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In improved division, A's confident in current club

Back-to-back AL West champs standing pat despite free-agent hitters available

OAKLAND -- The A's christened the unofficial start of the baseball season Saturday with an action-packed FanFest that featured appearances by the majority of the club's roster.

The same group that occupies this roster will likely remain unchanged by the time camp opens next week, Billy Beane suggested.

Oakland's general manager is well aware that several big bats remain available on the open market, namely those tied to Draft pick compensation: Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew and Nelson Cruz, who appears headed to join Robinson Cano in Seattle. But when directly asked if he'd be adding one, Beane immediately said, "No."

"At this point, it's sort of out of sight, out of mind from our end," the GM explained. "We had certain guys at the beginning of the offseason we were interested in, and some we just weren't going to be regardless.

"Anything we add at this point will be from a depth standpoint. We've got a 25-man roster, and we've got a pretty good idea what it's going to be going into camp, subject to health. Everybody always says, 'Add a bat,' but we've been one of the top run-scoring teams in baseball for the last couple of years, so that's what we're trying to do."

The A's ranked third in the American League in runs (767) in a 96-win season last year, but they also batted just .254 as a team (ranked ninth in the AL) and occasionally looked overmatched -- particularly in a best-of-five AL Division Series that resulted in a Game 5 loss to the Tigers for a second straight year.

But the A's will forge on with what they believe to be an improved club in an improved division. Speaking at FanFest on Saturday, players appeared confident of an AL West title three-peat.

"It's a tougher division this year, but I'm excited about our own moves, the guys we've brought in, so it should be fun," said Coco Crisp. "Obviously the big name is Cano, and that's going to be interesting. You want to play against the best competition, and I think the AL East, and now the West, is a very tough division, and we proved ourselves resilient last year, coming off a storybook-kinda season, and hopefully we can win the division again, especially with all these transactions being made."

"We try to worry about ourselves more so, but you can't help but notice each and every year the class of the free agents, and this year, it's Robinson Cano who ends up in the division," said manager Bob Melvin. "It's just something we have to deal with. We feel like we have a good group here."

The A's return to the scene without 18-game winner Bartolo Colon and All-Star closer Grant Balfour. Brett Anderson has also departed, and so have Jerry Blevins, Chris Young and Seth Smith. But Oakland has brought in another All-Star closer in Jim Johnson, along with setup extraordinaires Luke Gregerson and Eric O'Flaherty, to help piece together one of baseball's best bullpens.

Scott Kazmir is also in tow to fill the void left by Colon, and another newcomer, Craig Gentry, looks to be the perfect complementary piece to an already defensive-minded Oakland outfield. Nick Punto adds to a versatile infield, and Chris Gimenez gives the A's four experienced catchers to try out in spring.

"I think we accomplished a lot of what we set out to in the offseason, and maybe a little more," said Beane. "The division itself is better. Texas is always good, and the Angels improved on an explosive club anyway, so I think they'll be a lot better. Houston's only going to get better. The fact is, I think this division, as much as any in the league, has improved itself, and I'd like to think we've been able to replace some of the guys we lost from a good team and maybe added more in addition."

"Our guys are so good at insulating what we believe to be expectations of ourselves," Melvin added. "I think that's what matters to us. It doesn't bother me if someone doesn't pick us to win the division. It didn't last year, and it didn't the year before. I expect us to be very good again."

Jane Lee is a reporter for

Oakland Athletics