For all of camp, one thing was certain: the 25-man roster was set, barring any injuries. So when the Oakland A’s managed to get through spring training healthy, it appeared that the pre-season prognostications for the roster were going to be right on. Then Mother Nature got in the way.
Anyone who lives in the Bay Area knows that March has been an unusually wet month. Now that April has rolled around, it doesn’t appear that the rain is abating any. The week-day forecast calls for rain every day this week except for Wednesday. With that in mind, the A’s made an adjustment to their initial 25-man roster.
Oakland, which had planned to go with 11 pitchers after carrying 12 for most of last season, decided to go with a 12th hurler to start the season. That 12th pitcher is the newly acquired left-hander Brad Halsey, who was picked up from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Juan Cruz. Halsey is being carried as insurance in case the A’s need a sixth starter this weekend versus the Seattle Mariners.
The reason the A’s might need a sixth starter this week has as much to do with the schedule as it does with the weather. The A’s open the season versus the New York Yankees, who will be making their only trip to Oakland this season. Consequently, if there is a rainout either Monday or Tuesday, the A’s will have to play a double-header if they want to avoid having to re-schedule a random game later in the year. If the A’s have to have a double-header, it will throw off their pitching rotation because they don’t have a day-off until Monday, April 10.
If there is a double-header on Tuesday or Wednesday, Barry Zito (Monday’s starter) or Rich Harden (Tuesday’s starter) would be forced to pitch on short-rest over the weekend. The A’s don’t want to push their starters this early in the season, so, if the A’s have a double-header this week, they will throw Halsey in one of the games over the weekend in Seattle to allow Zito or Harden to get back to their normal schedule.
Make sense? What this all means is that the A’s were forced to send one of their position players down to AAA-Sacramento this week to make room for Halsey on the roster. Bobby Kielty became that position player, in part because he had an option left, and, in part because he isn’t expected to play much this season. Kielty will have to stay in AAA for 10 days, which, because he was optioned to AAA on Saturday, would mean that he can come back to the team on April 11, just in time for their third series of the season.
The rest of the roster is playing out exactly how Billy Beane and the front office wrote it up this off-season. The starting rotation will be Zito, Harden, Dan Haren, Esteban Loaiza and Joe Blanton. The bullpen will be Kirk Saarloos, Joe Kennedy, Jay Witasick, Justin Duchscherer, Kiko Calero and Huston Street, along with Halsey for this first week.
On the position-side, the roster plays like this: in the infield, Dan Johnson, Mark Ellis, Eric Chavez, Bobby Crosby, Antonio Perez and Marco Scutaro; in the outfield, Nick Swisher, Mark Kotsay, Milton Bradley and Jay Payton (with Kielty joining soon); and the A’s will carry two catchers, Jason Kendall and Adam Melhuse, and one DH, Frank Thomas.
Barry Zito: Zito enters his contract year looking to prove to the world that he is the same pitcher he was in 2002, when he won the Cy Young award. He had an up and down spring and he has struggled each April since 2003 (6-9 record and a 5.04 ERA). Zito has pitched better than his record has indicated over the past two seasons, but he has been hurt by high walk totals and the occasional long ball. He has thrown at least 200 innings in all of his five full seasons.
Rich Harden: Harden may be the most talented pitcher on the A’s staff, but last season, he was the team’s most fragile starter. Harden would have likely won the Cy Young last season if he hadn’t been hurt. Harden held hitters to a .201 BAA and a .562 OPS against. He also struck out 121 in only 128 innings pitched. The A’s will be counting on Harden to make 29 or more starts this season.
Dan Haren: Haren had the pressure of replacing Mark Mulder in the rotation last season, and he did an admirable job. After a rough start to his season, Haren was one of the A’s best starters from June through the end of the year. He ended the season with 14 win, a 3.73 ERA and 163 strikeouts versus 53 walks. Haren’s control is what makes him so effective and he was extremely durable last season.
Esteban Loaiza: Loaiza was a free agent surprise for Oakland this off-season, signing a three-year/$21 million contract. He spent much of the spring with team Mexico and struggled upon his return to A’s camp. However, he turned in a good outing versus the Giants on Saturday and has historically been excellent in April. Loaiza struck out 173 and walked only 53 for the Washington Nationals last season. His cutter doesn’t look spectacular, but it can frustrate good hitters when it is on.
