Every major league team is forced to make roster moves due to performance or injury issues. Those moves, in turn, affect that team’s Triple-A affiliate. The Nashville Sounds – the Triple-A affiliate for the Oakland A's – are no different.
But in another sense they are different.
“With the A's...we don't have guys up there with 3-4 year deals,” Sounds Manager Steve Scarsone said on Sunday. “Most of the players up there have less than four or five years experience up there and are not eligible for big contracts. If they are eligible – [Josh] Donaldson, for example – he was working his way towards that, and they unloaded him.
“So, with that said, if they are not doing the job up there, they have options. Like with Ryan Cook[(who was demoted and later recalled]. They're not afraid to make that move, and if someone is doing well like we've seen with [Chris] Bassitt...they say, 'Let's get 'em up here.'”
Scarsone said that having so many players on a big league roster with minor league options allows the big league club to be able to address more short-term needs.
“As opposed to seeing how it goes for a couple of weeks and see if [a player] still struggles, [A's General Manger] Billy Beane will say after a couple of games, 'That's too bad, let's see what else we got,'” Scarsone said.
It may sound harsh, but Scarsone said that organizational philosophy is actually attractive to players, especially minor league free agents looking for a new home during the off-season.
“That's why guys like to come to the A's to play at the Triple-A level,” Scarsone said. “They know that there's an opportunity that if they are doing their job, they'll get a chance [to get to the majors] as opposed to other clubs where that starting nine is going to be up there every day no matter how they play.”
However, it presents challenges to the Triple-A coaching staff, led by Scarsone. With the A’s struggling as a team, Oakland has reached into its minor league system liberally to fill its roster. Since the start of the season, the Sounds have had 38 transactions, many of those being players going up to the big leagues or coming back down to Triple-A. The A’s bullpen, in particular, has struggled and that has led to a number of different pitchers moving back and forth between Oakland and Nashville.
“The big club's bullpen has not done that well, so we've become a shuttle service,” Scarsone said. “They go and come back and go and come back.”
As a result, Scarsone said, it can be difficult for the Sounds’ coaching staff to plan a series.
“We really don't [do a lot of planning],” he said. “I do everything in pencil when it comes to any kind of planning. I'd love to be able to set a whole series up and know what to do and hold a relief pitcher and say, 'I've got him for this day and this day.’”
Often the best laid plans are scuttled when the big league team calls.
“We get a call right before [a] game not to use Cook or [R.J.] Alvarez,” Scarsone said. “But, prior to the game, that was our plan – Alvarez and Cook would finish the game...but we got a call saying, 'Don't use either of them because one of them will probably come up [to Oakland].'
“So now my end of the game guys are unavailable, and I've got to make do with what is available, so sometimes we get our hands tied a little bit here, but the thing we have to remind ourselves of is the purpose of us here is to get the guys ready to go up and make sure we have what they need. Sometimes we kind of wear it, but that's our job.”
All the roster shuffling may lead one to believe team chemistry could suffer, but Scarsone said that is not the case.
“What's great about this level is these guys have been around the block – they kind of shield themselves from all that,” he said. “I'm sure they go through the mental thing of 'Is it going to be my turn next?' But they are also very realistic in that they understand they need to go out and do their jobs and put up numbers and give themselves an opportunity.”
Scarsone, meanwhile, will continue to use a pencil rather than a pen.