With not a lot of competition for roster positions existing thanks to the added roster depth during the offseason, let's take a look at who's filling each spot on the A's roster right now. As things change during the spring, we'll update and reevaluate as necessary.
During the offseason, the A's said goodbye to Justin Duchscherer, Eric Chavez, Travis Buck, Jack Cust, Ben Sheets, Gabe Gross, Rajai Davis, Henry Rodriguez and Vin Mazzaro.
In return, the A's welcomed Hideki Matsui, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Rich Harden, Brandon McCarthy, Trystan Magnusun, and Daniel Farquhar.
The most publicized roster battle is for the fifth starter position, however the backup catcher position and utility infielder role are also up for grabs early on. Adam Rosales will likely remain the utility infielder, but he is currently injured and not expected to return to the team until early May, opening a spot on the opening day roster.
Kurt Suzuki was likely the A's team MVP in 2010, despite having a down offensive season.
Suzuki was the A's veteran leader on the field and arguably the second best catcher in all baseball, behind only Minnesota's Joe Mauer.
Oakland had the best pitching staff in the AL last season, with a 3.56 ERA. That staff was even better with Suzuki behind the plate, as the pitchers had a 3.31 ERA.
Suzuki's offensive contributions (13 homeruns and 71 RBI) are a drastic improvement over his predecessor, Jason Kendall. He is working to improve his overall hitting skills for 2011.
Suzuki is a workhorse. While he only played in 123 games last season, his career low, he caught 276 games combined in 2008 and 2009. The A's recognized his value to the team by signing him to a contract extension through 2013, with a club option for 2014.
Daric Barton emerged as one of the games best defensive first basemen in 2010. His overall hitting improved over his previous seasons as well, as Barton posted a .798 OPS and led the American League in walks with 110. He also hit a career-high .273 while registering new personal highs in every offensive category.
Barton entered 2011 Spring Training in better shape with an improved approach at the plate. Barton's new physique and approach has added some power to his game, removing the one argument his critics hold against him. He is poised to have a breakout season in 2011.
The A's picked up the club option on Mark Ellis' contract, bringing him back to Oakland for at least one more season.
Ellis' most obvious contribution to the club is his elite defensive ability. Last season Ellis only recorded three errors in 124 games, a very good number for a second baseman. In 2010, Ellis also put together a hitting line of .291/.358/.381 to provide one of the best years at the plate in his nine year career. His power numbers dropped though as he managed only 29 extra base hits, including five home runs.
The only downside to Ellis' game is his injury history. Ellis has only managed to play in 150+ games in a season twice. With primary backup Adam Rosales out until probably early May, the A's will count on Ellis being healthy to begin the season.
2011 is a contract year for Ellis, so look for him to build on his homerun and RBI totals while maintaining his batting average and stellar defensive abilities throughout the season.
Kevin Kouzmanoff had the worst season of his career at the plate in 2010, posting a .679 OPS. Adding to the disappointment is that Kouzmanoff had much better numbers in San Diego's spacious Petco Park from 2007-09.
He hit the fewest home runs in a single full season of his career. His .247 batting average was his career-low, as was his .283 on-base percentage and his .396 slugging percentage. He drove in a career-worst 71 runs, too.
However, Kouzmanoff did lead the 2010 A's in homeruns with 16 and RBI's with 71.
Kouzmanoff made 12 errors at third for the A's last season and posted his worst fielding percentage since 2007. The A's were hoping for the defender that only committed three errors and led the national league with a .997 fielding percentage in 2009.
Basically, I am saying that while Kouzmanoff was the A's most productive player in 2010, he was also a major disappointment. The A's spent the offseason trying to replace him, yet were unsuccessful.
Kouzmanoff is still an excellent defender however, and will be key to the A's infield in 2011 backing up their young rotation yet again. Kouzmanoff is determined to rebound from 2010 and sees himself as a power hitting third baseman.
The A's and their fans hope Kouzmanoff is able to deliver on this self description in 2011.
Cliff Pennington was a spark-plug for the 2010 Oakland A's lineup with his 29 stolen bases and only five caught stealing attempts. The young shortstop only hit .250 in 2010, but managed 40 extra base hits and a .319 OBP (good for fifth among AL shortstops).
