February 2011

Day 4: Who’s your utility guy?

rosales.jpgIt’s not fun being Adam Rosales these days. The normally energetic infielder has been hopping around on crutches off and on for much of the last five months. He was able to rid himself of the crutches when he visited the doctor on Thursday, but he’s still stuck in a walking boot for at least another two weeks. At what point thereafter he can begin baseball activity is unknown, but the A’s aren’t rushing him. That much was made clear when Bob Geren announced this morning that Rosales is unlikely to return before May 1. That leaves the club without a backup infielder for at least the first month of the season, so they’ll be looking at a variety of candidates to fill that role this spring.

Geren said “everyone” is a candidate, but we all know that doesn’t mean Chris Carter or Landon Powell will be filling in at shortstop or second base come April. The main candidates at this point appear to be familiar faces Eric Sogard and Steve Tolleson, along with newcomer Andy LaRoche and highly regarded Double A prospect Josh Horton. Top prospect Grant Green is sure to demand some attention from fans for the spot as well, but the A’s would like to start him in the Minors again this year so as to allow him time to continue improving defensively.

Geren mentioned Sogard, Tolleson and LaRoche will see the majority of action at shortstop this spring while Cliff Pennington, still recovering from left shoulder surgery, continues to rehab. Even when Pennington is in the mix, as he’s expected to be the second week of games, he won’t play every day so as not to push himself. In temporarily replacing Rosales, it seems the A’s would prefer a player with a good presence at shortstop considering Pennington’s status as a player coming off surgery. If the A’s choose to keep Horton in the Minors, it would seem Tolleson has the upper hand given the fact he’s not only spent more time at shortstop than any other position at Triple-A Sacramento, but he can play other infield positions as well. Sogard, on the other hand, gets rave reviews from Geren and Co. but is primarily a second baseman. And LaRoche, once a bigtime prospect, has seen most of his time come at third base.

Though this battle won’t get much attention as the fifth starter fight, it’s one worth watching, especially in the event Pennington isn’t geared to go come Opening Day. The A’s are fully expecting him to be ready, but there’s no health guarantees with anyone here.
Among those to throw bullpens today were Josh Outman, Tyson Ross and Trevor Cahill. Geren was very impressed with Outman’s showing, and he noted that Ross demonstrated a “real good changeup.” Cahill, meanwhile, “obviously looked good,” he said.

Also around camp, Coco Crisp, Conor Jackson and Adrian Cardenas showed up today. (“Coco, of course, came with zero percent body fat,” Geren said with a smile.) Hideki Matsui was in the area, but he didn’t make it out to the ballpark. His father, Masao Matsui, was present here at Phoenix Muni, though. He met Geren and Kurt Suzuki, who said he didn’t realize it was Hideki’s father until mid-conversation. “He’s a really nice guy,” Suzuki said. There’s a possibility Matsui could be in camp tomorrow, though he could also wait until Sunday when all position players are expected to report.

One final note: Geren said he definitely considers the backup catching job to be open for competition. Landon Powell is seemingly the front runner because of past experience, but keep an eye out for Josh Donaldson, who enjoyed his first taste of the big leagues last season.

Rain is expected tomorrow, but that won’t stop Day 5 of camp to continue as planned… 

Day 3: Geren undecided on OD starter

Well, it took less than five days for an A’s player to get hurt. Rich Harden, battling a stiff lat muscle under his pitching arm that will keep him out a couple of weeks, reminded everyone today that health is still very much a concern for this A’s team. Signing Harden this winter was a risky move by the A’s, especially given the fact they know, possibly more so than any other club, that injury follows his every move. Hopefully this setback isn’t the first of many, and Harden genuinely feels optimistic about his chances of returning in time to stake his claim on a rotation spot. If he’s not healthy, there are several other fifth starter options. But if you take a close look at those candidates — Brandon McCarthy, Josh Outman, Tyson Ross, Bobby Cramer — you’ll realize nearly all have an injury history as well. This is why depth is so important for this team, which is also including right-hander Guillermo Moscoso as a rotation option as well, Bob Geren said today. The A’s quietly acquired Moscoso from the Rangers this winter in exchange for Minor League hurler Ryan Kelly, and Geren noted he looked good in his bullpen yesterday.
It appears the Opening Day starter is just as unclear as the fifth starter. Last year, Geren essentially named Ben Sheets his OD starter on the same day he was introduced at a press conference. This year, though, Geren has four quality options. He said he’s considering Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden all as possibilities for the club’s season-opening contest against the Mariners. He explained that you could make strong cases for all those guys — Cahill was an All-Star, Braden threw a perfect game and has OD experience, and Anderson and Gonzalez are both considered to have the best stuff of the staff. That being said, don’t expect an official announcement for quite some time. Geren wants to watch how each of them progress throughout the spring and if any endure a setback. He doesn’t so much consider who the team is facing because, within a week, rotations are usually altered anyway due to off days, injuries, postponements and the sort. I’d suspect Cahill gets the edge here, but all four are deserving of what’s considered to be an honor in baseball. What’s your take?
When asked about David DeJesus, Geren said he’d like to keep the outfielder in the No. 2 and 3 spots because of his consistent ability to reach base. On days when DeJesus is placed in the third spot, Daric Barton would obviously be penciled into the No. 2 hole. However, if DeJesus batted second, Geren said he’d consider moving Barton down into the middle of the lineup. Either way, Geren still views Coco Crisp as the team’s leadoff hitter, so don’t expect to see DeJesus there unless Crisp is out of the lineup. Like the Opening Day starter situation, Geren said he’s thought of lineup scenarios but really hasn’t drawn out anything concrete. Considering Oakland’s injury-prone ways, it makes sense for Geren to play the wait-and-see game this spring.
On a fun note, several A’s players have entered camp with happy news from home. Bobby Cramer and Josh Donaldson both got engaged within the last two weeks, and Joey Devine and Kurt Suzuki are each anticipating the arrival of a first-born child with their wives this year. I spoke to Cramer for a lengthy time today, and he was telling me that he and his fiance, Kaylynn, have chosen to skip the beach for their honeymoon in favor of a month and a half-long road trip around the U.S. in a motor home. Cramer hasn’t seen much of the country, including New York City, so he’s anxious to visit several places. Pretty cool, right? You can read more about Cramer and his fight for the fifth starter spot here.
Position players officially report in three days. Whether Hideki Matsui arrives before then is unknown, but several Japanese reporters have been eagerly awaiting his arrival. I’ll catch up with you from camp tomorrow…    

