At this point last year, the A's were bringing back most of the roster that had won the AL West in 2014. Of course, two Tommy John victims threw a bit of a twist into the rotation selection, but for the most part the A's were figuring out the 25th man on the roster.
One of the silver linings of trading away most of your core is that you set yourself up for an interesting spring.
The rotation is the most intriguing aspect of the team. The A's really only have two fifths of their rotation set (Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir) and the other three spots are up for grabs. Today, news broke that Sean Nolin's recovery from sports hernia surgery is moving slowly, putting him at a disadvantage for a rotation spot to start the season.
That means Jesse Hahn, Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Chavez, Kendall Graveman (a reliever with Toronto last year but a minor league starter), Chris Bassitt (perhaps destined to relieve, but then again he completely shut down the A's last year) and yes, even the resurrected Barry Zito, have a chance to crack the starting five. Simply based on recent major league success, Hahn, Pomeranz and Chavez have the inside track, but the A's have been hesitant to commit publicly to anyone and many of these guys have spent significant time coming out of the 'pen as well.
Lineup and Bench
The lineup looks a little more set, but there are still plenty of question marks. Perhaps there aren't many roster spots in play but roles and plate appearances can fluctuate significantly given the A's versatility.
The catcher position looks like it probably will be manned by Stephen Vogt and Josh Phegley. However, Phegley has a very limited major league track record, and Vogt is coming off of an injury. Obviously the A's expect a full recovery and a straight platoon here, but it's possible that Phegley can earn more playing time, as Vogt's capability to play outfield would allow both to be in the same lineup. In addition, if the unproven Phegley isn't up to snuff, there's room for the A's to bring in another catcher. It'll be interesting how this turns out. I'm taking nothing for granted here. One injury to Vogt and the catchers are Phegley and Bryan Anderson.
Obviously Hector Olivera is a big domino yet to fall, but even if the A's don't acquire the Cuban second baseman, there's still plenty of movement that could happen in the infield. Marcus Semien, Ike Davis, and Brett Lawrie are generally unknown quantities. Eric Sogard looks like a man without a position. I feel that there is a lot of talent but it's pretty thin. And Ike Davis' performance, if he struggles, could lead to more Country Breakfast at first base. Rule 5 pick Mark Canha also plays first, and he will get a chance to show his stuff. I don't think there's very much pre-ordained.
Everyone is hoping Semien will step up as the everyday SS, Zobrist will man 2B, Lawrie will be at 3B, and Davis/Butler can handle 1B but a lot can change.
If Olivera comes in, then we're talking about a super mixing and matching capability. Zobrist, Semien, Canha and Lawrie can each handle multiple positions. There's room to get creative.
Conventional wisdom says that the A's are not considering changing Coco Crisp's role. He's the every day centerfielder and leadoff hitter. But since when have the A's listened to conventional wisdom? It's clear that Coco in LF, Gentry in CF, and Reddick in RF is superior defensively. That being said, Gentry is about 99% likely to be platooned, and the short end of the platoon is the severely offensively-challenged Sam Fuld. Canha is basically the only other guy on the entire 40-man roster that can play LF (yes I know Billy Burns is still around), and if his bat shows it can play then I could see him earning a lot of starts. If Burns actually made the cut then there's really no point in having Sam Fuld around at all.
Coco and Reddick are starting every day. Beyond that I feel that it's up for grabs.
If you're like me, the bullpen is pretty much the least exciting part of the team to think about. You just want them to get the job done, and you're more or less livid when they don't. That being said, there are a lot of new faces, and with Sean Doolittle's injury expected to keep him out to start the season, we got ourselves a closer battle.
In addition, the out-of-options losers in the rotation battle will be angling for bullpen spots, creating quite the roster crunch. Hard-throwing RJ Alvarez looks like a favorite to make the team, but overall there could be a couple of spots up for grabs, or no spots depending on how the rotation shakes out. The bullpen was supposedly a strength last year, but we know how that turned out. It'll be nice to see some fresh faces in there and hopefully more consistent production.
Overall, there's a lot in flux for this team, so starting next week I expect a lively and active spring training for the A's with potentially a number of acquisitions still in the works.