Pennington's defense is an interesting aspect of his game to evaluate. His range factor was the highest in the league among shortstops, while his zone rating was the lowest in the AL. His 25 errors was also a league worst, yet that number would have decreased if he wasn't able to get to so many balls in the first place.
With a year under his belt, it is reasonable to expect Pennington to improve from his 2010 totals.
Leading up to the knee problems that ultimately cut his 2010 season short, Josh Willingham was having one of the best seasons of his career. Before July 4, Willingham was hitting .282 with a .413 on-base percentage, a .513 slugging percentage and 15 home runs in 263 at-bats. After, Willingham hit .232 with .325 on-base, .327 slugging and one homer in 107 at-bats.
The A's acquired Willingham this off-season, hoping that he is able to return to his 20+ homerun power while hitting in the middle of the Oakland lineup.
Willingham could wind up being a one year rental player for the A's, bridging a gap to young prospects such as Michael Taylor, Chris Carter and Michael Choice. He stated shortly after the trade that brought him to Oakland that he was open to the idea of signing a long term extension.
If Coco Crisp is able to put together his first full season since 2007, he could wind up being one of the A's best offensive players. Last season in just 75 games, Crisp hit .279 with a .342 OBP and .438 SLG. He also hit 8 homeruns and scored 51 runs. Had he played a full season this would have projected to 111 runs and 18 homeruns, both would have been team highs.
Crisp will likely be the A's leadoff man in 2011, and his 32 stolen bases in 75 games projects to be higher than the 50 stolen bases Rajai Davis swiped in 2010.
As with many of the Athletics, the biggest question surrounding Crisp is his health. He has looked good in spring training so far, and barring any freak injuries such as the fractured pinkie in the final game of spring training last season, expect a big year for Crisp as he enters his contract year.
David DeJesus was a hot commodity before last season's trade deadline, but a torn tendon in his right thumb in late July ended his season early.
DeJesus, a .289 career hitter, managed a line of .318/.384/.443 last season for Kansas City in 91 games. He will likely wind up the A's number three hitter behind Coco Crisp and Daric Barton, and batting ahead of Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui. The A's like DeJesus' ability to use the whole field to his advantage while batting.
"He's an all-around hitter who uses the whole field," A's manager Bob Geren said. "There are guys that hit more home runs, but when you put the numbers together, he's one of the best hitters in baseball."
DeJesus is a solid defender, bringing a 242-consecutive-game errorless streak with him to Oakland. He will find himself in Right Field this year with the A's, although he is capable of playing any of the three outfield spots, giving the A's a little flexibility with what they can do.
Godzilla will be spending 2011 in green and gold. After a single season with the Los Angeles Angels, the former Yankee World Series MVP signed a one year contract with Oakland to become the teams primary designated hitter.
The 36-year-old Japanese slugger batted .274 with 21 home runs and 84 RBIs last season with the Los Angeles Angels. He replaces Jack Cust in the A's lineup this term, and gives A's fans plenty to be excited about. While it is unlikely that Matsui's home run totals will jump in 2011, he is a better all-around hitter than his predecessor, and puts the ball in play much more often.
Matsui brings with him international exposure for the ball club, and should be responsible for selling several more tickets at the ballpark this season.
His bad knees will likely limit the amount of time he sees in the field this season, however he is capable of playing the outfield if the A's need to place him there for a few games throughout the season.
Trevor Cahill was the A's unquestioned breakout star in 2010, winning 18 games and being selected to the 2010 American League All-Star team.
Many people have him pegged for a regression in 2011, due to his low strikeout rates. Cahill's strikeout rate dropped in half from his statistics in the minor leagues. If Cahill is able to regain that dominance he displayed in the minors, then he could repeat his 2010 success and compete for a Cy Young in the future.
Cahill will be a solid contributor to the 2011 rotation, but just don't expect his ERA to remain below 3.00. If he is able to translate his strikeout success from the minor leagues to the major league level, then I could be proven wrong, but I believe he will take a small step back in 2011.
I still expect him to be a solid number two starter who should win 15 games for the A's this season.
Still just 23 years old, Brett Anderson could/should emerge as the ace of the A's talented pitching staff in 2011. Limited to only 112 innings in 2010 due to injuries, Anderson still managed a 7-6 record with a 2.80 ERA.
