I have my own projection system and my numbers spit out the following projection for the AL West:
What's the first thing you noticed? Probably that it's extremely, comically tight between the 4 teams. If the standings actually ended up like this (which they won't) it would be one of the best / most boringly mediocre races of all time. One or two of the teams will outperform their projection and one or two will underperform, creating more separation, but I really do believe the base talent level is this close between the four teams.
While you may think there's a strain of homerism running through the projections, most people do have the A's at around .500, and I project their pitching staff/defense to be the 4th best in the league (behind the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays...boy I'm glad the A's don't play in that division), but the 4th worst offense in the league (ahead of only the Royals, Blue Jays and the surprisingly bad White Sox). That adds up to pretty much a .500 level team that will need some breaks to be a true contender.
Which brings me to my next point, namely, that the last year of moves have left me questioning the "In Billy We Trust" mindset the success of the early aughts cultivated in many of us. There's been a strain of bipolarity running throughout his moves that have left me questioning whether he actually has a long-term plan. First, the 2008 A's looked decent for a half, but Billy decided to go for the future (having already traded Haren and Swisher in the offseason) and dealt away Joe Blanton and Rich Harden. And of course, that meant the 2009 A's weren't contenders. Oh but wait, then they were when they traded for Matt Holliday (and gave up Carlos Gonzalez, looking like a stud for Colorado), signed Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera and rushed Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill to the majors. But then they weren't again when they traded away Matt Holliday (and ended up with Brett Wallace who turned into Michael Taylor). And then they gave up on Sean Gallagher (the key to the Harden deal a year before) in a trade for Scott Hairston. But wait, then Scott Hairston got traded back to San Diego in the offseason.
And then of course, this offseason, they signed Ben Sheets because now Billy decided the A's could contend again. And they non-tendered Jack Cust. But then they resigned him. But then they DFA'd him. Sense a pattern of indecision? How about trading for Jake Fox thinking he had an option, but then he didn't so they had to panic and make him catch again? Or signing Gabe Gross for no reason other than to get rid of Travis Buck, only to have Buck be the Opening Day LF?
Now, I still think Billy Beane is a very good GM, it just seems like a lot of rash decisions have been made in the past two-plus years, since the Haren and Swisher deals which supposedly signaled a rebuilding period. But in both '09 and this year there seems to be a last-minute, half-hearted decision to contend. And a lot of flip-flopping on players (et tu Dana Eveland?) which has culminated in the Cust move, which I think is a total head-scratcher -- my #s have Cust as at least a win better than Chavez, which in a division this tight is crucial.
We'll see how this year shapes up, and I do think the A's could sneak into contention, but right now I'm not sure that the A's front office has a coherent plan for the future.