|Barton struggled. b>|
The A's began the spring hopeful that Eric Chavez would be able to compete on a daily basis once again. However, the toll of the multiple surgeries Chavez had leading up to the 2008 season were too much for him and he appeared in only 23 games for the A's and managed only two homeruns. Jack Hannahan got the bulk of Chavez's time at third base and while he fielded his position well, he struggled badly at the plate. In 143 games, Hannahan managed only nine homeruns and an anemic .218 average. Donnie Murphy also saw some time at third, in addition to shortstop, early in the season. He struggled, as well, batting .184 in 103 at-bats, and was eventually designated for assignment.
At shortstop, the A's got some unexpected good health from Bobby Crosby after years of watching him miss significant portions of the schedule with various injuries. Health didn't translate into numbers for Crosby, however, as he scuffled to the tune of a .237 average and a 645 OPS. Rookies Cliff Pennington and Gregorio Petit both saw some limited action at shortstop for the A's, while also playing some second and third base. Pennington hit .242 with a 632 OPS in 99 major league at-bats, while Petit hit .348 with an 835 OPS in 23 at-bats.
Mark Ellis got the bulk of the time at second base, but a sore shoulder landed him on the DL for the last six weeks of the season. He would wind-up having surgery on that shoulder. Although it didn't seem to affect Ellis defensively, the shoulder definitely affected him offensively and he posted the second-worst numbers of his career (.233 average and a 694 OPS in 117 games). In addition to Petit and Pennington, Eric Patterson (who was acquired mid-season from the Cubs) filled in for Ellis at second base. Patterson also struggled to hit, batting only .174 in 92 at-bats.
Daric Barton entered the 2008 season as the A's new first baseman and a top pre-season candidate for the AL's Rookie of the Year award. After a decent April, Barton managed only a 466 OPS in May and scuffled the rest of the season until a late September surge that saw him post a 919 OPS for that month. Even with the good September, Barton still only managed a .226 average and a 675 OPS with only nine homeruns in 446 at-bats. The only positive aspects of his season were that he walked 65 times and that he played well defensively. Despite Barton's struggles, he was never supplanted by another first baseman, as the A's didn't have any obvious back-ups.
Mike Sweeney saw some time at first base early in the season, but his knees gave out only a few weeks into the campaign and he missed much of the year. Wes Bankston was given a truncated audition at first base, but he managed only a .203 average and a 543 OPS in 59 at-bats. Jeff Baisley, normally a third baseman, also saw some time at first, as well as third. He hit .256 with a 598 OPS in 43 September at-bats. Hannahan would occasionally slide across the diamond to first, as well.
Behind the plate, the A's were much more stable. They used only two catchers the entire season. Kurt Suzuki played the bulk of the games, appearing in 148 contests. He led the team with a .279 average and hit seven homeruns in 530 at-bats. He was also the team leader in hits with 148. Rob Bowen served as Suzuki's back-up. He appeared in 37 games, hitting .176 with one homer in 91 at-bats.
Good-Bye And Hello
|Heee's Baack. b>|
The A's spent much of the off-season looking to add a new shortstop, bidding first on Rafael Furcal and then engaging in talks with Orlando Cabrera. That journey finally ended last week when the A's inked Cabrera to a one-year deal at a discounted rate of $4 million. The A's also added former perennial AL All-Star Nomar Garciaparra to a one-year free agent deal to serve as a back-up corner infielder and right-handed DH. The biggest big league free agent acquisition that the A's made this off-season, however, came at first base, with the signing of 2000 AL MVP Jason Giambi, who returns to the club after a seven-year absence.
In addition to Giambi, the A's added infielders Yung-Chi Chen and Joe Dillon through waiver claims, acquired utilityman Corey Wimberly in a trade and signed first baseman Tagg Bozied to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp. The A's also acquired catcher Joel Galarraga out of the Mexican League.