Anderson entered camp completely healthy this spring, and so far has looked every bit the dominant shut-down pitcher the A's have touted him to be. Among Anderson's repertoire of pitches, his slider is arguably his most dominant pitch. The slider is, simply put, nasty. Due to his past elbow troubles, the A's may limit his use of the pitch, but he still should have no trouble shutting down opposing lineups.
Again, health is a concern for the young pitcher, but if he is able to put together a complete season, Anderson should emerge the A's ace. 16-20 wins is not out of the question for Brett in 2011.
Gio Gonzalez enjoyed a breakout season in 2010, and all indications are that he is poised to build on that success in 2011.
Gonzalez possesses the best "stuff" in the A's rotation, and he is beginning to gain control and consistency over his pitches.
Gonzalez needs to control his wildness at times on the mound, and try to stay within himself when he does start to struggle. He improved both of these areas in 2010.
In 2011, expect to see the ERA drop slightly closer to 3.00 as he looks to improve his walk ratio. With a stronger lineup supporting him and a deeper bullpen backing him up, Gonzalez could approach the 20 win plateau for the first time in his career in 2011.
Dallas Braden stormed onto the national stage last season with his on-field dispute with Alex Rodriguez and his Perfect Game on Mother's Day shortly after.
Braden has improved every season he has been with the A's, and he was better in 2010 than his numbers would indicate. Braden led the A's rotation in lack of run support, and had the bullpen cost him more wins than any other pitcher on the roster. Both the offense and bullpen are improved in 2011, drastically increasing Braden's opportunities to flip his win/loss totals.
Expect Braden to improve further in 2011 and wind up with a winning record while his ERA remains in the 3.50 range, likely slightly improved.
Josh Outman has emerged as the front runner for the A's fifth starter position early in the spring.
Outman put together an impressive rookie season in 2009, before his season was cut short in June by Tommy John surgery. Outman had hoped to return to the A's late last season, however he suffered a few setbacks in his rehabilitation.
He is completely healthy now though and his velocity is consistently in the 90-93 MPH range. Outman expects his velocity will return to the 95-98 range he achieved in 2009 around the all-star break.
So far he has done nothing but impress though, and a return to the rotation seems likely. Expect Outman to put together a nice season in the double digit win total with a sub 3.50 ERA.
|2010||DID NOT PLAY|
Rich Harden's ability (when healthy) is no secret to A's fans. Harden can be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game when he is right.
The problem with Harden is that he seems incapable of staying on the field for an entire season. On the first day of Spring Training this year, Harden already suffered a setback. He should return to a regular throwing program within a week, but the A's are being extremely cautious with Harden given his injury history.
Harden will continue to compete for the fifth starter position as opening day approaches. However it is likely that he will start the season in the bullpen while the A's continue to monitor his health and stretch him out to throwing more innings.
If he remains healthy, Harden could shut down opposing lineups while the A's improved offense takes advantage of their match-ups against their opponents fifth starters. This would definitely have a positive impact on Harden's statistics as he enters free agency again after this season.
Brandon McCarthy is another pitcher looking to rebound from severe injury history to compete for a spot in the A's rotation. Although McCarthy seems like a long-shot at this point behind Rich Harden and Josh Outman, he is a quality major league pitcher when healthy.
McCarthy has not pitched since 2009 though, and will need to readjust to facing major league hitters throughout spring training.
Expect to see McCarthy start the season in Sacramento, and will be just a phone call away if the A's need a fifth starter due to injuries. With the health histories of Brett Anderson, Rich Harden and Josh Outman, it is likely that McCarthy will see action in Oakland this season.
|2010||DID NOT PLAY|
Grant Balfour has consistently put together effective seasons as a setup man for the Tampa Bay Rays, posting a 2-1 record with a 2.28 ERA over 57 games in 2010.
The A's were able to sign Balfour to a 2 year, $8.1 million contract, making him one of many talented arms capable of setting up Andrew Bailey in the A's bullpen.
Balfour possesses a great sinker/slider combo, which compliments his mid-90's fastball, making him baffling to opposing hitters.
He is a very solid addition to the A's bullpen, and should enjoy a successful season pitching in the spacious Oakland Coliseum.
Athletics fans are familiar with Brian Fuentes after watching him pitch previously for the division-rival Angels. Fuentes signed in the offseason for 2 years and roughly $10.5 million with a club option for 2013.
Fuentes is a more than capable closer, saving 48 games for the Angels in 2009, although he will serve as a setup man for incumbent closer Andrew Bailey in 2011.
