2012 was a great year for the A's, not so much for Elmo. You wonder how long the lines were, after Christmas, filled with angry mothers returning those "Tickle Me Elmo" dolls, and how many customer service representatives found themselves saying, "I'm sorry, ma'am -- he tickled your son where?" That's why it's such a relief to be able to write about the A's, and not about very, very bad puppets.
Depth is a nice problem to have, and rarely winds up being a problem, per se, because as we see every season depth gets tested early and often. You pretty much need 8 starting pitchers, 4-5 OFers, and 5-6 infielders just to get through a season. Yet the fact that injuries, or even slumps deeper than Elmo's legal problems, are expected doesn't mean they are absolutely inevitable.
What if the A's had the "problem" of ongoing health? Yes, it would be a problem, or at least a dilemma of sorts. If the April rotation features Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Bartolo Colon, Tommy Milone, and A.J. Griffin, with Dan Straily at the ready in AAA and Travis Blackley in the bullpen, and somehow those starting 5 just keep on plugging away at American League hitters, would the A's just stash Straily in Sacramento indefinitely?
It's something Billy Beane correctly never worries about, because somehow it never quite comes to pass...But it could. Each pitcher certainly could continue to be effective and healthy for any stretch of time. My best guess is that if the 5 who break camp continue to be healthy and effective then yes, someone like Straily could wind up stuck in AAA even if clearly ready.
What's intriguing here is that Straily has the potential to be perhaps the A's 3rd best starter, yet if "odd man out in early April" he could wind up "odd man out indefinitely". Now, a "#6 SP" is rarely out of work for very long -- but when he is, sometimes he can be the team's 3rd or 4th best pitcher and still be bypassed. It's arguable that exactly this happened to Blackley in 2012.
Similarly, Beane is looking at holding onto the OF depth of Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Young, Josh Reddick, Coco Crisp, and Seth Smith figuring that Cespedes, last year, and Crisp, throughout his career, have shown the wisdom of having at least "4 every day starters to make 3".
Yet there is no guarantee that any of the OFers will miss time, and it is difficult to see exactly how they will be rotated until the depth thins. Smith might wind up strictly splitting DH time with Chris Carter. As for the other 4, are the A's really going to sit Crisp or Young 3-4 times a week?
My best guess here involves Young getting a spot start once/week in LF and RF to give Cespedes and Reddick one day off each week, and also getting a couple of the starts in CF. So maybe a 6 game week looks something like this:
I guess it's doable, though it means sitting Young and Crisp at least 1/3 of the time (or if you want to play one most every day, then it means sitting the other 1/2 the time). It's great to keep everyone fresh -- but it's less great to have to sit an important player (like Young or Crisp) more than occasionally. The A's don't have that much talent to afford the luxury of paying talented players to sit on the bench.
I know the easy answer to all this is probably also the one that will prove right in the end: "Don't worry about it: Two guys will suck and two more will get hurt." It's just that there really is "too much of a good thing" and if the A's are really lucky...they could have it in 2013.