Harden shut down with lat strain

The A’s received their first taste of bad news Thursday when manager Bob Geren announced that right-hander Rich Harden, who has tackled multiple injuries over the last few years, has been shut down for at least a couple of weeks because of stiffness in the lat area of his pitching arm.

Harden, who first endured pain during his 40-pitch bullpen session Tuesday, said it’s the same strain he experienced at the beginning of the 2008 season. He rushed the rehab then, which resulted in a rather lengthy healing process. Still, he went on to make 25 starts that year with a 2.07 ERA. That comeback has him feeling optimistic about his chances of returning sooner than later and remaining a candidate for the fifth starter spot. He knows this setback could affect those chances, but admitted “it’s out of my hands.”

“Obviously with the year I had last year, it was
even more exciting coming into this season, working with Ron [Romanick] and feeling good,
feeling how I was that year,” Harden said. “That’s the best I’ve felt.”

The good news is that Harden was essentially ahead of schedule this spring, so he believes he can catch up when healthy. Tuesday marked his fourth bullpen session, and he felt like he was in great shape. The A’s aren’t rushing his return, and he won’t throw again until he’s “pain-free,” according to Geren.

More to come on MLB.com.

Day 2: First official workout for pitchers and catchers

A’s pitchers and catchers engaged in their first official workout under a warm Phoenix sun today. All were in attendance, including a new-look Kurt Suzuki sporting a goatee. I spoke with Brett Anderson about his expectations for the coming year, and you can read his thoughts here. Other news and tidbits from around camp include:

  • New pitching coach Ron Romanick has implemented a change in schedule this spring. Pitchers will now throw once every three days as opposed to every other day for at least the
    first couple of weeks of camp. It will afford the team’s pitchers an extra day off between sessions in an
    effort to avoid much of the wear and tear and, often times, injury that
    comes along with the lengthy season.
  • Along the same lines, a few relievers — Bob Geren named Craig Breslow, Michael Wuertz and Andrew Bailey — who received a hefty workload last year will be brought along at a slower pace. It’s a precautionary move in an effort to keep them fresh. They’ll throw in 8-10 exhibition games as opposed to the usual 10-13 range.
  • For those visiting the area next week, the A’s want you to know that they’ll be at the Papago Park Sports Complex on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before shifting back over to Phoenix Municipal Stadium for intrasquad games Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
  • Among those to throw bullpens today were Dallas Braden and Brandon McCarthy. Geren called them both very sharp, adding that Braden looked to be in midseason form. Pitchers scheduled to throw tomorrow include Anderson, Wuertz, Gio Gonzalez, Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.
  • While holding court with media this morning, Geren posed this question to us reporters: Which A’s starter is most likely to choose to wear the new yellow unis when pitching? Gonzalez, Braden and Cahill were the popular choices, but when Geren took the question to more than 30 players and staff members, he found just one overwhelming response. Nearly 80 percent, he guessed, chose Gonzalez. Not too surprising.
  • Mark Ellis was among the position players who showed up to take some BP today. He joined Daric Barton, Eric Sogard, Steve Tolleson, Michael Choice, Jemile Weeks and others in the cages.