IFs and Cs Invited To Camp
* Denotes a member of the 40-man roster
Number of IF/C Likely On Roster – 8
Locks To Make The Team
|Chavez spent time in Sacramento last season on a rehab assignment. b>|
Orlando Cabrera: Cabrera represents the biggest change in the A's infield. For the first time since 2003, the A's will be entering a season with the intention of running someone else other than Bobby Crosby out at shortstop. Cabrera began the off-season hoping for a big, long-term contract, but the 34-year-old (like so many other veterans) found the free agent market to be quiet this off-season. He signed at a bargain rate of $4 million, a big cut from what he made with the Chicago White Sox in 2008. Cabrera has been a pretty consistent performer over the past three seasons. He has played at least 153 games in each of those seasons and has hit at least .281 in all three. He won't hit for much power with the A's and he doesn't walk a lot, but he is likely to hit for average and steal 15-20 bases, two areas that were lacking for the A's last season. He drove-in 86 runs for the Angels in 2007 when he hit mostly second in their line-up. The A's may place him in that spot again in 2009, although batting him lead-off or down at the bottom of the order is also a possibility. Cabrera is a solid defensive shortstop and he should fit into the team's defense-first philosophy quite well. His attitude has been questioned at times, but assuming he remains a happy camper, the A's should get what they expect out of him this season.
Jason Giambi: Giambi continues the A's recent tradition of bringing in aging, but still effective sluggers into the fold on one-year contracts. That practice paid off for the A's with Frank Thomas in 2006, but Mike Piazza, Mike Sweeney and Thomas again in 2008 wound-up as disappointments. Still, the A's are banking much of their playoff hopes on the fact that Giambi still has a lot left in his tank. The former A's star returns to the Bay after a tumultuous seven seasons with the New York Yankees, during which he reached only one World Series, never won a title and suffered the humiliation of having to admit to his steroid use. He also endured a series of injuries that limited him to less than 90 games in two separate seasons. He was healthy in 2008, however, appearing in 145 games for the Yankees as a first-baseman and DH. He hit only .247, but he connected for 32 homers and drove-in 96 runs. He also walked 76 times. Given the A's lack of power and poor success rate with runners in scoring position over the past few years, the team would be thrilled to get similar numbers from Giambi this season. He was a high-average hitter with the A's, but since leaving the team, he has mostly struggled to hit above .250. It will be interesting to see if getting away from the Yankee Stadium porch in right-field will free him to use more of the whole field. Giambi was never a great defensive player even in his prime, and he isn't a good one now, but it appears that the A's are willing to run him out there at first in order to get both him and Jack Cust into the line-up on a regular basis. Giambi most certainly will see significant time at DH, as well.
Mark Ellis: As was detailed earlier, it is somewhat of a surprise that Ellis is still with the team. Oakland rarely re-signs its own free agents, but when questions about his shoulder lowered his perceived value to other teams, Ellis became a bargain for the A's on a two-year deal. He is still making his way back slowly from shoulder surgery on his throwing arm. He has yet to appear in a game in the field (DHing instead), but he is fielding and throwing in practice and should be on the field by March 25th, which would give him enough time to get ready for Opening Day. Ellis is one of the elite defensive second baseman in all of baseball and the A's will be counting on him to be his normal, steady self in the field, especially if Giambi is anchoring first base. Anything he does offensively is somewhat of a bonus, although the team would love his numbers to return to his 2007 levels, when he hit .276 with 19 homers and 76 RBIs. He has alternated good and bad offensive seasons during his career, so 2009 could be a good one for Ellis if the pattern holds.
|Garciaparra was a late addition to the team. b>|
Nomar Garciaparra: Garciaparra's signing was somewhat of a surprise, as the A's hadn't really been linked to the veteran infielder until just before he was signed. Garciaparra reportedly weighed retirement before signing with the A's. The 35-year-old is no longer an elite shortstop, but he does provide some right-handed power in a reserve role as a back-up corner infielder. Over the past few years, he has played at second, third and first base. He isn't likely to see time at second with the A's, but he should see time at first and third, especially against left-handed pitchers. In addition, Garciaparra is likely to get some at-bats at DH against southpaws and will be one of the A's primary pinch-hitters. He hit 20 homers for the Dodgers as recently as 2006, but he managed to play in only 55 games for LA last season because of injuries. Over the past three years, he has posted an 870 OPS against left-handed pitchers.
