore's injury means the A's could be the worst team in baseball at the corner infield spots, and they may be just as bad at the back end of their rotation ... if not the front end.
Halfway between the two outlook: A 16-game regression for a team that already wasn't very good seems extreme, but I think it's very feasible. The trades of Gonzalez and Cahill, the uncertain health of Anderson and Braden and the decline I expect from McCarthy could cause the one area I loved about the A's at this time last year — starting pitching — to be a disaster. There's not one area you can point to as a strength that could compensate for it. And, no, signing the likes of Colon and the suspended Manny Ramirez (and possibly Miguel Tejada) won't make much of a difference.