Day 1: Pitchers and catchers report

Greetings from Phoenix, where A’s pitchers and catchers reported to camp today at the club’s Minor League facilities at Papago Park. Much of the roster was on hand, and several took part in group workouts even though the first official workout isn’t scheduled until tomorrow. Notably missing from the bunch was Gio Gonzalez, Kurt Suzuki and Josh Donaldson, but they were all expected to check in at some point during the day. Players aren’t technically required to show up on report day, but they at least have to notify the team that they’ve arrived. Bob Geren said he expects everyone to be present tomorrow at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where pitchers and catchers are slated to work out the remainder of the week. Here’s a hodgepodge of notes that came out of the morning’s visit to Papago Park:

  • Geren said Cliff Pennington is expected to miss the first week of exhibition games because of his surgically-repaired left shoulder. All things considered, that’s relatively good news for the A’s shortstop, who had surgery on his shoulder to repair a labrum tear in early October. Pennington’s already in camp doing rehab work, and he hopes to be at 100 percent by Opening Day.
  • Pennington’s backup, Adam Rosales, is still strapped to crutches and playing the waiting game with his right foot. He’ll see a doctor on Thursday, when he’s hoping to say goodbye to the crutches and simply rely on his walking boot. From there, he’ll work to get out of the boot and begin some legwork. As we learned last year, Rosales is always full of energy, so it’s hard seeing him wandering around the weight room with nothing much to do. He’s still hoping to make a return sometime in the middle of March, but he knows he can’t rush the process. In the meantime, you can expect to see Steve Tolleson and Eric Sogard — both of whom are already working out in camp — get plenty of action in the infield.
  • Ryan Sweeney said his knees are feeling great, and he’s back to undergoing baseball activity at 100 percent. He knows he’s currently thought of as the team’s fourth outfielder, “but that only makes me want to work that much harder.” Sweeney is also aware of the talk surrounding his questionable power potential, and while he said he would of course like to hit more home runs, he’s not going to change his approach too much at the cost of lowering his average.
  • Joey Devine has been in Arizona since January and has already thrown four bullpen sessions using all of his pitches. He said he feels great and is anxious to be part of the bullpen competition. At the same time, he doesn’t think about the team’s other candidates. “I’ve never wanted anything handed to me,” he said. “If healthy, I know I can help any team, so I can’t think too much about open spots or who is competing for them.”
  • The big talk in camp this morning was how much several A’s players trimmed down this winter. Andrew Bailey, Brett Anderson and Landon Powell all lost at least 10 pounds during the offseason and look to be in prime shape. Anderson joked that Dallas Braden — who has always sported a rather thin frame — could take on all of the combined weight lost by everyone else. You can read more about Bailey and the progress of his elbow here.
  • Former A’s player Scott Hatteberg will intermittently be helping out in camp over the next few weeks. He’s been named a Special Assistant to Baseball Operations in the front office, and he took part in all of the morning’s staff meetings.
  • Among the early position player arrivals along with Sweeney, Pennington, Rosales, Sogard and Tolleson are Daric Barton, David DeJesus, Michael Taylor and Matt Carson. The latter two don’t appear in a position to gain a roster spot, but both are glad to be back in camp and ready to prove their worth. Taylor enjoyed a nice offseason in Orlando, while Carson and his wife welcomed their second baby girl in Temecula, Calif. this winter.
  • Braden walked outside the team’s facilities today to find half a dozen Japanese reporters, to whom he exclaimed, “Where’s Matsui?!” Matsui has yet to arrive at camp, but that didn’t stop several media outlets from questioning Geren about him.

I’ll constantly be updating this blog with all your Spring Training news, so make sure to check back here daily for any and all happenings around A’s camp. Make sure to also visit the A’s site for more news and follow me on Twitter for quick and timely updates.    

Answering the Michael Young question

Lots of you have reached out to me about the possibility of the A’s going after Michael Young, even though they’re not on the list of eight teams to which Young has said he’d accept a trade. Young did add that he’d consider other teams on a case-by-case basis, but don’t expect Oakland to get involved in what’s really become an unnecessary mess for a truly classy guy. Despite their unsettling take on Kevin Kouzmanoff at third base, the A’s never inquired on Young, I’ve been hearing, and there’s reason to understand why.

Young is 34 and is due $48 million over the next three years. There’s also a good chunk of deferred money that’s to be paid out with interest over the next few years. Now I know some of you are asking why the A’s can’t fork up that kind of money when they’re willing to offer Adrian Beltre $76 million over six years, but you have to realize they’re very different players. At the beginning of the offseason, Billy Beane made it clear that he wouldn’t bring in offense at the expense of taking away from a superb defense, and Young doesn’t exactly boast the goldest of gloves. In fact, he’s considered to be a below-average defender. His bat’s surely nice to look at, but not for that kind of money AND for the players they’d have to give up in exchange. Plus, the A’s made their offer to Beltre before they handed good money to Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour.

This is not to say the A’s don’t like what Young has to offer, because I’m sure they do. He’s a tremendous player. But at this point, Kouzmanoff is their guy. 2010 represented his first in the league, and he still managed to put up 16 homers and 70-plus RBIs. Those numbers may not be ideal for a third baseman, but they’re expected to escalate not only with that year of AL experience under his belt but also with the opportunity for him to bat in a more suitable sixth or seventh slot behind the likes of DeJesus, Matsui and Willingham.

It’s fun thinking about Young possibly facing the Rangers while wearing an A’s uniform, but it’s likely not going to happen.