The Oakland Athletics shook up their roster yet again on Saturday, but this time an All-Star was arriving instead of departing. We'll have more analysis in the next couple of days, but let's get started by seeing what the 25-man roster and the starting lineup(s) might look like after this most recent transaction.
There were no pitchers involved in the deal, so nothing about the staff changes at all. Let's leave that part of the roster aside and just assume that it will include 12 hurlers (five starters, seven relievers). That leaves space for 13 position players.
The departure of John Jaso clears up a bit of a logjam behind the plate. Vogt is a solid defender who displayed an above-average bat last year, and Phegley has power and is reportedly a plus defender as well. Vogt is a left-handed hitter who is best against right-handed pitchers, and Phegley is a right-handed hitter who doesn't seem to have much of a platoon split.
Jaso has a better bat than both of them, but his defensive skills are abysmal and he's a major injury risk due to his recent concussions. Nevertheless, if he could have platooned with Vogt then there would have been no problem; Phegley could have opened in Triple-A as the next available backup. Unfortunately, both Jaso and Vogt hit left-handed and struggle against lefties, so Phegley was going to be necessary no matter what. With Jaso gone, Vogt can settle into a more regular role as the primary catcher instead of hopping all over the diamond to get his at-bats.
Out are Eric Sogard and Andy Parrino. Sogard is likely to start the year in Triple-A, and Parrino was already designated for assignment; he'll either be claimed by another team on waivers or return to Triple-A for the A's. In are Zobrist and Escobar, and with their additions everything changes.
Davis and Butler still figure to platoon at first, with Butler serving as the DH against righties. Lawrie remains the everyday third baseman. But now there are three quality middle infielders instead of three guys struggling to stay above replacement level. Escobar could start every day at shortstop, or Semien could get time there too. Zobrist and Semien can split second base, and they're both capable of playing all over the place and can therefore fill in whatever holes are needed on a daily basis. Zobrist could also see substantial time in the outfield, depending on where the team needs him most. At this point, it's almost certain that the infield is better than it was last year, even without Josh Donaldson.
The key here is that there is now space for everyone. Fuld is out of options and Canha is a Rule 5 pick who must stay in the Majors all year to remain in the organization. However, as we found on New Years Eve, the roster as it was had 14 players for 13 spots and either Fuld, Canha, Sogard, or Parrino was going to get squeezed out. Without the need for a third catcher, though, all the pieces fall into place.
If you're of the opinion that the A's should still acquire a powerful left fielder, then that acquisition would have to replace Fuld or Canha, but you were probably already planning on that. However, Zobrist could end up playing a lot of left field if Semien forces his way into a big role at second, and/or Canha himself could turn into that extra slugger, so there may not even be a need to bring in another hitter. Reddick likely starts every day in right, and Coco and Gentry can platoon in center, with Coco a candidate to DH when Butler is playing first against lefties. Fuld can back up wherever needed.
As with recent A's teams, there will be two different lineups, one to face right-handed starters and one to face lefties. Here is one idea for how these lineups might look, with an emphasis on finding a regular role for everyone. Don't read too much into these specific arrangements, as they're meant to be merely one possible example:
C Stephen Vogt
1B Ike Davis
2B Ben Zobrist
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Brett Lawrie
LF Sam Fuld
CF Coco Crisp
RF Josh Reddick
DH Billy Butler
C Josh Phegley
1B Billy Butler
2B Marcus Semien
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Brett Lawrie
LF Ben Zobrist
CF Craig Gentry
RF Josh Reddick
DH Mark Canha
Again, this is just one possible organization of Oakland's players, and I think it's more likely that Bob Melvin will shuffle people around quite a bit until he finds everyone's best fits. For example, Semien is likely to start more games than Fuld, and perhaps he'll play some left field or spell Escobar at short sometimes. If Canha and Butler are both in the lineup then I can't imagine that Butler would play defense, but that's only because I've never seen what Canha can (or can't) do with a glove.
The point of these sample lineups is to generally show what the roster will look like in action. Both lineups contain double-digit homer power from top to bottom, with the option of sacrificing a bit of power at one outfield spot for speed and high-level defense. If one of the middle infielders gets hurt, the other two can still start every day. If Lawrie gets hurt, Semien can fill in at third without leaving shortstop empty. There are three center fielders, so if Coco and/or Gentry miss time again then there isn't a hole up the middle. Almost every player carries substantial risk, but most also possess healthy upside and the hope is that the success stories will more than account for the guys who get hurt or under-perform.
The 2014 A's had a lot of power and versatility, but they lacked depth at multiple spots and their weaknesses were heavily exposed in the end. This new roster has nearly as much power, but it's spread around the lineup evenly. It has even more defensive versatility. And most importantly, it has quality depth absolutely everywhere. There isn't much at the catcher position after the current platoon pair, but perhaps their longevity will be aided by not spending a bunch of extra time at other positions.
The A's roster is finally coming together, and at this point it's safe to start wondering if it might even be better than it was at the end of the season before they traded away most of their All-Stars.