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Spring Sparks

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By most accounts, the A's have had a sleepy spring. There hasn't really been competition for anything. Some questions about carrying an extra pitcher have arisen, but that only happens if Frank Thomas isn't ready opening night (and who knows what the chances are on that right now - although things are progressing as he's finally going to face live pitching).

But in four excellent innings of work against the Angels "A" team today, Dan Meyer suddenly made the spring much more interesting to me. Not because I think he's pushing for a spot on the team, but because the A's could theoretically be eight starting pitchers deep now. Harden, Zito, Loaiza, Haren, Blanton, Saarloos, Kennedy and Meyer are likely 1-8 on the depth chart. Saarloos is an excellent quantity in the pen, but we all know he has the ability to be a fourth or fifth starter on almost every other team in the American League.

Now, it is spring training so no one should read too much into what happened on the field today. If we did, then Randy Keisler would be on the field when the game is on the line, not Huston Street. But if Meyer can regain the form that made him the top pitching prospect in 2004, then the A's could suddenly have a huge trading chip in Barry Zito to try and improve themselves.

Sal and I discussed this in the open game thread quite a bit and if the A's are contending, there are a lot of arguments to keep Zito for the season and let the contract play itself out. But even if the A's are contending, the frenzy of the trading deadline and a team like the Mets, who will likely be starving for starting pitching by May not July, could offer the A's the remarkable, earth-shattering package Billy Beane has been patiently seeking.

I've got these little arguments going on in my head as to whether the A's should trade Z. He's been my favorite A's pitcher since he came up. I tend to love pitchers who make professional hitters look jelly-legged and insecure. And no one looks more insecure in a batter's box than a hitter facing Zito's curve when Barry has his control. I still remember the Big Hurt's knees buckling to the weight of Zito's snapper. Zito is durable and he appears to be a great influence to pitchers like Danny Haren, who openly raved about Barry's assistance in righting his ship last season.

At the same time, Zito's perceived excellence around baseball and a shimmering Cy Young Award make him appealing to baseball people in markets like LA, Chicago and New York. So much so that they may very well overpay for Zito. Maybe even Arizona gets into it if they compete well in the mediocre NL West.

This is all hypothetical right now because there is a reason the A's have Saarloos and Kennedy in the pen. Meyer hasn't proven anything yet and won't unless he dominates at Triple-A.

But still, it's fun to wonder, what if Meyer does just that? What if 2005 was an aberration for the young lefty? Perhaps Beane and company remain steadfast and let the 2006 season play itself out even if Meyer is lights out at Triple-A. Trading Zito would do something Beane has always talked about...building for the future while continuing to be as competitive as possible right now. That's always been the A's MO and I assume will continue to be.

It'll be something very intriguing to watch in Sacramento this year. I'm glad I'll have a front row seat for it.