Inside Pitch: Line-up Shuffle

After years of line-ups dominated by slow-footed sluggers, the 2005 A's will feature a starting nine with a bit more speed and a lot more athleticism. With a larger variety of hitters at his disposal, how will Manager Ken Macha cobble together his batting line-up in 2005?

With so many new faces, A's manager Ken Macha will have no shortage of options when creating his lineup in 2005.

One problem area that won't change, however, is the lack of a right-handed power bat in the middle of the lineup.

The A's will be stacked with lefties in the middle of the order: third baseman Eric Chavez, designated hitter Erubiel Durazo and first baseman Scott Hatteberg.

Macha will need to find a way to break up that trio so that opposing managers won't be able to bring in a lefty reliever specialist and shut down Oakland's top sluggers late in the game.

This is where the A's could use shortstop Bobby Crosby making a transition from the 7-8 spots in the order to the 5-6 spots.

This is also where Eric Byrnes or Charles Thomas, whoever ends up playing left field the most, will slide into an RBI spot.

Or it could be where Keith Ginter, a sleeper acquisition, could make a bigger impact on the roster -- if he wins the second base job from Mark Ellis. Ginter hit mostly fifth and sixth last year for the Milwaukee Brewers.

One option for Macha would be moving Chavez from third to fourth in the batting order since he has more table-setters this year to get on base in front of his primary slugger.

New catcher Jason Kendall has hit first or second. Last year's leadoff hitter, Mark Kotsay, returns as well.

Macha has hinted that switch-hitting outfielder Nick Swisher, with his .406 on-base percentage last year at Sacramento and .352 in Oakland, would be an ideal top-of-the-order hitter.

Here is one lineup option: Kotsay, Swisher, Kendall, Chavez, Durazo, Ginter, Hatteberg, Crosby, Byrnes/Thomas.

Here is another: Kotsay, Kendall, Chavez, Durazo, Crosby, Hatteberg, Swisher, Ginter/Ellis, Byrnes/Thomas.

What will likely end up occurring is a flexible lineup, based on whoever has the hot hand. The last few years, the A's were more locked into lineup spots based on a player's reputation and track record.

Putting either Byrnes or Thomas in the ninth spot would create a lot more speed for the A's. In fact, they figure to be quicker, or the same speed, at every position than they were last year.

The A's are notorious for never wanting to give up outs on the bases, whether it's getting caught stealing or bunting. But the days of slow and lumbering Jason Giambi, John Jaha, Matt Stairs and Ben Grieve are over.

In 2005, the A's will have the personnel to run more, hit-and-run more, and take an extra base more.

It's one of the intriguing storylines for the A's offense and the organization's constantly evolving philosophy.

The A's will be hard pressed to replicate their power output of last year, but they could end up scoring more runs as the go-go A's.

NOTEBOOK

--With Octavio Dotel and Bobby Kielty coming to terms, the A's have only two players who have yet to come to terms: Eric Byrnes and Juan Cruz. Both are expected to come to terms before arbitration hearings would necessary.

--Lewis Wolff, who was hired to help the A's find a new ballpark, has 90 days to buy out 100% of the ownership shares. A decision should be reached by the start of spring training.

--Outfielder Eric Byrnes' name has popped up in a number of hot trade rumors over the past few weeks, but two of those rumors seemed to die on Tuesday. The East Valley Tribune reported that the Diamondbacks and A's had ended discussions involving Byrnes over the weekend. In addition, the New York Mets announced on Tuesday that they were no longer interested in trading Mike Cameron, who was rumored to be a trade partner for Byrnes. Odds are better than 50-50 that Byrnes will still be with Oakland Opening Day.

BY THE NUMBERS: .406 -- OF Nick Swisher's on-base percentage with Triple-A Sacramento last season.

.352 -- Swisher's on-base percentage with the A's. That's why he's a candidate to hit at the top of the lineup.


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