Tonight, on two ends of the emotional spectrum, might not be the night to take a cold, calculating look at the potential playoff roster. The A's completed a thrilling second-half run with a sweep of the Rangers to give them the division crown instead of a wild card play-in game matchup against the Orioles. And on the other hand, Pat Neshek had a brand new baby suddenly die inexplicably tonight. The shock and sorrow of losing a baby so soon after meeting him/her, after Mrs. Neshek carrying the baby for nine months and surely doing everything in her power to ensure a healthy pregnancy and baby, after apparently delivering exactly that healthy baby, is unimaginable to me. The death doesn't affect me personally, of course, but, like most humans, I have a certain amount of empathy1 for other people who are experiencing tragedy. While I doubt doing baseball analysis will help Neshek and his family move through their grief, it can be a nice distraction for us.
The question when someone writes a post like this, positing a playoff roster, is whether to choose a "should" roster or a "will" roster. That is, do you care more about what I think the roster ought to look like, or do you want to know, based on my watching the team and following the team, what decisions I think Bob Melvin and Billy Beane will come to? The former is probably more interesting for the hardcore A's fan set because we can argue over who the last man in the bullpen should be based on our perceptions of their strengths and weaknesses. The latter, though, is probably more useful to the casual fan and to any non-A's fans who find their way here via the SweetSpot, links from elsewhere on the internet, my Facebook page, or wherever else you came from.
Here's what I'll do: I'll write this as a guess at what will happen, and then if we want to have a discussion in the comments about what should happen that's different from this, we can do that. OK?
There are a bunch of no-doubters:
Derek Norris, C
George Kottaras, C
Chris Carter, 1B/DH
Brandon Moss, 1B/DH
Cliff Pennington, 2B/SS
Stephen Drew, SS
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Yoenis Cespedes, LF/CF
Coco Crisp, CF
Josh Reddick, RF
Jonny Gomes, DH/LF
Seth Smith, DH/LF
Tom Milone, SP
Jarrod Parker, SP
Grant Balfour, RP
Ryan Cook, RP
Sean Doolittle, RP
This leaves eight spots, most of which are on the pitching staff. The all-rookie starting rotation makes things tough to predict, especially when paired with Brett Anderson's oblique injury. Anderson had been working toward a potential Wild Card play-in game start on Friday, so there is some indication that he'll be on the playoff roster and in the rotation, but he wasn't 100% to make that Friday start. It's possible the A's could feel he's not ready for the Division Series, leave him off the roster, and hope he can heal up for a potential Championship Series. In light of that, and despite A.J. Griffin's struggles against Texas, I think it's more likely that Griffin remains in the regular rotation and the Anderson alternative is the least experienced of all the young pitchers on the staff, Dan Straily.
A.J. Griffin, SP
Brett Anderson/Dan Straily, SP
Reserve in your mind for a second the question of whether Dan Straily could make the roster as a reliever.
We have six spots left to fill with bench players and relievers. My guess is that the A's will go with a six-man bullpen rather than their usual seven because frequent off-days and the inevitability of leaning harder on your top pitchers means that the seventh bullpen spot is probably better used on a pinch-runner or platoon pinch-hitter or someone like that.
The three additional relievers, then:
Jerry Blevins, RP
Travis Blackley, RP
Evan Scribner, RP
If Pat Neshek wishes to play, I think he'll go in for Scribner, but his availability is obviously in serious doubt. As good as Scribner has sometimes been, I have to imagine the extreme groundballer Neshek would be chosen in a vacuum.
This leaves the bullpen with three lefties, none of which is typically used as a LOOGY (lefty one-out guy), but one of whom (Blevins) has the profile to fit that role if the need arises.
All that remains is three bench players. In particular, the squad above has no backup infielders.
Adam Rosales, 2B/SS/3B
Jemile Weeks, PR
Adam Rosales would be the backup infielder, the guy who comes in to play second if Bob Melvin pinch-hits for Cliff Pennington. He could also pinch-run for Josh Donaldson directly, or replace Donaldson in the event that Jemile Weeks pinch-ran.
Weeks would, as alluded to, be the pinch-runner. The A's surely hope he has more skills than that in 2013, but here in 2012, he lost his second-base job for a total failure to hit. (And, if you believe in FRAA, a poor fielding job as well.) He can still run really fast and steal a base, though, so he's the perfect playoff pinch-runner.
What happens here is that I got to #25 and I said "Collin Cowgill!" But then I got to thinking. I can't really come up with a good use for him. The A's starting outfield does not need defensive replacements, and for in-game injury situations, there's always whichever member of the designated hitter platoon (Gomes/Smith) didn't start. Cowgill could pinch-run for a catcher or a DH or Josh Donaldson, but if you've already got Weeks on the roster, how many pinch-runners do you need?
All of which made me wonder if Cowgill was sitting in Dan Straily's spot. This wouldn't quite be like David Price's explosion onto the scene a few years ago, but there's at least some potential for the A's to choose Straily over Jim Miller or whoever and hope he dominates by throwing 100% in short stints. Alternatively, what better long reliever can there be than a starting pitcher?
I've convinced myself. I can't figure out how the A's would use 15 position players, so I'll predict that they'll do no such thing and instead:
Dan Straily, RP
If Straily is in the rotation instead of Brett Anderson, this is where Jim Miller comes in.
So. Are you happy with this roster? I have to say that I'm pretty happy with it.
Said empathy is also why I felt so awful for Josh Hamilton this afternoon when he totally biffed an easy fly ball, helping the A's on their road to victory. He's had a rough time lately. ↩