A's Closing In On Final 25
With Opening Day just eight days away, the Oakland A's are inching closer to their final 25-man roster. The A's optioned three players on Sunday. There are now 35 players in A's big league camp.
The three players sent back to Triple-A Sacramento were right-handers Arnold Leon and Josh Lindblom and first-baseman Nate Freiman. A's manager Bob Melvin told the A's beat writers that relievers Ryan Cook and Fernando Rodriguez and outfielder Craig Gentry are likely to start the season on the disabled list (starter A.J. Griffin will also start the season on the DL). He also announced that the A's Opening Day rotation will be Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, Jesse Chavez, Dan Straily and Tommy Milone.
There are 16 pitchers left in A's camp. With the rotation set and Cook and Rodriguez opening the season on the DL, the final spots on the A's pitching staff appears to be between Drew Pomeranz, Evan Scribner and Joe Savery. Scribner is out of options, so he is a strong bet to take one of those two spots. Pomeranz and Savery have both had solid springs. Savery may be more likely to get that final bullpen spot, however, as Pomeranz is more likely to be stretched out as a starter this season with Sacramento.
The A's could have Cook back a few days into the regular season, so whoever earns the final spot in the bullpen may not be with the big league club for long. Jim Johnson, Sean Doolittle, Luke Gregerson, Fernando Abad and Dan Otero will anchor the A's bullpen.
There are currently seven outfielders in A's camp, but only four of them are likely to be on the Opening Day roster. With Gentry expected to be on the DL for at least the first few days of the regular season, Michael Taylor and non-roster players Sam Fuld and Billy Burns are battling for the fourth outfielder spot. Although Taylor is out of options, he is not likely to be on the A's Opening Day roster, as the A's will be looking for a back-up outfielder who can play centerfield. Taylor has had a standout spring training, and he is expected to be traded before Opening Day to a team with a spot for him on its major-league roster.
Both Fuld and Burns have had impressive springs, as well, but Fuld is the clear favorite to win the fourth outfielder job for a few reasons. Fuld and Burns are both excellent defensive centerfielders with plus speed, but Fuld is a major-league veteran and Burns has yet to play above the Double-A level. Fuld also has an opt-out in his contract which would allow him to leave the A's if he isn't on their roster by Opening Day. By adding him to the 25-man roster before Opening Day, the A's can ensure that they will have Fuld for depth -- at least for a little while (Fuld is out of minor league options, so the A's won't be able to option him to Sacramento once Gentry returns).
Depending on how the team looks after the first few days of the season, Oakland could keep five true outfielders on the team when Gentry returns (including Fuld, as well as starters Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes) or let Fuld go and rely on Brandon Moss to be the team's fifth outfielder (as well as starting first-baseman/DH).
Burns, who was acquired for Jerry Blevins this off-season, has made a strong first impression on his new organization. He is batting .313 with a .389 OBP and 10 stolen bases thus far this spring. His speed has been a game-changer for the A's during spring training, and he could be an option for Oakland later in the season if they need a sparkplug off of the bench.
The A's infield/catching situation will still need more time to clear up completely. There are four catchers and eight infielders still in camp. John Jaso and Derek Norris are locks for the A's Opening Day roster, but the A's could choose to keep a third catcher on the roster if they feel that Jaso will need more time at DH than behind the plate. Jaso has looked fine as a catcher this spring, however, so that isn't likely to happen. Consequently, Stephen Vogt and Chris Gimenez are probably not going to make the Opening Day roster. Vogt has options remaining, so he will be with Sacramento if he doesn't make the A's out of camp, but Gimenez is out of options and could be acquired by a team looking for a right-handed hitter who can play multiple positions (catcher, third, first and corner outfield).
Moss, Josh Donaldson, Jed Lowrie, Eric Sogard, Nick Punto and Alberto Callaspo are set to start the season on the A's Opening Day roster. That leaves Daric Barton and Jake Elmore to battle for the final spot. Barton is out of options and is the favorite for that final spot, despite the fact that Callaspo has seen time at first this spring. Elmore has looked good since being acquired by the A's middway through camp, but he has options and is likely to start the season in Sacramento.
Despite being sent down to Triple-A on Sunday, Freiman, Leon and Lindblom could play major roles for the A's later this season. Freiman was the A's primary right-handed hitting first-baseman last season, and he could return to that role should the A's roster needs shift during the season. Freiman hit .274/.327/.389 with four homers in 80 games for the A's last season. He was batting .238 with a homer in 42 at-bats this spring.
Lindblom and Leon will both provide depth for the back-end of the A's rotation and their bullpen this season. Both are expected to be part of the Sacramento starting rotation, but both have experience as starters and as relievers and could fill needs for the A's in either role during the season. Lindblom had a 4.02 ERA and an 11:4 K:BB in 15.2 innings this spring. He was acquired in the Michael Choice trade this off-season. Leon had a 2.13 ERA and an 11:4 K:BB in 12.2 innings this spring.
Tony DeFrancesco Diagnosed With Cancer
Former A's minor league manager and major league base coach Tony DeFrancesco will miss the start of the 2014 season after he was diagnosed with cancer this spring. The announcement came from DeFrancesco's current organization - the Houston Astros. DeFrancesco will be the manager for Triple-A Oklahoma City when he returns from treatment.
DeFrancesco is one of the most successful minor league managers in A's history. He won three PCL titles as the manager of the Sacramento River Cats. OaklandClubhouse wishes DeFrancesco and his family all the best as he battles the disease.