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The MIF Conundrum: 3 Candidates All With Real Pros & Cons

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NOTE FROM NICO, 7:15pm, PDT: There was one error in my original analysis, which I want to correct. Andy LaRoche was signed to a minor league deal (but is not on the 40-man roster), meaning that unless there's a specific clause saying otherwise, presumably the A's can send him to AAA without losing him.

(note from baseballgirl: Don't look for the game thread at 1pm today; the game is at 4pm. We'll see you all back here as the countdown begins to the official Friday night game threads!!!!!)

First of all, you need to understand that "MIF" is an acronym that does not involve the word "Mothers" -- it stands for "Middle Infielder," ok?

Second of all, the A's have 3 candidates fighting for one spot, and it's an unusual situation in that the A's starting SS, Cliff Pennington, is healthy but coming off left shoulder surgery and the clear choice for the job, Adam Rosales, is recovering from off-season foot surgery that will sideline him for at least the season's first month.

So the decision to break camp with Andy LaRoche, Eric Sogard, or Steve Tolleson, comes with the above information very much in mind -- along with other considerations about each candidate's abilities, limitations, and roster status...

Note: I believe all the info below to be accurate, but I'm not 100% sure, so in the comments please feel to correct any errors.

Andy LaRoche

Pros:The A's have long been interested in acquiring LaRoche and now they have him -- as long as they keep him. One reason LaRoche could win the roster spot is that this is how Oakland could guarantee keeping all 3 candidates in the organization.

The A's will probably try to give Pennington his days off against LHP, since swinging RH is both testing the injured shoulder and naturally Pennington's weaker side of the plate anyway. Being a RH batter, LaRoche makes a good fill-in for those games, as you'd want to get his bat in against LHP anyway.

The A's could gamble that the number of "hard to play" balls hit to LaRoche, in the few games he's needed at SS before Pennington can play every single day and before Rosales is back, will be few enough that LaRoche makes for an adequate backup MIF in April.

Cons: LaRoche hasn't played SS since college, and since SS is a position that features a high number of "less than just routine" plays, his inexperience could get exposed at an inopportune time when the A's just need someone who is reliable.

At the plate, LaRoche has had more than a "cup of coffee" in the big leagues. Like Brandon Wood, LaRoche has had many chances to show what he can do in the big leagues and has consistently come up short; way short. His career batting line, in over 1,000 ABs, is .224/.304/.338.

Finally, keeping LaRoche to protect his status with the organization is only a short-term solution. When Rosales returns, you figure to have the exact same problem. Sure, there may be better or worse times, strategically, to expose a player to waivers, but given that the A's are likely looking for only a 6-week or so stop gap at backup MIF, you wonder if delaying LaRoche's exposure 6 weeks is a big consideration.

Eric Sogard

Pros:

Sogard is a patient hitter who, despite a lack of power, might be likely to put up the best wOBA of the trio. He is also an accomplished defensive player in general and is probably, long term, the most promising player of the three. He is reminiscent of a young David Eckstein and that's a pretty strong backup SS to have if you want to start a season without missing a beat for the first 6 weeks.

Sogard also becomes an excellent option to give Mark Ellis a day off, as you could slot Sogard in against a RHP and take advantage of his solid skills at 2B.

Finally, Sogard is on the 40-man roster and has options remaining, so he can easily be shuttled back and forth from Oakland to Sacramento without any maneuvering or risk.

Cons:

As a LH batter, in this 6-week role Sogard might find himself facing mostly LHPs in a backup MIF role, which is not ideal. More problematic is his weak arm, which gives him real limitations as a potential SS.

In other words, do the A's want to put, on the days Pennington needs off, a LH batter who is not well suited to SS, when they have a hitter (LaRoche) and a true SS (Tolleson) as their alternatives?

Steve Tolleson

Pros:

Tolleson is a true "solid defensive SS," period. SS is his natural position and he is regarded as a strong defensive player in general.

As a RH hitter, Tolleson also matches up well to the team's current needs as he would be at his best, offensively, against LHP and that's when he'd most likely be in the lineup.

Overall, Tolleson is probably the safest choice to help, without doing any harm, over the season's first 6 weeks.

Cons:

Tolleson was taken off the 40-man roster this off-season, so if he makes the team out of spring training the A's will need to take someone off the 40-man roster in March.

Tolleson also isn't great at anything, and as a 27-year old who was never a top prospect he is not regarded as much of a prospect long-term. So his addition means not protecting LaRoche, and taking someone off the 40-man roster, in order to provide what might be a 6-week solution.

Conclusion?

You make the call. I tend to lean towards thinking that the fact Oakland just needs a 6-week solution means they will choose the safest and most conservative option, and that's Tolleson -- a guy who can make the plays at SS and give you an ok RH bat against LH pitching. I think they'll take their chances with exposing LaRoche, knowing they'll have to anyway, and will stash Sogard at AAA where he has options and can wait for a better opportunity than a "6-week stopgap mostly at SS." But who knows -- it's one of the few battles that the A's have this spring that is difficult to predict.

A's and White Sox at 4:05pm today from Glendale with, I believe, Bobby Cramer starting for Oakland.