Fuentes has great size for a pitcher and brings plenty of heat with his fastball. He excels at keeping runners close to the base and is very good in pressure situations.
Like Balfour, he will benefit from pitching in the Coliseum, and should provide the A's with yet another quality arm in relief.
Michael Wuertz will primarily serve as a relief arm against right handed hitters in 2011. His stuff is seen a little too well by left-handers, and he has proven inconsistent over the past two seasons against lefties.
On the plus side, Wuertz gets ahead in the count often and can strike out batters consistently. He is a solid setup man and, with the additions of Balfour and Fuentes, can be used more frequently to his strengths.
Wuertz had a down season in 2010 and at 32-years old, he will look to improve his numbers to prove he is not in the decline phase of his career.
Wuertz's name has consistently come up in trade rumors over the past two years, and those rumors could come to fruition this season with the return of Joey Devine to the A's roster. This of course will depend on Wuertz health and effectiveness through spring training and the early months of the regular season.
Craig Breslow is essentially the Oakland A's left-handed specialist. He has had trouble against right handed hitters in the past, although he put together a very impressive campaign in 2010 limiting opposing batters to a .194 average while also posting a 3.01 ERA in 75 appearances.
The addition of Grant Balfour and the return of Joey Devine (plus the likely bullpen addition of Rich Harden if he does not win the rotation spot) will allow the A's to use Breslow primarily against left-handed hitters in 2011. Breslow will see consistent innings in 2011 as he did last season as well.
Brad Ziegler, the A's side-arm deception specialist, is likely the A's most resilient reliever out of the bullpen. Ziegler is not overpowering, but his delivery has made him a very effective major league reliever.
Ziegler is best used for 1-inning stints, not allowing lineups enough time to adjust to his approach. I realize this has become a common theme and I am repeating myself, but the added depth in the bullpen allows manager Bob Geren to try to limit Ziegler to 1 inning at a time to maximize his effectiveness. In turn, Ziegler should see his ERA drop back below 3.00 and more in line with his career 2.51 ERA.
He should not see time as the closer in 2011 with multiple options ahead of him to fill the closer role if necessary, however he is capable of closing games as well if needed.
Jerry Blevins, another left-handed arm out of the bullpen, may find himself starting the season in Sacramento as he continues to rehab from offseason hip surgery.
Blevins has good strikeout capability, and is best against left-handed bats.
With Breslow and Fuentes also available out of the bullpen, Blevins could be an attractive trade target to teams looking for left-handed help in their bullpens.
Joey Devine was dominant in his first season with the A's in 2008. He posted a 0.59 ERA and a 6-1 record over 42 appearances before needing Tommy John surgery.
Devine did not pitch at all in 2009 or 2010, but he is still only 27 years old. So far this spring he has looked healthy, and is on track to make a full recovery going forward. He needs to improve his control, something that should get better with each outing this spring against live batters.
Devine has a mid-to-high 90's fastball, and his three-quarter delivery makes him hard to hit for right handed batters.
Devine will likely start the season in Sacramento as he continues to build stamina and work on his control, however he could force the A's hand quickly and earn a call-up to join the talented bullpen.
|2010||DID NOT PLAY|
Bailey is already a two-time all star in his first two seasons in the Major Leagues. He is an intimidating presence on the mound and capable of shutting down opposing lineups, as evidenced by his 1.47 ERA and .199 average he allowed to opposing hitters in 2010.
The only flaw Bailey has is perhaps that he throws too many strikes, as this has allowed him to be beat occasionally by ninth inning homeruns. Bailey has also been slightly injury prone early on in his career, something both he and the team hopes is now behind him.
Bailey is the undisputed closer of the A's, but he has some capable arms behind him if he should need a day off here and there.
Landon Powell is looking to maintain his position as the backup catcher in 2011. Powell has good size and power potential, but he struggled drastically in his limited opportunities in 2010.
Powell saw most of his playing time as Dallas Braden's personal catcher, giving regular catcher Kurt Suzuki some rest in 2010. Powell was behind the plate to catch Dallas Braden's perfect game on Mother's Day in 2010.
If he is to keep the position in 2011, he will need to work on his effectiveness on defense as well as improve his offensive numbers. He is being challenged for the roster spot by Josh Donaldson this spring.
Josh Donaldson entered spring training looking to challenge Landon Powell for the backup catcher position.
