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3 Oakland A’s positional battles headed into Spring Training

None of them involve Khris Davis.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Like always, the A’s roster is full around the edges. There are numerous guys battling for the final spots on the 25 man roster. The battles:

Brandon Moss vs. Matt Joyce in the outfield

Brandon Moss will always hold a special spot in our hearts. It’d be great to see him go out in spring and force his way on the roster but friendly reminder: never fall in love (again) in spring. It’s a small sample against questionable competition that often yields misleading results.

Short of an injury, it doesn’t appear Moss has a spot on this roster. The starting corner spots are held down by Stephen Piscotty and Matt Joyce. Yet those in the know insist Moss can make the team and it’s true: due to salary and nostalgia, the A’s will give an old fan favorite every chance to make it.

Since Moss was just traded, we can infer nearly his exact trade value. It’s....low. Short of the A’s eating his salary or trading him alongside a more valuable piece (a la the Buchter trade) it’s unlikely he’ll find his next home via trade. If he can’t stick, and his odds are long a the moment, a DFA is sadly the more likely option.

Part of what makes Brandon Moss so unlikely to stick is the guy ahead of him, Matt Joyce. Joyce is a fine player, roughly league average at a bargain salary. He hits well and fields competently making him a free agent win - a solid plug in an open hole.

Since the Moss acquisition, there has been chatter of the A’s trying to flip Joyce and give Moss his spot. That seems unlikely. There’s not a huge market for corner outfielders right now, in addition to their being a reasonable amount of talent still available on the free agent marketplace. Teams aren’t likely to give up a lot for a year of Joyce even though he’s still a good player. So while it might seem like an A’s thing to do to bring in a bargain and trade the guy ahead of him, it’s unlikely in this instance.

There aren’t a lot of recent examples of what Joyce might be worth, namely cause Matt Joyce

s just aren’t traded that frequently. Nothing against him, just a reflection of the current supply. An example of that is the J.D. Martinez trade at the 2017 deadline. Martinez is a very different player than Joyce, but he does play the same position. In spite of being the third best hitter in the game and a well above average overall player in spite of his defensive shortcomings, Martinez was traded for an underwhelming haul.

Again, it’s far from a perfect comparison but it does illustrate the point that Joyce isn’t a guy the A’s should be clamoring to trade. He’ll provide more value on the team than he’d return in a trade, and pushing him out for Moss just doesn’t make sense.

Renato Nunez vs. Boog Powell vs. Canha vs. Smolinski for the final bench spot

It appears the A’s are going with a three man bench. That’ll consist of Josh Phegley as the backup catcher, Chad Pinder as a super utility man, and one of Renato Nunez, Boog Powell, Mark Canha, or Jake Smolinski.

Renato Nunez seems to be have an early lead for that coveted final spot. The most important part of Nunez’s resume is that he’s out of options. He has to stick on the big league club else he’ll be exposed to waivers, and a team with lower ambitions could easily stash Nunez on their big league roster and give his powerful bat time to perform.

Nunez provides the A’s a tough question. Of course they don’t want to lose a hitter with obvious power, a guy who should be able to at least platoon successfully. But shoehorning Nunez onto the roster isn’t an easy proposition either. His defensive flexibility is limited, putting more pressure on starters to play every day and putting more on Chad Pinder’s already full plate if the A’s do choose Nunez.

There’s also the matter of Nunez needing time to settle in at the big league level. It’s unclear just how valuable he’ll be in a platoon role with no big league experience, and it may be in the A’s best interest to move him rather than take that risk. Nunez may win out, but unlike the Moss/Joyce battle, this one isn’t for good. Should Nunez start the year in the bigs and not perform, the A’s could call up a Powell with a chance of losing Nunez.

If the A’s go with Boog Powell, Pinder won’t have the responsibility of backing up center. Powell can be a late game defensive sub for Joyce or Davis, allowing Bob Melvin to use Pinder more strategically. Powell was solid in 2017 and has the skills to be a great late inning option in center.

Jake Smolinski and Mark Canha exist too. Each provide varying degrees of compatibility on the roster, both having the advantage of being right handed. Like Powell, both can be optioned and all three will likely get significant time in 2018.

Santiago Casilla vs. Raul Alcantara vs. Ryan Dull vs. Liam Hendriks to round out the pen

The A’s bullpen is loaded with bodies.

Let’s presume the A’s go with an eight man (blargh) bullpen. Blake Treinen, Yusmeiro Petit, Emilio Pagan, Ryan Buchter, Chris Hatcher, and Daniel Coulombe have spots locked down. Probably. Things get weird with relievers.

That puts Casilla, Alcantara, Dull, and Hendriks in a four person battle for two final righty spots. Hendriks will likely fit in, but since he’s underperformed for a few years while still holding some trade value, he’s a dark horse to be moved. The team seems to believe in Chris Hatcher in an already righty full pen.

The A’s will have to decide how highly they value Alcantara’s long man abilities. Between Pagan and Petit, they should have that covered but the starting staff is shaky enough where there will likely always be innings to be eaten. Casilla’s leash is likely short and Dull will have to prove himself after a tough 2017. Each pitcher has varying qualities, and picking the Opening Day roster is no easy task.

The caveat of predicting the bullpen is health, and it’s unlikely the A’s move anyone in the current dead period. Better to wait out spring, see whose arm survives its spring awakening, and make a move from there. But should everyone come out healthy, there’s a lot of configuring to do.

Things would change if the A’s went with a 7 man pen too, effectively ruining this whole article. Or if they option Dull. It’s complicated.


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