By Jason Wojciechowski on April 2, 2012 at 6:10 PM
A quick note before diving in: Joey Devine has been shut down again, so whatever you were expecting/hoping the A's would get from him: lower those expectations/hopes. All the way down to zero, probably.
Anyway, what really prompted this was that Adam Rosales has been optioned to Sacramento. This leaves the infield situation much clarified: Jemile Weeks is, of course, the every-day starter at second, and his double-play compadre is Cliff Pennington. Bob Melvin insists that Josh Donaldson is his third baseman and damn the consequences of starting Eric Sogard at third on "Opening" "Day." Sogard, then, is the utility man, and any thought that the A's might carry two such players (was there any such thought?) is out the window.
Figure in the two first basemen, who I assume will be Kila Ka'aihue and Brandon Allen while Daric Barton gets himself straightened out in AAA, and two catchers and you've got seventeen roster spots left. Four starting pitchers brings us to 13, which we have to divide between the outfield and the bullpen. Susan Slusser thinks the A's will go with six of the former, leaving seven of the latter. That's certainly the direction I'd go because an eight-man bullpen is an abomination, an eyesore, and a grave sin against the lords of baseball.
We know who five of the six outfielders are: Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Jonny Gomes, and Seth Smith are, barring trade, the three outfielders + the DH platoon. Collin Cowgill, then, is the man on the bubble. The question is who's on the bubble with him.
The A's had approximately hella relievers in Japan because of the roster rules, so it's not 100% clear who's breaking camp the way it is with the rest of the squad. Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes are 100% clear. Fautino De Los Santos is as well, unless he's hurt, which is a possibility that David Wishinsky has raised, given that we haven't seen the man pitch in quite some time. Ryan Cook seems to have earned a spot, and he didn't pitch his way out of it in his one good inning in Japan. Jerry Blevins is out of options and should be a solid second lefty. That's five, so with Devine hurt, as stated above, we should be down to Andrew Carignan, Jordan Norberto, and Graham Godfrey for the last two slots.
Godfrey is a long man, as well as someone who's still in the running for the fifth starter spot, but nobody uses long men anymore, and maybe the A's would rather he keep throwing with Sacramento than sit in the bullpen waiting for a disaster to happen before he's eventually called on to start in mid-April. In fact, that's exactly the direction I'm going to guess the A's go in. Carignan and Norberto stick with the team while Godfrey, Brad Peacock, and Jarrod Parker continue their battle for the last starting spot.
What do you do with Collin Cowgill in this case, given that Jonny Gomes is the designated lefty-masher and that none of the three starters need a defensive caddy? You stick him on the bench with a little hammer next to him and you go bop him on the head if an emergency arises. That emergency might well be a pinch-running situation like we saw in Japan, it might be a Coco Crisp injury, or it might even be a pinch-hit appearance against a lefty reliever with Brandon Allen at the plate. (The other option being Kila Ka'aihue, who isn't really PH-worthy.)
Of course, the possibility remains that the A's will lose their minds like so many clubs have done in the last few years and take the opportunity of a four-man starting rotation to still have a twelve-hurler pitching staff. In that case, Godfrey makes the team and Cowgill starts every day in Sacramento. Honestly, this doesn't make a lot of difference beyond the frustration of seeing a bunch of dudes crowded together in a bullpen infrastructure that was built back when you only had to worry about five or six relievers, a coach, and a couple of catchers.
Even if Cowgill makes the squad now, though, he's destined for Sacramento come Fifth Starter day. I don't see any other serious candidates for demotion.
That word, though. "Demotion." One wonders whether the A's might just ship Cowgill out now rather than give him any false hopes that he might stay with the team, only to get into three games for a total of two PAs in two weeks and find himself optioned all the same. You can tell him straight, sure. "Look, we only need eleven pitchers right now, but when we go back up to twelve, you're gonna be the guy. There's just no way around it unless someone gets hurt. Don't go crazy out there trying to prove you belong, because, I'm sorry, we're not optioning Seth Smith." Do you save yourself that trouble and the worry about how he's feeling on the bench vs. playing every day right from the start in Sacramento? I don't know. But given how little the eighth reliever vs. sixth outfielder matters even in baseball games that count, much less ones that are part of the Drive For .475, you might wonder whether off-field considerations could come to the fore.