OAKLAND -- For the A's, 2011 marked a year defined not by an expected contending formula, but rather by an array of underachieving performances that ultimately scripted a fifth consecutive non-winning season.
Never mind the fact the A's welcomed in offensive upgrades via Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and famed Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui, nor that they entered the year boasting baseball's best young pitching staff. Both sets struggled with consistency and also faced injury, leading to a 74-88 record and third-place finish in the American League West.
Through it all, the A's also endured a change in leadership -- Bob Melvin became manager June 9 and the A's went 47-52 under him after posting a 27-36 mark with the dismissed Bob Geren at the helm -- and underwent plenty of transition on the field.
By June, shortstop Cliff Pennington represented the lone Opening Day starter in the infield. And by the start of the offseason, the A's were essentially left staring down three holes in the outfield. They're expected to be filled by a younger crowd in 2012, when a rebuilding A's team is likely to experience plenty more growing pains than wins.
Patience, again, will need to be had by the Oakland faithful, which endured a handful of highs and lows in 2011. What follows is a snapshot of those, highlighted by the top five story lines of the calendar year.
5. Injuries, and more injuries
Despite a makeover to the team's training staff following an injury-plagued 2010 season, the 2011 A's again endured their fair share of bumps and bruises -- and costly ones, too. Injuries to starters Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson early in the year ultimately resulted in season-ending surgeries and also forced key pieces like Andrew Bailey (53 games), Rich Harden (82 games), Brandon McCarthy (41) and Michael Wuertz (53) to miss considerable time. Their absence -- combined with inconsistency faced by front-line starters Trevor Cahill and 2011 All-Star Gio Gonzalez -- proved damaging, as a pitching staff that led the AL in ERA (3.13) before the All-Star break watched that number slide to 4.48 in the months that followed.
4. "Moneyball" brings A's national attention
Though in the midst of a forgettable season, the A's found themselves as the center of national attention in September, when the 2002 version of the club hit the big screen by way of the long-anticipated film "Moneyball." A's general manager Billy Beane -- played by Brad Pitt, who meticulously mastered Beane's mannerisms in the movie -- and his story of fielding a winning baseball team that won 20 straight games on a small budget, lent a good dose of positive vibes to the city of Oakland. Pitt, along with co-stars Jonah Hill and Chris Pratt and director Bennett Miller, were among several Hollywood names to grace the red carpet -- naturally, it was actually green -- for the premier in Oakland. Beane, Melvin and most of the A's roster joined in on the activities.
3. A change in guard at second base
Perhaps no other day proved more bittersweet for A's fans this year than June 30, when the club traded away longtime fan favorite and class act Mark Ellis to the Rockies -- a move that signaled rookie sensation Jemile Weeks' permanent takeover at second base. Ellis departed as Oakland's career leader in games played by a second baseman with 1,021, and his loyalty to the A's was reciprocated by Beane, who wasn't so much interested in a great return package -- he landed right-handed reliever Bruce Billings and also gave Colorado cash to help offset Ellis' remaining salary -- but in giving Ellis an opportunity to resume everyday duties elsewhere. Weeks, meanwhile, quickly helped ease the pain of the news, emerging as one of the league's rising young stars and providing A's fans a bright spot in what appears to be a foggy future.
2. Geren dismissed; Melvin hired
The A's underwent their first in-season managerial change in 25 years, when Geren -- under pointed criticism after public comments made by current and former players regarding his managing style -- was dismissed June 9 in the midst of a nine-game losing streak. The move spoke volumes, relaying a message that complacency wasn't to be had by a team built to contend, that change was necessary even if it came at the cost of Geren, a longtime friend of Beane. Melvin was named interim manager and quickly injected a newfound energy and confidence into a reeling club, which improved in the second half. Those efforts were rewarded on Sept. 21, when Melvin landed a three-year contract that will keep him at the helm through 2014.
1. A's enter rebuilding mode
Before the A's even closed the book on their disappointing 2011 campaign, whispers of a rebuild percolated around Oakland and have since been indirectly confirmed by several decisions made by the club this winter. Oakland chose not to chase any of its own free agents, including the Minnesota-bound Willingham, while citing an unclear financial situation -- the result of an unresolved stadium situation that has the A's on a spending hold. Beane, though, is expecting a stadium decision soon and, subsequently, has rebooted a youth movement reminiscent of the one created after the 2007 season. Shortly after the Winter Meetings, the A's GM pulled the trigger on a pair of big names, shipping Gonzalez and Cahill in separate deals. The former went to Washington for four prospects, while the latter was sent along with lefty Craig Breslow to Arizona for three players, bringing Oakland's total haul to seven well-regarded prospects.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.