Kurt Suzuki: In many ways, Suzuki was the A's MVP last season. He appeared in a team-high 148 games and was a consistent performer both offensively and defensively. Suzuki finished his first full major league season with a .279 average with seven homeruns and 42 RBIs. He hit all over the A's line-up, including at times in the lead-off spot. Suzuki has earned a lot of praise for his work with the A's young pitching staff over the past year-and-a-half, and the team will be relying on him heavily again in 2009, as the A's are likely to debut a number of promising young pitchers.
Favorites For the Final Spots
|Crosby is no longer the starting shortstop. b>|
Rob Bowen: Bowen hasn't had much of an opportunity to play since being acquired by the A's from the Cubs in 2007. Last season, he managed only 91 at-bats despite being on the active roster for the entire year. Not surprisingly, that inactivity hurt his offense, as he managed only a .176 average and a 505 OPS. Bowen has never been a great offensive player, however, so much more isn't really expected of him. Teams generally prefer veteran types as their back-up catchers, and he has that working in his advantage, as he is the only other catcher besides Suzuki with major league experience in A's camp. But if Landon Powell shows a lot offensively and plays well behind the plate, the A's could go in that direction instead.
Battling For A Spot
|Hannahan may be the odd-man out. b>|
Jack Hannahan: Hannahan is in much the same position that Barton is in. Hannahan, like Barton, is coming off of a poor year offensively and a good year with the glove. Hannahan plays the positions that Garciaparra does, making Jack's chances of opening the season on the A's roster entirely dependent on injuries befalling other players, most notably Eric Chavez. Unlike Barton, Hannahan isn't young. He just turned 29, so he isn't a big part of the long-term future of the team. He does have options, however, and the A's figure to use one this season when they have a fully healthy roster.
Cliff Pennington: The A's top pick in 2005 made his major league debut at the end of the 2008 season, appearing in 36 games at third, second and short with Oakland. He hit only .242, but he walked 13 times for a .339 OBP and stole four bases. He finished the year strong, hitting .279 with a .390 OBP in September. In the minor leagues, he hit .280 with 31 stolen bases and a .404 OBP in 115 games last season. Pennington isn't likely to develop into the everyday shortstop that the A's envisioned he would when he was drafted, but he profiles as a pretty useful utility infielder. He has a good glove and a strong arm and can play second, third and short. He also runs well and switch-hits, making him a versatile player. If the A's feel confident enough in the health of Cabrera and Ellis, they may let Crosby go and leave the back-up middle infield position to a younger player. Pennington isn't off to a great start in making an impression with the A's, however, as he has only one hit in 15 at-bats thus far this spring.
Gregorio Petit: Should the A's move Crosby, Petit figures to battle with Pennington and Eric Patterson for that infield spot. Petit had an unusual 2008 season, as he was shuttled back-and-forth from the A's to Sacramento early in the season, but was not given a September call-up despite hitting .348 in 23 big-league at-bats. The disappointment of not being in the big leagues seemed to wear on Petit a little bit towards the end of the 2008 season, and he saw his average fall from above .300 to .269 with the River Cats. Still, he was an integral part of the River Cats' PCL championship team. The Venezuelan played very well during his country's winter league season, hitting .315 with an 800 OPS in 58 games for Caracas. Petit is a wizard with the glove and he can play second, third and short with ease. He doesn't run as well as Pennington, however, and isn't a switch-hitter, so those factors could work against him in a head-to-head battle. Petit is off to a solid start this spring at the plate, with six hits, including two doubles, in 16 at-bats.
