A's Notes: Johnson's Future Tied To Sweeney?

Mike Sweeney's arrival as a non-roster invitee creates one of the few roster battles in Oakland A's camp this spring, and it's an interesting one: Sweeney, the five-time All Star coming off several seasons of injuries, vs. Dan Johnson, six years younger and prone to off-the-wall ailments.

It's apparent that both Dan Johnson and Mike Sweeney cannot make the roster, although it's possible that both will still be around on Opening Day in Japan -- the teams playing in Tokyo can carry 28-man rosters and declare three players, probably three starting pitchers, ineligible for the games.

The A's always have liked Johnson, who was the team's seventh-round pick in 2001 out of the University of Nebraska. Johnson rose through the Oakland system relatively quickly, reaching the major leagues 2005 after winning the PCL MVP award in 2004 with Triple-A Sacramento.

Since making the A's major league roster, Johnson's playing time has been erratic at times. He was a regular starter for the A's during his rookie season in 2005, when he had an 806 OPS in 109 games after a mid-season recall to the bigs. He entered the 2006 season as the team's starting first baseman, but he lost his job to Nick Swisher when he struggled out of the gate. He hit only .234 with a 704 OPS in 91 games for Oakland in 2006.

Last season, Johnson began the year on the DL with a torn hip flexor and then had to share time with Swisher at first and Jack Cust and Mike Piazza at DH. He hit only .236 in 117 games, but his power numbers were better and he had 18 homers and a 767 OPS in 416 at-bats. He also walked 72 times against 77 strike-outs, both career-highs.

Sweeney has hadn't great success over the last two years either. Back and knee injuries have limited him to 134 games in 2006 and 2007 combined and he finished those two years with 790 and 719 OPSs, respectively. However, Sweeney brings something that none of Oakland's other first basemen-DH types can provide, a right-handed bat. The A's particularly could use more of a right-handed threat in the middle of the order, where Sweeney's former Royals teammate, Emil Brown, is currently the primary option.

Sweeney has to demonstrate that he's healthy. He said his back has never felt better now that he has begun to practice the Egoscue method of exercise and stretching.

If Sweeney appears that he can still be productive, Johnson is likely to be back on the trading block because rookie Daric Barton has been awarded the full-time first base job and Cust is at DH. The Yankees and Twins have had some interest in Johnson in the past, and the Giants are among the teams who might be in the market for a first baseman.

After 17 years in the Kansas City organization, Sweeney was excited to join a new club, and he emphasized that he'd like to be a mentor of sorts to all the young players along with trying to rejuvenate his career, a la Frank Thomas two seasons ago in Oakland.

Other A's Spring Notes
--RHP Rich Harden threw off of the mound on Monday and had a successful session. He threw 40 pitches, including some breaking balls for the first time. He's on track to pitch the second game of the season in Tokyo. He also made some headlines by saying on reporting day that he doesn't like that fact that people in the organization (Harden wouldn't identify them) have been questioning his ability to pitch with pain. Harden has been out much of the past three years with various injuries. Harden decided not to make two starts he was scheduled for at the end of last season, choosing not to risk further injury by rushing back. He called that the smartest decision he's ever made.

--RHP Keith Foulke, signed to a one-year deal with numerous incentives, will help set up closer Huston Street. Foulke's acquisition a week before camp opened led to increased speculation that Street or LHP Alan Embree will be moved at some point this season, especially if Foulke returns anywhere near his previous form.

--RHPs Santiago Casilla and Henry Rodriguez were delayed in reporting to spring training because of visa issues, the team said. Casilla and Rodriguez are two of the hardest throwers in the A's organization, with both featuring fastballs that sit in the high-90s. Casilla has been delayed with visa issues each of the past few springs. Rodriguez is in his first major league camp after being added to the 40-man roster this off-season.

--RHP Angel Garcia, a minor league free agent signing this winter, was delayed in reporting to spring training for personal reasons, the team said.

BY THE NUMBERS: 21 -- The number of non-roster invitees in the A's most sizable spring camp in years. The team can bring 30 players, total, to Tokyo at the end of March.

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