The Oakland A's are returning a majority of the players that helped them win the 2013 American League West division championship. Nonetheless, the A's still enter spring training with plenty of questions as to how their Opening Day roster will be constructed.
Several members of the A's 40-man roster come into camp without any option years remaining. Players that are out of options have to remain on a team's 25-man roster during the regular season, or they must be exposed to waivers. It isn't unusual for a player to clear waivers and remain with their organization as a non-roster minor league player, but there is always a risk that a team will lose a player to a waiver claim. Last year, the A's were able to retain Daric Barton after he cleared waivers, but reliever Travis Blackley was claimed by the Houston Astros (the A's eventually worked out a trade with Houston for Blackley).
The A's will have 54 players attending their big league camp. For the article below, we consider only those players on the A's 40-man roster that aren't 100% locks to make the Opening Day roster (players signed to expensive contracts such as Scott Kazmir or stars such as Josh Donaldson were not considered). We look at which of these "bubble" players have options remaining and which ones don't and then speculate as to the impact their option situation will have on their chances of making the Opening Day roster.
Scribner has gone back and forth between Oakland and Sacramento each of the past two seasons.
The A's will carry either 11 or 12 pitchers, depending on whether they think they need a seventh reliever coming out of spring training. The bullpen already has several players guaranteed a spot (if healthy) on the Opening Day roster – closer Jim Johnson and set-up men Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Luke Gregerson. That leaves two or three spots available for other relievers. Eric O'Flaherty is another lock to be on the roster once he is healthy, although his return date from Tommy John surgery is unknown at this point. Fernando Rodriguez is also set to return from Tommy John surgery during the season. They are both out-of-options, although given their rehabs, the A's will have some flexibility in terms of when they decide to bring both pitchers back, as both can spend up to 30 days rehabbing in the minor leagues.
The A's are likely to want to carry at least one more left-handed reliever in their bullpen besides Doolittle. That gives Fernando Abad an advantage coming into spring training, as he is a left-hander with a decent amount of big league experience and no options remaining. Fellow left-hander Drew Pomeranz does have options remaining. The A's may consider Pomeranz for a relief role, although he has been a starter for most of his career and Oakland is likely to give him some time as a starter this year.
The A's will have a difficult decision to make between carrying right-handers Evan Scribner, Dan Otero and/or Jesse Chavez on their Opening Day roster. All three have been valuable members of the A's bullpen at different points over the past two seasons, and only Otero has options remaining. Both Scribner and Chavez are strong candidates to be claimed if exposed to waivers.
The A's starting rotation will feature some spring competition, as well. Only Scott Kazmir has a guaranteed spot in the rotation. A.J. Griffin, Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker and Dan Straily all have the lead in starting the season in the A's rotation, but all four have options remaining, so if any of them are struggling badly during spring training, the A's can send them back to Sacramento for fine-tuning. Tommy Milone, Pomeranz and Josh Lindblom also have options remaining, although all three will receive consideration for rotation spots, especially if Griffin, Gray, Parker or Straily struggle this spring.
Out of Options
Will Norris be the A's everyday catcher in 2014 after platooning each of the past two seasons?
The A's are currently carrying four catchers on their 40-man roster, which is one more than they normally carry. That high number is likely due to the uncertain status of 2013 starting catcher John Jaso, who is returning from a concussion that cost him most of the second-half of last season. Jaso is reportedly on-track to play at the start of this season, but whether his playing time comes behind the plate or as a DH or first baseman remains to be seen.
Derek Norris is the most likely candidate to take on the bulk of the A's catching duties in 2014, although Stephen Vogt saw the majority of the time against right-handed pitchers when Jaso was injured last year. Both Vogt and Norris have options remaining, but both are the favorites to land on the Opening Day roster if Jaso isn't going to be a catcher any longer. If he is, the A's may carry only one additional catcher besides Jaso.
Chris Gimenez was claimed off of waivers by the A's this off-season and he is out-of-options. Gimenez doesn't have the familiarity with the A's pitching staff that Norris and Vogt do, but he does bring defensive versatility, having seen time in the corner infield and outfield spots during his career. If Jaso isn't in the catching picture, the A's will likely carry Norris and either Vogt or Gimenez on Opening Day.
Out of Options
Despite a strong rookie season, Freiman could be the odd man out.
The Jaso situation will likely impact the A's infield situation, as well. If Jaso is able to play some first base, he will likely end any shot of Daric Barton making the A's roster (unless there is another injury). The A's have several locks to make the roster in their infield: 3B Josh Donalson, SS Jed Lowrie, 1B/DH Brandon Moss, UT Nick Punto and UT Alberto Callaspo. Eric Sogard was the A's regular second baseman for much of last year, and he is likely to make the team, as well, although his remaining option makes him a little vulnerable.
Depending on how things break down, that list of locks plus Sogard may represent the A's Opening Day infield. Oakland will reportedly try Callaspo at first base, and if the switch-hitter shows he can handle the position, he will likely take Freiman's right-handed first-baseman role from last year. That leaves little room for Barton, even if Jaso is a catcher, unless someone is injured.
Out of Options
It could be now-or-never for Taylor with the A's.
The A's have four outfielders that are locks to make the Opening Day roster: CF Coco Crisp, LF Yoenis Cespedes, RF Josh Reddick and CF Craig Gentry. Given Brandon Moss' ability to play the corner outfield spots, the A's may decide to carry just those four true outfielders. However, if the A's do decide to carry a fifth outfielder, Michael Taylor will have the advantage over Shane Peterson because Taylor is out-of-options. Given Taylor's Triple-A track record, he is likely to be claimed by another team if exposed to waivers.
One advantage Peterson does carry over Taylor is that Peterson is a left-handed hitter, while Taylor is a right-handed hitter, which is the same side that fourth outfielder Gentry hits from. Given A's manager Bob Melvin's love of using platoons, he may not want to carry two back-up outfielders that both hit right-handed. Peterson also carries the advantage of being able to play first base, although the A's roster could be filled with players that can handle first base if Jaso and Callaspo show they can handle the position this spring.