By Jason Wojciechowski on April 2, 2009 at 6:16 PM
With a few days to go before the season starts against the Angels, the roster mess is ... well, it's pretty much still a mess. This is my favorite game, though, so here we go.
Geren has announced his rotation: Braden, Cahill, Eveland, Anderson, and Outman. Ok, I can't quibble with that. With the exception of Gio Gonzalez, that's probably the A's five highest-ceiling pitchers, even if there's significant downside to Outman and Braden. Sean Gallagher gets punted either to Sacramento or the bullpen, and the same for Gio, as neither of them showed enough to make the cut in the rotation this spring.
In the pen, with Joey Devine starting the season on the DL, the locks are Ziegler, Sandy Casilla, Mike Wuertz, and Russ Springer. I see no reason why Jerry Blevins shouldn't make the team. So that's five. Ideally, Geren would go with just one more reliever. Ideally, that extra reliever would be a guy capable of being a long-man / emergency starter. Ideally, that extra reliever will already be on the roster. Thus, it should be between Gio Gonzalez and Sean Gallagher. Gio's strikeout rate has tantalized for years, but he has yet to harness his stuff, as his walk rates have been just this side of horrifying. Gallagher, though, has also posted very good strikeout numbers, if not quite as tantalizingly high as Gio's. He's had similar control problems, but, similarly, they've not been as extreme. Gallagher's been more fly-ball and line-drive prone than Gio. The fly balls aren't as big a problem in Oakland as they'd be elsewhere, especially since the outfield defense, at least when Buck is in right and not Cust, promises to be solid at the corners and ... uninspiring (I'm trying to be charitable) in center. Anyway, I don't really have a preference here: this is where a manager and pitching coach and front office make their money.
Given the youth of the rotation and the likelihood of some soft pitch-count caps and innings caps on Anderson and Cahill, perhaps the A's could and should go with Gio and Gallagher, however. This means that Andrew Bailey is the guy on the outside looking in, but we should be ok with that, right? Regardless of how well he's pitched this spring, he's got all of eight innings above AA (one start), and he didn't exactly tear up Midland last year. Let him pitch in Sacramento and bring him up when the inevitable injuries happen. Bailey's also not on the 40-man, and since the A's are already going to have to make room because of the additions of Anderson and Cahill, this consideration is a worthwhile one. If he were a clear upgrade over Gio or Gallagher, that's one thing. But he's not.
On the infield, Suzuki is the starting catcher, and Landon Powell has won the backup job (potentially setting up a Ramon Hernandez-A.J. Hinch situation?). Eric Chavez seems like he will in fact be ready to start the year at third base, Orlando Cabrera is at short, Mark Ellis is at second, and Jason Giambi and Daric Barton make the team at first. Nomar Garciaparra is on hand to back up third base and pinch-hit and just generally do veteran benchy things. Bobby Crosby is the other backup infielder, although one hopes that if Mark Ellis gets hurt mid-game, Bob Geren pushes Orlando Cabrera over to second and lets Crosby play short. It's not that Crosby is such a superior defender (he is good, but he's not Cabrera), it's just that Cabrera has actually played a little bit of second base in his professional life, including 24 starts there for the Expos way back in 1998. Granted, the last time Cabrera saw time at second was three innings in 2000, but that's still more recent work than Crosby, right? Cabrera's also built more like a second baseman, at 5'9", and is less likely to get barreled over on the deuce. Crosby's fragile enough as it is.
Anyway, with 12 pitchers and nine infielders, that leaves just four spots for the outfield. Holliday, Sweeney, and Cust are the "duh" spots. Travis Buck has to be that fourth guy, right? But then where's Rajai Davis? This implies to me that the A's actually will go with eleven pitchers, because then that leaves room for both Buck and Davis to make the team. Ben Copeland will either get returned or a deal will be made to keep him in the minors. Chris Denorfia gets to become a Sacramento legend and will get called up when Buck gets hurt.
What does all this mean for the 40-man? There's one spot on it right now. Call that Cahill's spot. Someone has to go to fit Anderson on -- that'll be Ben Copeland. That's all that need be done unless Bailey makes the cut, in which case I'd bet on Jeff Gray or Chris Schroder getting the boot. Maybe Jeff Baisley.
We can play the post-injury game and ask what happens with Duke and Devine come back, but if the A's have shown nothing over the last few years, it's that these things have a remarkable way of taking care of themselves via other guys getting hurt. Let's worry about that when the time comes.