Joe Blanton: The A’s best pitcher from June through the end of the season is now the team’s fifth starter. Blanton was a hard-luck 12-12 during his rookie season, and had the A’s scored more runs for him, he might have won the Rookie of the Year. Blanton held hitters to a .236 BAA and a .394 slugging percentage against. He also threw 200 innings and should be a workhorse for the A’s throughout his career.
Kirk Saarloos: Saarloos was the A’s fifth starter last season and he won 10 games. However, with the Loaiza signing, Saarloos was pushed back into the bullpen. A former college closer, Saarloos is familiar with the bullpen and should make an easy transition to being the team’s long-man. He struggled, at times, with his control last year, but was able to work around his wildness by inducing a large number of double-plays. The infielders are on their toes when Saarloos is on the mound.
Joe Kennedy: Kennedy also spent time in the A’s rotation last season, but he will be the team’s left-handed specialist this year. Kennedy has been a starter throughout his career, so the bullpen role make take some adjusting. He is adept at getting out lefties, holding them to a .226 BAA over the past three seasons.
Jay Witasick: Witasick re-signed with the A’s this off-season to a two-year contract. He struggled all spring, something that has the A’s coaching staff a little worried. The veteran Witasick has a low-90s fastball and an excellent slider. He also has a reputation for struggling in pressure situations. Witasick should mostly appear in the sixth and seventh innings of games, but if he is hot, the A’s will use him as a set-up man on occasion.
Justin Duchscherer: “The Duke” has established himself as one of the game’s premier relievers over the past two seasons. Duchscherer was the A’s only All-Star representative. He finished last year with a 1.00 WHIP and a 2.21 ERA over 86.2 innings. Duchscherer uses a cut-fastball and a plus 12-6 curveball to rack up a lot strikeouts (85). He only walked 19. Duchscherer has struggled with a bad back in each his last two seasons, and the A’s will monitor that closely this season.
Kiko Calero: Calero also spent time away from A’s camp to participate in the WBC. He was Team Puerto Rico’s most effective reliever. Calero had a solid first season with the A’s. He struggled early in the year, but after a stint on the DL, Calero was mostly light’s-out. He and Duchscherer will share the set-up role this season.
Huston Street: Street had a dream rookie season, going from roster long-shot to closer to Rookie of the Year in six short months. Street finished the year with a 1.72 ERA and 23 saves. He allowed only three homers and he had a 1.01 WHIP. Street faded a bit down the stretch and has struggled a little this spring. However, the A’s are counting on Street to be an elite closer again this season.
Infielders and Catchers:
Jason Kendall, C: Kendall was the A’s biggest off-season acquisition last season and he was one of the team’s most disappointing players. Kendall, a career .300 hitter, struggled early and managed only a .271 average and he had the lowest slugging percentage of any major league regular. Kendall also struggled with his throwing behind the plate. The A’s are counting on a rebound year at the plate from Kendall, who will be hitting in the lower part of the order this season.
Adam Melhuse, C/1B: Melhuse was a forgotten man last year, as he managed less than 100 at-bats for the entire season. He will play more this year, and he should be Loaiza’s regular catcher. Melhuse is a switch-hitter with some power, although the more he plays, the more his swing seems to be exploited by opposing pitchers. Melhuse can also play some first base and has been an effective pinch-hitter at times for the A’s.
Dan Johnson, 1B/DH: Johnson was one of the A’s best hitters last season after a late-May call-up. The Minnesota native posted an 806 OPS, although it was in the mid-800s before fading in September. Johnson had a .451 slugging percentage and showed great ability to work the count last season. Johnson will be in something of a platoon with Frank Thomas and Jay Payton. When Thomas and Payton are in, Johnson will sit. When Payton and/or Thomas is out, Johnson will likely be in. He has worked hard on his defense and looked smoother around the bag this spring.
Mark Ellis, 2B: Ellis will be the A’s lead-off hitter after hitting .316 with a .384 OBP last season. The slick-fielding Ellis is now more than two years removed from a bad shoulder dislocation and the A’s are hoping that they can get regular playing time from Ellis. He hit 13 homers in 434 at-bats last year and could break the 20 homer-mark if he reaches 600 at-bats.
Antonio Perez, 2B/3B/SS: Perez was acquired along with Milton Bradley from the LA Dodgers this off-season. He led the Dodgers with a .297 BA in 98 games last season. He is a talented right-handed hitter with good gap power and excellent speed. In addition to backing up Mark Ellis at second and Eric Chavez at third, Perez will likely enter a number of games as a pinch-runner for Frank Thomas. Perez has put a lot of work in with A’s infield coach Ron Washington, and his fielding looked much improved this spring.
