With the Oakland A's officially locking down the AL West title, it's time for GM Billy Beane to build his ALDS roster.
Oakland is lining up to face the Detroit Tigers in a rematch of last year's first-round series. The Tigers will be throwing four right-handed starters, which on paper is a favorable matchup for an A's team that leans heavily to the left side.
When Beane and his staff sit down to draw up the team's 25-man roster for the ALDS, there are quite a few directions that they can go with it.
For an insight into how the roster will shake out, it's worth considering that last year the team carried 12 pitchers and 13 position players. This time around, though, Oakland is much more likely to go with an 11-man pitching staff and 14 position players due to the particular personnel on hand.
Over the next week, the front office will have some seriously challenging decisions to make. Players who have been key contributors at crucial moments during the season, simply won't make the cut.
Starting Pitchers (4)
Jarrod Parker, Bartolo Colon and Sonny Gray have nailed down the top three spots in the rotation. There's no wrong choice between Parker and Colon for Game 1, but look for manager Bob Melvin to opt for the unflappable 40-year-old. Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group pointed out:
The real question, however, comes down to who claims the fourth spot. Dan Straily has won four of his last five starts, but so, too, has A.J. Griffin. Ultimately the edge goes to Griffin, though, as he's the less likely of the two to turn in a four-inning dud.
Colon, Parker, Gray, Griffin
Odd Man out: Straily
Assuming Straily misses out on the rotation, the right-hander should be an excellent addition to the bullpen based on his ability to miss bats. The 24-year-old leads all AL rookies with 119 strikeouts.
For all their late-season struggles, Grant Balfour and Ryan Cook will easily make the cut. Dan Otero and Sean Doolittle will also be top options out of the pen, but after that the final two spots are up in the air.
Brett Anderson is the most talented of the pitchers on the bubble, but the Opening Day starter faces an uphill battle to make the roster. The lefty has allowed runs in six of eight appearances since returning from the DL. If Melvin needs to call on a lefty other than Doolittle in an important late-game situation, it will be Jerry Blevins.
Tommy Milone has appeared in three games in September, which is telling of where the former starter stands in the pecking order. Jesse Chavez gets the call for the final spot as the versatile right-hander is just as comfortable entering in the third inning as the eighth.
Balfour, Doolittle, Cook, Otero, Blevins, Chavez, Straily
Odd Men out: Anderson, Milone
Position Players (14)
Stephen Vogt will see most of the times as he bats left-handed, but that doesn't mean the A's won't utilize their other two catchers. With a .317 average and eight home runs off lefties, Derek Norris will be the top right-handed option off the bench.
The presence of Kurt Suzuki not only allows Melvin to pinch hit freely with Norris but also could be vital to the success of the bullpen. With Suzuki behind the dish, neither Cook nor Balfour are afraid of throwing breaking balls in the dirt. Against Miguel Cabrera that confidence could be the difference between a punch out and a 450-foot bomb.
Norris, Vogt, Suzuki
As long as Brandon Moss is spending his time in left field and Yoenis Cespedes is getting his hacks in as DH, Daric Barton will be the team's everyday first baseman. The 28-year-old, who has been designated for assignment twice since the beginning of the season, has hit .345 in September. As Jane Lee of MLB.com noted:
His stellar defense is particularly valuable considering the shaky fielding of shortstop Jed Lowrie and second baseman Alberto Callaspo.
The switch-hitting Callaspo will likely be relegated to pinch-hitting duties and maybe a cameo as DH, though, as Eric Sogard should see all the at-bats against the Detroit righties. Josh Donaldson will hold down the hot corner, but first baseman Nate Freiman could find himself on the outside looking in.
The tall rookie is struggling with an abdominal strain, and Jeff Kirschman of MLB.com reported that Freiman is unlikely to play in the second-to-last series of the season against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Even if he does mend in time, though, it could be too little too late for Freiman. Norris possesses a superior bat against lefties, and Suzuki's ability to impact the game as Balfour's caddy is simply too valuable to pass up.
Moss, Sogard, Callaspo, Lowrie, Donaldson, Barton
Odd Man out: Nate Freiman
Table-setter Coco Crisp will patrol center field, Josh Reddick will line up in right field, and Moss will take care of left so long as Cespedes' shoulder limits him to the DH spot. Chris Young and Seth Smith should both retain their spots off the bench, but either one of the veteran outfielders could be the guy to go if Beane decides to get creative with the back end of the roster.
Crisp, Cespedes, Reddick, Smith, Young
The switch-hitter has toppled down the depth chart in 2013, but in his limited time as a pinch runner in September, the call-up has proven he's as dynamic as ever on the bases. Guy Haberman of 95.7 FM The Game asked if that speed will translate to an ALDS roster spot:
It's hard to see where the flyer would fit on the roster, but with the rise of Barton, Smith's spot could be in jeopardy.
Jaso has been on the DL with a concussion since July 26, but the 30-year-old is slowly rounding back into form. Melvin told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle that “there is a chance” he will be part of the playoff roster.
Jaso is scheduled to play in instructional league games this week in Arizona, and if he joins the roster it would be for his bat, not his ability to catch. If he plays in the final series of the season in Seattle, look for Beane to find a way to squeeze Jaso and his .802 OPS against righties onto the roster.
The Final Cut:
Beane and his staff will have number of tough decisions to weigh as they decide on a playoff roster. The front office loves to make bold moves, and there's sure to be a surprise or two when the team announces the official ALDS roster.
One thing is for certain. There will be players, who have made big-time contributions to the AL West champs who will get left out once the Tigers and Game 1 of the ALDS roll around.
All statistics courtesy of MLB.com.