MLB: Assessing Oakland Athletics' Current Players as Rosters Expand in September

Nathaniel Jue@nathanieljueSenior Writer IIAugust 22, 2011

MLB: Assessing Oakland Athletics' Current Players as Rosters Expand in September

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    The dog days of summer are upon us, and in baseball August means the playoff push is in full swing. But for those teams that are out of the playoff picture, like the Oakland Athletics, a lot of baseball is left to be played for different reasons. As September approaches, many teams not in the hunt for October must reevaluate their rosters with a few reasons in mind.

    With veteran soon-to-be free agents on the roster, are any of them worth keeping for next season? Some teams must determine if an upcoming free agent will be offered a contract during the offseason or be allowed to walk without receiving anything specific in return.

    Which players on the current roster are deemed expendable? There comes a time when a team can no longer provide particular players any more options. The player has either performed poorly, not met expectations, or both. At any rate, some of them will be playing their last season with their current team.

    This allows teams to take a look at upcoming prospects within their farm system. When the rosters expand on September 1, which players will be called up for month-long auditions? It gives teams an opportunity to thoroughly assess what their minor leaguers can do at the big-league level and whether any of them will be a part of the organization’s future.

    Like the majority of teams in MLB, the Oakland Athletics will be firmly entrenched in analyzing their roster this September to ascertain who will and will not be in their short- or long-term plans. Here is one analysis of how the last month of the season will be played out for certain Athletics.

Upcoming Free Agents Who Should Be Re-Signed

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    Much has been made about the Athletics’ struggles in the first half of the season, in particular the underwhelming performances by offseason acquisitions David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham for the Athletics’ poor showing.

    These three were supposed to inspire a lifeless 2010 squad and produce enough runs to support a league-leading pitching staff. Unfortunately, their struggles out of the gate rendered the team’s playoff aspirations a near impossibility.

    This trio is among the 18 players eligible for free agency following the 2011 season. Given the Athletics' lack of power in the middle of the lineup, the team will probably extend an offer to Willingham, who is a steady run producer and has proven to be great around the clubhouse.

    Surprisingly, Willingham was not sent away prior to the July 31st trading deadline. Since the All-Star break, Willingham has lived up expectations, mashing 11 home runs, with 29 RBI and a .607 slugging percentage. At 32, Willingham would be willing to sign a two-year deal to remain with the club.

    Likewise for Matsui, who scuffled with consistency early, but has led a revitalized Oakland offense, producing quality at-bats in clutch situations. In the second half of the season, Matsui is batting .372 with 48 hits in 33 games. The team has embraced Godzilla and vice versa; and given his strong following from the Japanese media, Oakland should sign Matsui for another season as the designated hitter.

    Of the remaining free agent position players, only shortstop Cliff Pennington and Conor Jackson are candidates to receive contract extensions.

    Pennington is continually lauded for his defense up the middle. However, at the plate he has shown little. Still, the A’s will probably keep him for another year or two until prospect Grant Green is ready to step in.

    As for the free agent pitchers, starters Gio Gonzalez and Brandon McCarthy should garner long-term deals from the Athletics. Gonzalez has matured nicely throughout the past few seasons, and should be a major focal point of the starting staff alongside Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson in 2012. McCarthy, meanwhile, has developed quite impressively, with a respectable 3.74 ERA. He could be a solid fourth starter for a couple of more years.

    In the bullpen, Andrew Bailey will be kept, as the A’s do not seem to have a formidable closer-in-waiting. Despite several arm injuries in the past few seasons, Oakland does not yet have someone to replace Bailey in the short-term future. Look for Bailey to be back healthy and ready in 2012.

Players Who Are Expendable

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    Veterans David DeJesus, Coco Crisp and Ryan Sweeney all should not return next season, as the A’s must look to acquire more power from the outfield position.

    Crisp is above-average at the plate, but nagging injuries always keep him out of the lineup for several games at a time. And his speedy presence at the top of the order is no longer as needed since the emergence of second baseman Jemile Weeks.

    What is just as important is to have a hitter who can take pitches with reliability and drive in runs. However, with the terribleness of the A’s defense this season, a solid defender like Crisp may be important to the team.

    Sweeney, meanwhile, has not lived up to expectations. Sweeney has absolutely no power, having more singles than a dating website. He is mostly a platoon player, and the A’s should not keep him for that reason alone.

    DeJesus has picked up his bat in the second half a bit, but his $6 million salary and age will keep the A’s from signing him long-term.

    Opening Day starting first baseman Daric Barton and third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff, too, should not likely receive offers from the A’s. Both were shipped to Triple-A midseason, and both have done absolutely nothing to garner offers from the Athletics. Each should not be back with the club next year.

    From a pitching standpoint, starters Dallas Braden and Rich Harden are on the outside looking in.

    While Braden has been the heart and soul of the rotation for several years, he has experienced some excruciating setbacks due to injury in each of the past two seasons. The A’s should cut ties with the feisty lefty in order to make room for any of the up-and-comers in their loaded farm system.

    Harden would be a great fifth starter in the Oakland rotation; but his injury history and $1.5 million salary mean the A’s will most definitely let him walk at season’s end.

    In the bullpen, lefties Craig Breslow (4.12 ERA, 1.65 WHIP) and Jerry Blevins (3.93 ERA, 1.69 WHIP) should not be re-signed, as each has seemed to regress this year.

Prospects to Be Called Up

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    The A’s do not have many can’t-miss prospects lying in their minor league system. The ones who have received the most attention are deep in Double-A, or they have recently been drafted, seasons away from the majors.

    Two players who have had some star quality are first baseman/designated hitter Chris Carter and outfielder Michael Taylor.

    Carter has been called up a number of times, but he has yet to display any feel for big league pitching. He has only 17 hits in 100 at-bats over several stints with the Oakland ballclub. He will turn 25 during the offseason, and he may be running out of opportunities to show he has the ability to hit in the majors.

    Taylor has the tools to be a great all-around outfielder. At Triple-A Sacramento, he has a .277 batting average and .369 on-base percentage, with 13 home runs and 53 RBI in 83 games played. Should he display some consistency during a September call-up, he should be in the running to compete for a roster spot next spring, possibly replacing Ryan Sweeney in right field.

    Other candidates for a call-up include catcher Josh Donaldson, also in Triple-A. He has produced quite nicely at the plate all season. He has cranked 43 extra-base hits, including 16 home runs. Look for Donaldson to receive some playing time as he competes to be the primary backup catcher, as Landon Powell will likely walk during free agency.

    While other players who have already shuttled back and forth between Sacramento and Oakland will receive calls up to the big leagues come September, Carter and Taylor will be assessed intensely, as their futures with the organization remain the most vital.

    Hopefully they can make significant enough impressions to fill the voids of some of the aforementioned veteran players who likely will depart via free agency this offseason.