Baseball is unpredictable, which is pretty neat cause most predictions and projections have the A's squarely outside of the playoff picture. Unpredictability is one of the things that makes the sport so great: the Royals opened 2015 with the 15th best odds of winning the World Series at 30-1. Compare that with the Denver Broncos at 6th last year (9-1) to win the Super Bowl and the Golden State Warriors at 3rd (16-1) for the NBA title, and you get an understanding at just how crazy the sport is comparatively.
What makes it so unpredictable? Players who are supposed to be good suck, players who are supposed to suck are good. It's simple and wonderful and in spite of some of the brightest minds in the world working to map the landscape of the season, everyone is wrong. Everyone. With the fact that I'm probably wrong in mind, let's take a look at some players who can affect the A's season.
If the A's do make the postseason, there's a good chance it's as a Wild Card team behind the Houston Astros. But for those of us dreamers out there, there's hope the A's can take the division by storm, 2012 style. If the A's hope to overcome a young Houston team, some things have to go wrong on the Astros end. Enter Colby Rasmus, Astros' playoff hero and pretty dang good outfielder from 2015. Rasmus' talent is undeniable and coming off a 2.8 fWAR season, most (including the Astros) expect him to be a major player in 2016.
Rasmus has been wildly inconsistent in his major league career, posting 4 very good seasons and 3 very Emil Brown seasons. The direction he goes in 2016 will have big meaning for the A's slim chances at competing for the division.
The 30 year old Carlos Gomez started to show signs of decline in 2015, and after being acquired by the Astros at the deadline, he managed to put up a paltry .242/.288/.383 line even with the comfortable home confines of Minute Maid Park. (Side note, how is it still called Minute Maid Park? Are they really footing the huge bill to sponsor a stadium? Who knew orange juice was such a profitable industry). While Gomez is likely a better hitter than his second half may suggest, his decline could be huge for the Astros.
The Astros do have Jake Marisnik and Preston tucker waiting in the wings, so failure on the part of either or both of Rasmus/Gomez could be mitigated by their depth. Neither provide the upside that Gomez and Rasmus have and it would take time to supplant either player.
Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry
If AN had run a poll in early November guessing which AL West team would employ a Nava/Gentry platoon in 2016, 99% of the votes would be for the A's. The lingering 1% would go to the Rangers due to their tradition of picking up all A's retreads.
Instead, the evil Angels will trot out A's like platoon, one that put up a combined -.9 fWAR in 2015. The platoon isn't likely to put up good numbers but upside remains with both players. If the Angels have a shot at squeaking through their tiny playoff window, both players will have greatly exceed meager expectations.
I could probably list every single Angel not named Mike Trout in this list but for now I'll go with 36 year old first baseman, Albert Pujols. Pujols managed to only be worth 2 wins in 2015 in spite of hitting 40 dingers thanks to a declining average, OBP, and defensive presence. The 40 dingers indicates there's still something in the tank, but Pujols seems to be teetering on the edge of going full Josh Hamilton (in a baseball/contract sense). If this is the year it happens, the Angels are probably toast.
The Mariners are always a bit of an enigma and the 2016 squad is no different. After six straight years of being in the argument for baseball's best pitcher, Felix took a major step back in 2015, particularly in the second half. Many projections envision a bounceback in 2016 but like all things baseball, that's no guarantee. The only guarantee for Felix is at least 3 starts just dominating the A's.
Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz
The sailors of Seattle were predicted to be destroyers of land based baseballers in 2015, but the #6 org went and did #6 org things on their way to a fourth place finish. The reason for much of the preseason optimism was a fearsome lineup anchored by Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz; the former underwhelmed thanks to a stomach issue and the latter mashed in spite of his old age.
Many predict an improvement on Cano's part and a step back on Cruz's part in 2016. Neither is an easy projection and it wouldn't surprise me to see both put up 4+ win season or 1 win seasons. So go these two, so go the Mariners. Probably.
The Rangers' rotation is thin on talent even with a healthy Darvish, so the recovery of the former #1 from TJS is huge. So far, all indications are that Darvish will make a full recovery and be back in the bigs around May. A delayed return or an ineffective Darvish would hinder the Rangers greatly. They did win a division title without the righty in 2015, so the Rangers' success doesn't hinge on him completely, but he is easily the hardest piece to predict from the AL West champion squad.