Well, the Super Bowl is finally over which means we can all focus our attention now on a real sport. It’s less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to spring training and I, for one, can’t wait. I’m not sure how optimistic I can really get this year about my team’s performance specifically, but I can never hide my excitement around this time of year. IT’S BASEBALL! What more could anyone ask for?
This should be an interesting spring training for A’s personnel and fans alike. There was obviously a lot of turnaround this offseason with trades and free agents leaving; there are a lot of new and young faces, but a lot of talented ones at that. There’s an old adage that spring training numbers don’t matter, and while that’s true for the most part, the A’s are in a pretty unique situation. With so much youth and inexperience on this ball club, and so many positional question marks, guys are going to have to earn their spots on the team. It won’t be watching veterans go through their routines in order to be ready for April; players need to be ready right from the start or they might not make the team. So right out of the gate, players will do their best to show the decision makers what they can do.
I always love this part of the year because you get to see a bunch of young guys that you might not get to see much otherwise competing for that one roster spot. Usually they are doing so knowing they are destined to return to the minors for another season. This year though, proving yourself might actually mean a call to the bigs.
Here are five things to keep an eye on during spring training:
1) When Will We See the Young Arms? With the trades of Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, and the injuries to Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson, the Oakland pitching rotation (thought to be one of the best in the American League as recent as last year) is about as wide open as it gets. Brandon McCarthy, one of the most underrated pitchers in the league in 2011, is all but penciled in as the opening day starter. The recently signed Bartolo Colon will likely follow McCarthy in the rotation. Braden is expected to return by mid-April so for all intents and purposes we will put him as the third starter. After that it gets a little tricky.
Tom Milone, Brad Peacock (both from the Gio trade) and Jarrod Parker (Cahill trade) were all acquired through offseason trades and all have a shot at cracking the rotation. Milone is probably the guy who is most ready of the three. He doesn’t have great stuff but has impeccable command of his pitches and changes speeds well. He doesn’t have anything left to prove in the minors and I expect he’ll break camp with the big club. The other two could use a little more seasoning at AAA. Both have great stuff, but it couldn’t hurt to let them work out the kinks in the minors for a couple of months. But Beane has shown that if he thinks a pitcher is ready, he will let them pitch right away. He did it with Cahill and Anderson and it wouldn’t surprise me all that much if he did it again.
Other names that might get a shot early on in the year include Graham Godfrey who was solid last year, and Tyson Ross who’s fell off the map a bit recently. I’m hoping Ross can bounce back because he’s got a big time arm… And he went to my high school. Go Dragons!
2) Who’s on First? Brandon Allen, Chris Carter, Kila Ka’aihue, and Daric Barton will compete for the first base job this spring and between you and me, the competition is wide open. If I had to give an edge to anyone, I think it would be Barton. He had a really good 2010 but took a step back last year due to a shoulder injury he suffered in April, according to him (though he failed to tell the team until much later). If Barton can find his 2010 self the job is his to lose, but that’s a big “if.”
Brandon Allen sure looks the part with light tower power and good athleticism, but he strikes out like it’s going out of style. You can pretty much say the same about Ka’aihue but he hits from the right side. And Carter, not known for his defense, will likely see a lot of time at DH. I’m really pulling for Carter; it seems like he’s been in the A’s system for like a decade and this could finally be his shot. However, this next topic could make that difficult.
3) To Manny or Not To Manny? A lot of people are condemning the A’s rumored interest in Manny Ramirez but I don’t think it’s a bad ideal at all. I guess the fact that he will have to serve a 50 game suspension due to a positive performance enhancing drug test is a bit of an eyesore. But he’ll come at an extreme discount and the A’s can use that 50 games to give Chris Carter a fair chance to earn the DH spot. If he fails you can insert Manny and begin his redemption story; if Carter succeeds, you can cut Manny and it will cost you next to nothing.
4) Bullpen Musical Chairs: With the offseason trade of Andrew Bailey the A’s were left without a closer. I think most assume Grant Balfour, who has some experience in that role, will slide right in. Balfour had a nice year last year (though it seemed every time I went to a game last year he was giving up a game-tying home run) but he’s no Bailey. Brian Fuentes’ name has been thrown out there (but I sure hope not) but in truth, I think it will be a closer by committee. Everyone will get a shot until someone takes the job. My money is on Fautino De Los Santos, who was acquired long ago in the Swisher trade. He’s got ridiculous stuff (11.6 strikeouts per nine innings last year) but has command issues. I’m hoping this is the year he figures it out.
5) How the Top Prospects Look This is a topic I’m going to be following all season, let alone Spring Training. But spring baseball is the best chance for A’s fans to put some faces to some of the names that they’ve learned from the plethora of trades this offseason. Keeping track of the youngsters can be one way for A’s fans can to keep the faith assuming this year unfolds as most expect it will.
Billy Beane Extended: Athletics Owner, Lew Wolff, announced that Beane will be extended as General Manager though 2019. I think this is great news for A’s fans, though I’m not sure they will all agree with me. Beane has sort of lost some of his luster lately as his team continues to falter after his initial run of sustained success, but he’s still a great GM. The financial restrictions have taken their toll but Beane is still the smartest man in most rooms and the fact that he apparently wants to finish what he started with this franchise is very encouraging (because we all know he won’t let his players do that).
Some will say this suggests the move to San Jose is imminent, when the truth is no one knows one way or the other, but I think this is more of an indication of Beane’s competitive fire. He wants to succeed here and he doesn’t want to leave until he gets that World Series ring that has so far eluded him. Not sure when he’ll get it, though.
About the Author
Written by Josh Muller
My name is Josh Muller. I was born and raised in Oakland, California and currently live in San Francisco. I watch sports religiously and organize my calender year to coincide with baseball season. I'm a diehard A's and Warriors fan, love talking sports all day and believe that the words "Opening Day" are the two greatest in the English language.