Has Eveland won the fifth starter spot?
Spring training was a week shorter than normal for the A's because of their season-opening trip to Japan, and that meant that some of the team's decisions had to be made more quickly than usual even though extra roster flexibility for the Tokyo trip does allow some leeway.
The revelation of the spring was Mike Sweeney, signed to a minor league deal the week before camp opened. The five-time All-Star demonstrated full health and was among the team leaders in average most of the spring, and in short order he'd taken a leadership role in the clubhouse, too. He appears to be the right-handed middle-of-the-order bat the A's are in search of annually.
That means that Jack Cust could wind up with quite a bit of time in the outfield; in fact, he's been told to consider himself an outfielder rather than a DH, which won't improve Oakland's outfield defense. Putting Cust in the outfield on a semi-regular basis, though, might mean that the A's don't have to make an immediate decision on Dan Johnson's roster status.
Entering the spring, the team's only real roster uncertainty after the Sweeney-Johnson roster crunch was at fifth starter, but it's entirely possible that that spot could be fluid much of the year. Dana Eveland has the inside track to open the season there, but Greg Smith had a strong spring and Lenny DiNardo also was sharp. Dallas Braden is a possibility at some point, as are Dan Meyer and Kirk Saarloos, and top pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez is likely to be up by midseason.
One place Oakland still has a big question mark is in center field. Chris Denorfia, given the first crack at the everyday job, has appeared rusty at the plate after missing a year because of elbow surgery, and Ryan Sweeney might be better suited for a corner spot. Carlos Gonzalez missed the final week in Arizona with a right hamstring strain and is slated to open the season at Triple-A Sacramento. So the rumors about the A's and Coco Crisp have heated up again, and the Red Sox had a heavy scouting presence at Phoenix Muni this spring, although that may be because the A's open their season with four games against the Red Sox.
Even though the A's traded Dan Haren, Nick Swisher, Mark Kotsay and Marco Scutaro over the winter, the team showed a lot of promise during the spring. Oakland led the Cactus League in victories during much of its time in Arizona and performed especially well at the plate.
The most significant development for Oakland was on the health front, where the news was mostly good. Rich Harden, who has missed much of the past three years with various injuries, not only was healthy all spring, he showed signs of his earlier dominant form. Justin Duchscherer and Chad Gaudin, also in the A's rotation, are progressing precisely as planned from hip surgeries, and both are expected to take their regular-season turns when scheduled. Shortstop Bobby Crosby is fine, and his slightly simplified swing has looked good.
Only Eric Chavez, who had surgeries on both shoulders and his lower back, is slightly behind where the A's had hoped. The third baseman will not join the team in Japan for the season-opening series, but it's hoped he'll be ready for the home opener or soon thereafter. Until then, Jack Hannahan will be the primary third baseman.
News and Notes
--OF Jeff Fiorentino, C Justin Knoedler and INFs Brooks Conrad and Gregorio Petit are the extra players making the trip to Japan. At least two and perhaps three will not be on the roster for the games against Boston, depending on whether 3B Eric Chavez is placed on the disabled list.
--DH Mike Sweeney hasn't been given a roster spot yet, but he is on the trip to Japan and it's unlikely the team would take him and then cut him. The announcement probably will not come until Tuesday because the A's must make a 40-man roster move in order to add Sweeney. Sweeney is likely to be in the lineup regularly, meaning Jack Cust often will be in the outfield.
--OF Todd Linden, in camp on a minor league deal, was furious to be left off the list for Japan. He hit .577 this spring, and he said he'd been led to believe he'd have a roster spot if he performed well. Linden has an out in his contract if he receives an offer from a Japanese team.
--RHP Fautino De Los Santos, 22, was borrowed from minor league camp and gave up one hit, two walks and two earned runs in 2 2/3 innings against Texas. One scout said De Los Santos was throwing 97 mph and he looks as if he has a good arm and, with some work, a very bright future.