Donaldson is a good offensive catcher that is capable of running the bases better than most at his position.
His downside is that he still needs work and experience behind the plate, and needs to improve his game-calling abilities. The A's strength and backbone is their young pitching, so it is likely that Donaldson will need to work on this in the minors before he can unseat Powell as the backup to Kurt Suzuki.
Ryan Sweeney will enter his first season as a backup outfielder, after having been one of the A's starters the past few seasons. Injuries cut his 2010 season short.
He has a nice fluid swing and is patient at the plate, leading to a nice batting average and a good on-base percentage. However the Athletics and many scouts expected his power to develop further than it has.
In the outfield Sweeney is a solid defender with good instincts and an above average arm. If the A's choose not to retain Crisp after this season, he could return to starting duties in the outfield in 2012. Sweeney will see plenty of playing time rotating between the three outfield positions to give days off to the A's starters this season.
The time off he receives in the mean time will hopefully allow his knees to continue to improve and prevent further injuries this season.
Conor Jackson offers the A's a fifth outfield option and a backup to Daric Barton at first base. He came over to Oakland in a trade from the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, although fans did not get to see much of him because he was injured shortly after his arrival.
Jackson is a solid contact hitter and does have some power to his swing, although it was not evident by the two homeruns he hit in 2010.
In the event of an injury to any of the A's outfield starters or first baseman Daric Barton, Jackson could see significant playing time in 2011. Unless that happens though, he will primarily be used as a pinch hitter or emergency option in the field.
Adam Rosales took over the role previously held by Marco Scutaro. The A's super-sub has the versatility to play virtually any position. He hit for a respectable average in 2010 (.271), and also displayed some power with his 7 homeruns in 80 games.
Rosales is very energetic and may have the fastest homerun "trot" in all baseball, as he actually sprints around the bases.
Rosales will likely start the season on the disabled list and should return to the A's around the beginning of May.
The Jeremy Giambi of the LaRoche brothers joins the A's for 2011, after signing a minor league contract with an invite to spring training during the offseason.
LaRoche was signed essentially to compete with Kouzmanoff for the thirdbase position, but it seems unlikely that he will be able to unseat Kouzmanoff from the position.
With the uncertainty of when Pennington will be available, and the need for a backup infielder until Rosales returns, it is possible that LaRoche could make the roster as a backup infielder. I believe LaRoche will either be headed for Sacramento or given his release by the end of Spring Training.
Steve Tolleson seems the most likely spring training invitee to make the roster on opening day as the primary backup infielder or the starting shortstop if Pennington is unable to play by April 1.
Tolleson was effective in his limited opportunities with the A's in 2010, and regardless of where he starts the regular season, could wind up one of the first summoned reserves throughout the season.
Another candidate to claim the backup infielder position until Adam Rosales' eventual return is Eric Sogard.
Sogard possesses good hitting instincts and patience at the plate, a quality definitely appreciated by the A's management.
Sogard seems destined for Sacramento after the return of Adam Rosales to the A's roster, but he should provide competition with Steve Tolleson and Andy LaRoche throughout spring training for the backup infield position on the opening day roster.
Injuries or trades could effect this and allow some outside candidates to make the team, however barring any misfortune, this is the 25-man roster I expect to see on Opening Day (Note that it is likely both Pennington and Rosales will start the season on the DL, allowing Tolleson and Sogard opening day roster spots).
Manager Bob Geren has a much deeper roster to work with this season, and should find substituting both the lineup and bullpen an easier task than in years past.
C: Kurt Suzuki
1B: Daric Barton
2B: Mark Ellis
3B: Kevin Kouzmanoff
SS: Cliff Pennington* / Steve Tolleson
LF: Josh Willingham
CF: Coco Crisp
RF: David DeJesus
DH: Hideki Matsui
C: Landon Powell
IF: Adam Rosales* / Eric Sogard
OF: Ryan Sweeney
OF: Conor Jackson
* could start the season on the 15-day disabled list
SP: Trevor Cahill
SP: Brett Anderson
SP: Gio Gonzalez
SP: Dallas Braden
SP: Josh Outman
RHP: Rich Harden
RHP: Michael Wuertz
RHP: Brad Ziegler
RHP: Grant Balfour
LHP: Craig Breslow
LHP: Brian Fuentes
CP: Andrew Bailey