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Reading Between The Lines: Oakland's April 4th Roster

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Don't count Sam Fuld out just yet.
Don't count Sam Fuld out just yet.
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

If you want to know a player's chance of making the Opening Day roster, the first thing you need to do is to ignore the general positive statements that are best summarized, "He's one of our employees. We're not going to publicly say something bad about him." As well it should be.

However, teams find creative ways to balance professional courtesy with transparency, knowing that fans' interest in the team relates partly to their ability to gain snippets of actual insight from their beat reporters and other media.

Remember that the Opening Day roster does not actually have the importance fans usually ascribe to it. You can make the Opening Day roster and accumulate all of 25 at bats all season or you can come up in June and wind up being one of the team's most key contributors. Kila Ka'aihue and Luke Hughes can tell you about this just as well as can Brandon Moss and Derek Norris.

Still, it's intriguing to try to figure out how the A's will settle on a "first 25" should injuries or trades not force changes between now and April 4th. It is an especially interesting question in light of how many players the A's have recently added (Khris Davis, Chris Couglan, and probably some other players who are not named K/Chris), and also how many veterans are out of options and plush with warts. That would be Billy Butler, Coco Crisp, and Sam Fuld.

Oakland will presumably begin the season with 12 pitchers and 13 position players. Here is a list of position players clearly vying for a roster spot, separated by listing first those whose spots are virtually guaranteed:

  1. Vogt
  2. Phegley
  3. Alonso
  4. Lowrie
  5. Semien
  6. Valencia
  7. Coghlin
  8. K. Davis
  9. Burns
  10. Reddick

  1. Butler
  2. Crisp
  3. Fuld
  4. Canha
  5. Sogard

So let's read between the lines a bit. Asked about Eric Sogard, A's GM David Forst would only note that "a lot can happen between now and April". This is true. Guam could invade Zimbabwe (unlikely), politicians could continue to argue with one another (likely), and literally thousands of other possibilities exist. In regards to Sogard, I would interpret that statement as suggesting that only trades, injuries, or perhaps Sam Fuld invading Chris Coghlan, will push Sogard into the "top 13". The addition of Coghlan, who can backup 2B, probably seals Sogard's fate of beginning the season as "the face of AAA".

What about Sam Fuld? As Jeremy tells AN that Bob Melvin told Susan Slusser, the A's think highly of Fuld due his being, in Melvin's words, a "plus-plus defender at all 3 outfield spots". In contrast to Forst's "anything can happen," this sounds more like an endorsement of Fuld's place on the depth chart as still 13th, not on the outside looking in.

What Fuld's presence on the roster would mean, it appears, is that one of the following three is on the outside looking in: Butler, Crisp, Canha.

I am, as readers know, quite bullish on Canha as a breakout candidate for 2016. However, there is certainly something quite reassuring about having someone at AAA who is good enough, and then some, to have made the team. When the first injury hits, you not only won't lose a step you might actually gain one. If how this plays out is that Canha gives the A's a shot in the arm for the season's final 4-5 months, and in the process Oakland gains a year of service time, it is hardly a disaster. It's not necessarily what I want, think should happen, or expect -- but it has to be in the realm of possibilities. What do the sound bytes suggest? Canha will "get his at bats if he's performing," but that does not say when. That could be beginning in mid-May or it could be starting on Opening Night.

Another potential outcome is that Crisp's neck doesn't even make it through the rigors of the Cactus League and he is on the DL when rosters are set. This is not far from a scenario where Coco is released or retires based on his body telling him definitely that there is nothing left. Unlikely -- more likely Crisp will be healthy on Opening Day and not much longer -- but if in spring training the A's don't see signs of someone who can contribute as a LH hitter or as an outfielder, their hand may be forced. Speaking of "forced," Forst acknowledged as much at FanFest when he noted that all he could say was that "Coco is healthy right now".

And then there's Butler, subject of much consternation among fans based on a disappointing 2014 season that was followed by an even more disappointing 2015 in the green and gold. Ironically, despite all the young talent in camp it may well be Butler who is auditioning in spring training, whose swing, conditioning, and everything in between, is under true scrutiny -- by the A's, and perhaps also by a team that might suddenly find themselves in need of a DH prior to April 4th. All the A's have said is that they expect Butler to bounce back, which falls in the category of saying nice things about the players who are currently here. They have also been looking at moving him, which may tell you more. And they haven't been able to, which may tell you the most.

To me, subtracting Butler just allows everything to fall into place, with DH at bats suddenly available for two players, Canha and Crisp, whose contributions are felt more at the plate than in the field. However, I would not predict the A's will simply release Butler so he is not necessarily the most likely subtraction in the next 5 weeks.

The poll is straightforward: Who do you actually predict will be the odd man out from the group of poll candidates? Following the trail of quotes, I lean towards thinking Fuld's spot is still safe at the moment, Canha's probably safe but a wild card, and that by April 4th, one of Crisp or Butler will have stepped aside, be it temporarily or permanently. But that is far from certain, and your guess is as good -- and may be better -- than mine.