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The Calm Before The Storm

Nice play, Josh! Now, we'd like to talk to you about a fascinating new opportunity in Sacramento...
Nice play, Josh! Now, we'd like to talk to you about a fascinating new opportunity in Sacramento...

Every team has a derogatory nickname associated with their name, which suggests that the team in question is of low quality. The Twins are the "Twinkies," The Red Sox are the "Red Sux," the D'Backs are the "D'Bags" and the Giants become the "Gnats." I didn't say they were clever, just derogatory. The Pirates have one, too: "Pirates." That's a little baseball humor.

The Oakland A's are still a Major League team despite Bud Selig's best efforts, which means that we get a nickname, too: The Oakland AAA's. You see, Oakland is notorious for trading away stars and replacing them with (even better) minor-leaguers, who are promoted from AAA. Get it? Our team is a bunch of minor-leaguers! Smack talk is the last true art form in America.

For the past week, calling Oakland the "AAA's" has been particularly appropriate. Thanks an almost unbelievable string of injuries in the month of May, the A's lost their preferred starting players at the following positions: catcher (Kurt Suzuki, hand), 1st base (Kila Ka'aihue, leg), 2nd base (Jemile Weeks, ankle), 3rd base (Brandon Inge, groin), and center field (Yoenis Cespedes, hand). Welcome to professional sports in Oakland.

Suzuki and Weeks have already returned from their minor bang-ups, and Kila is at least DH'ing again. However, there are four other important players who are scheduled to re-join the team in the next week. In order of eligibility to return: Coco Crisp, Cespedes, Inge, and Manny Ramirez. Brandon Inge put it best in Susan Slusser's recent Drumbeat:

"This is like a little calm before the storm, maybe," Inge said of the pending return of so many regulars. "It will be like a new team."

The AAA's will finally be the Major League A's once again. The downside to getting so many players back, however, is that you must remove four players from the 25-man roster to make room for them. Oakland's decision-makers have some tough choices ahead of them. Who should stay, and who should go?

Let us first consider what we are adding to the team: a third baseman, two outfielders, and a DH. Since they are all position players, we can assume that the pitching staff will remain untouched, at least in response to the returns of these four players. Let's identify four position players who could move aside to make room:

1. Josh Donaldson

This is an easy call. Donaldson was only promoted to replace Inge at third base, and he has been absolutely terrible at every facet of the game. He has received 49 at-bats this season, and has managed only 4 hits, while failing to draw a single walk. His swing always looks wild and uncontrolled to me, and even when he gets ahead in the count he ends up chasing something out of the strike zone. On defense, Donaldson is a project. He was a full-time catcher until this past fall, when the organization shifted him to third base in order to give him a better shot at the bigs. While he has made impressive progress, he is still far below par defensively. His miscue against Texas on Thursday led to two insurance runs in a game that Oakland lost 4-1, and his awful two-base error in the bottom of the 9th yesterday nearly handed the game to the Rangers. Inge would have made both plays routinely, because they were both routine plays.

Furthermore, Adam Rosales has returned after a lost 2011, reaching base as many times in his first game back (4) as Donaldson has done all season. Suffice to say, I would be shocked if Rosales hasn't completely taken over as the starting third baseman by the time the team returns to Oakland on Monday. With Rosales starting, and Eric Sogard still performing adequately as the utility man, there will be no more space for Donaldson.

2. Collin Cowgill

Both of Oakland's best center field options are currently resting on the DL (Cespedes and Coco). Cowgill has been keeping the position warm in their absences, but only luke-warm. He hasn't hit much (4-for-28, all singles), but he has shown off a bit of plate discipline, speed, and defense. He still has a Major League career ahead of him, but he hasn't done anything to force himself into the picture this month. Cowgill was promoted to serve as a stop-gap in center while the regulars were out. When they return, he will go back to Sacramento to get regular playing time, his stop-gap duties having been fulfilled. Don't worry; Cowgill will be back. In my perfect world, Coco plays well for a week or so, shows the league that he is still a solid player, and draws a prompt trade to a nice new home (more on that later).

3. Daric Barton

There is not a more polarizing player in Oakland's organization than Barton. The spectrum of opinions on him goes from "worst player in the Majors" to "latent Messiah." You might love his defense and keen batting eye, or you may hate his lack of power and overly passive hitting approach, especially with runners in scoring position. I have always been a big supporter of his, but even I have begun to lose patience with him. Compounding matters has been the emergence of Kila Ka'aihue, who has shown a solid bat while being adequate in the field.