Marco Scutaro, 2B/SS/3B: Scutaro got more than 300 at-bats last season filling in for the injured Bobby Crosby and spelling Mark Ellis and Keith Ginter at second. The A’s hope Scutaro doesn’t have that many at-bats again this season because it would mean that someone else was hurt. However, Scutaro is a valuable bench player. He is a solid glove at second and short and he has shown a flair for the dramatic in late-game hitting appearances during his short-career.
Bobby Crosby, SS: If Crosby can stay healthy this season, the A’s should instantly be a better team than they were last year. The A’s sorely missed their talented shortstop, who only managed to play in 84 games. He raised his OPS from 745 to 802 last season, and the A’s are hoping to see even more improvement this year. Crosby is an excellent defender and when he and Eric Chavez are in the game together, the A’s have one of the best defensive left-sides of the infield in baseball.
Eric Chavez, 3B: Chavez struggled for much of last season, posting his worst OPS since his rookie year. The A’s added two middle-of-the-order hitters (Frank Thomas and Milton Bradley) to take some of the pressure off of Chavez, whom the A’s count on to be their best hitter. He always seems primed to explode for big numbers, but the A’s will likely be satisfied if he can post an OPS of 860 or better and continue to play his Gold Glove defense. Chavez’s right-shoulder was sore most of last season and the A’s will DH him at times during the year to give his shoulder a rest.
Frank Thomas, DH: Thomas is perhaps the biggest question-mark in the A’s line-up this season. The future Hall of Famer last played a full season in 2003 and his healed left foot will always be in danger of breaking at every moment. However, at the start of the season, Thomas is moving well and should be ready to play nearly every day. He could add a power element to the A’s line-up that they have missed since Miguel Tejada left. Thomas hit 12 homers in 105 at-bats last season.
Nick Swisher, LF/RF/1B/CF: The versatile Swisher will get a workout in the field this season. Not only will he play both corner outfield positions, but he will also play a lot of first base and could see time in center in an emergency. Swisher is a solid defensive first baseman and is improving in the outfield. As a hitter, he has as much power as any hitter in the A’s line-up save Thomas. However, he struggled with his strikeouts last season. Swisher had a strong spring and will be looking to carry that confidence over into the regular campaign.
Jay Payton, LF/CF/RF: Payton will be the A’s fourth outfielder this season, although he should still manage to get 300-400 at-bats. Payton hit 13 homers in 69 games with Oakland last season, although it is his defense that the A’s value so much. He will see a lot of time in center when Mark Kotsay needs a day off, and he can play either corner position.
Mark Kotsay, CF: Kotsay struggled offensively and defensively last season, as his balky back kept him on the bench or limited his play much of the season. The former Padre had a 829 OPS during his first season with the A’s and Oakland is hoping for similar numbers this season. Kotsay spent a lot of time in the first or second spots in the order the last two seasons, but he may hit further down in the order this year.
Milton Bradley, RF/CF/LF: While Frank Thomas might be the biggest name acquisition the A’s made this off-season, Bradley is probably the most important. The talented switch-hitter brings power, speed and patience to the middle of the A’s order. His health is always a question-mark, but if Bradley plays everyday, he could have a huge impact on the A’s season. When Bradley, Kotsay and Payton are in the outfield together, Oakland will boast the best defensive outfield in baseball.
Since these guys figure to swap roster spots in about a week, we’ll preview both Brad Halsey and Bobby Kielty.
Brad Halsey, LH SP: Halsey entered this spring as the Diamondbacks’ fifth starter, but he lost his spot with a poor spring showing. Halsey had one appearance with the A’s after being traded and threw three shut-out innings. The left-hander is a classic finesse lefty with good control. He has a little more than a year of experience as a major league fifth starter and could be the A’s emergency starter throughout the season if injury necessitates a change.
Bobby Kielty, LF/RF: Kielty, in some ways, has had a rough off-season and spring. He lost his spot as the A’s fourth outfielder when the A’s kept Jay Payton and traded for Milton Bradley. Then he got hurt during spring, ending any chance that he would be traded to a team who would play him more. Now he is starting the season in Sacramento, demoted so the A’s could carry Halsey as a protection against a rain-out-affected rotation. When Kielty returns, he won’t see much playing time. He will mostly start against left-handed starters and bat as a pinch-hitter versus lefties.