Kila is far from a sure thing, but the early returns have been encouraging. Of course, in true Oakland fashion, he got hurt just as he seemed to really be breaking out at the plate, going 4-for-8 with a homer, 3 doubles, and a walk, before pulling a leg muscle and missing three games. With Kila back in the lineup and producing once again (a double on Tuesday, and the game-winning RBI hit yesterday), first base has become crowded again. Kila has been DH'ing so far, but by the time that these roster moves are necessary he should likely be ready to play the field again. With Kila being the preferred option at 1st, and Adam Rosales available as a legitimate backup, the struggling Barton may be the odd man out. He could benefit from time in AAA to get his swing ironed out, but it's getting increasingly hard to see Barton in Oakland's long-term plans.

4. Ummm...

We know one thing for sure: Manny Ramirez is going to be in Oakland's lineup on May 30. This is straight from the horse's mouth Athletics' Twitter account:

Barring any rainouts, Ramirez is scheduled to play his first game with the #Athletics May 30 in Minnesota.

Whereas the previous three moves were pretty straightforward, this one will require some creativity. I see three possibilities, which I will present in order of my personal preference:

4a. Trade Coco Crisp

Coco Crisp is a solid and exciting player, but he is a terrible fit on this current A's team. If you are interested in my reasoning, you can read my thoughts about it here. His signing made sense at the time, but his value is wasted with Yoenis Cespedes stationed in center. He's too expensive to release, too tenured to demote, and too disgruntled to bench. The best option for everyone would be to deal him. The problem is, he's been unable to showcase his abilities to other teams, as he's off to a poor start at the plate, miscast in left field, and now out of practice after a couple weeks on the DL. He will likely get a handful of starts in center if he comes off the DL before Cespedes, though; if he produces, perhaps a desperate, outfield-weak contender like the Nationals, Red Sox, Reds, or Indians might take a flyer on him. Each of those teams could use an upgrade in center field, if Oakland would be willing to pick up most of Coco's contract.

4b. Demote Eric Sogard

Brandon Inge is set to return before Manny, which means that the team will have two utility infielders at the time of this decision: Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales. Rosales is more versatile than Sogard, and is probably a better hitter. Rosales can also play first base and the outfield in a pinch, which gives him the nod over Sogard on a team which would now have three players on the roster who are best suited as DH's (Manny, Smith, and Gomes, although the latter two can play adequate defense in left field). Sogard has certainly contributed in the utility role, and I love his defense and plate discipline, but he could be the odd man out if Coco doesn't get moved.

4c. Cut/Trade Jonny Gomes

I would not be very happy about this option. I wasn't a huge fan of the Gomes signing, but he has made a believer out of me this year. He has massive flaws in his swing, but he's powerful enough to punish mistakes and patient enough to draw some walks. His defense is an adventure, but more of a fun Byrnesian adventure than "An Evening With Jack Cust." He takes bad routes on fly balls, but usually gets the job done. He's also a local boy, hailing from nearby Petaluma. The thing is, though, that he is on a 1-year contract, making him nothing but a short-term option. Seth Smith is a better all-around hitter and fielder, and is under team control for two more seasons after this one. I basically see it like this: There are two players on one-year contracts who probably won't be here next year, no matter what. They are Jonny Gomes and Manny Ramirez. They play the same position (DH), and they hit from the same side of the plate. All things equal, which one would you rather have in your lineup? Of course you would rather have Manny, even at age 40 and with all of the baggage and everything else. In this scenario, Gomes is simply the victim of being the player who is most similar to the guy joining the team, while simultaneously carrying the shortest, cheapest contract. If it came to this, then I would have to think that there is a team out there who would jump at the chance to add Gomes to their bench for under $1M in salary commitment and a low-level prospect.

Those moves would leave Oakland with a roster containing two catchers (Suzuki and Recker), 5-6 infielders (Kila, Weeks, Pennington, Inge, Rosales, and maybe Sogard), 4-5 outfielders (Reddick, Cespedes, Smith, maybe Gomes and/or Coco), and a Hall of Fame DH (Manny). More importantly, it would give Oakland a legitimate lineup containing nine players who absolutely deserve be starting in the Major Leagues. Dare I say, it would give Oakland its best lineup since 2006, when Frank Thomas, Nick Swisher, and Milton Bradley led the team to the ALCS.

Forget the AAA's. It's time to make way for the Oakland Amazing's.