|Petit has performed well in limited opportunities. b>|
Jeff Baisley: Baisley made his major league debut last September after a strong, if injury-marred, campaign with Triple-A Sacramento. The third baseman hit .256 with five RBIs in 43 at-bats with the A's during the final month of the season. He saw time at his natural position at third base, as well as some time at first base, and he handled both spots well defensively. For Sacramento, Baisley hit .298 with an 852 OPS in 81 games. He missed significant time with a stress fracture in his foot and has missed time in each of the past two seasons with leg injuries. Baisley is in pretty much the same boat as Hannahan in terms of his chances of making the team. He isn't as strong of a defensive player as Hannahan (although he can handle the hot corner just fine), but he profiles as a better option offensively and he is right-handed, which might help balance the A's line-up some. That being said, an injury will have to occur to either Chavez or Garciaparra for Baisley to have any real shot of making the roster out of spring training.
Landon Powell: Powell, the A's first pick in 2004, is in camp trying to prove to the A's that he can stay healthy enough to act as the team's back-up catcher behind Suzuki. Powell has missed parts of each of the last two seasons with knee problems that resulted in surgeries. He has had his ACL operated on twice already in his career. Like Bowen, Powell is a big bodied catcher who switch hits and hits for some power. He has a lot more offensive potential than does Bowen, both in terms of power production and in terms of getting on-base. However, Powell is at the disadvantage of not being a major league veteran and of being an injury risk. Chances are, the A's will start the year with Bowen as the back-up, but Powell could force the A's hand if he puts together a good start to his Triple-A season. He has two hits in 13 at-bats, including a homer.
Looking To Make An Impression
|Chen hit well before being sent down. b>|
Tagg Bozied: Like Chen, Bozied was one of the first cuts of spring. The first baseman signed with the A's as a minor league free agent during the off-season and was likely hoping to see extended action in big league camp. However, the A's acquisition of Garciaparra cut into those opportunities significantly. He hit .306 with 26 homers for Triple-A Albuquerque and posted an 807 OPS in 20 games in the Dominican Winter League in 2008. Bozied is likely to play a similar role in Sacramento that Casey Rogowski played for the River Cats in 2008.
Joe Dillon: Dillon, a veteran utiltyman, was claimed off of waivers by the A's during the off-season, but he lost his roster spot before the start of the spring. He cleared waivers that time and has reported to A's camp as a non-roster player. The 33-year-old spilt last season between Triple-A Nashville and Milwaukee, hitting .263 with a 783 OPS for the Sounds and .213 with a 630 OPS for the Brewers. Dillon is a jack-of-all-trades, as he can play all over the infield and in the outfield. The right-hander has appeared in the big leagues in parts of three seasons. In 2007, he was brilliant for Milwaukee in a brief stint, hitting .342 with an 890 OPS in 39 games. He will likely be the Lou Merloni-Brooks Conrad of the River Cats' roster in 2009 and could be a mid-season option for the A's if they lose a player temporarily with an injury. He has two hits in 13 at-bats this spring.
Corey Wimberly: Wimberly was a late off-season acquisition for the A's, coming over in a trade with Colorado just before the start of spring training. The speedy Wimberly has already opened some eyes in camp for his new team, collecting six hits in 18 at-bats, swiping two bases and scoring five runs. Wimberly is an infielder by trade, but, like Dillon, he can play all over the field. His best tool is his speed, as he led the Texas League in stolen bases in 2008 with 59. He is also a hitter who generally hits for average and gets on-base, although he doesn't hit for power. Wimberly, 25, has been hampered by a variety of injuries during his professional career. After the season that he had in 2008 with Double-A Tulsa and his strong showing thus far in spring training, Wimberly deserves a chance to compete at the Triple-A level in 2009. However, thanks to the log-jam mentioned earlier, Wimberly may be forced back to the Texas League at the start of the season. Still, if he continues to hit like he has thus far this spring, he will make it difficult for the A's to keep him at Double-A for long.
Joel Galarraga: Galarraga was acquired by the A's from a Mexican League team this off-season. The Cuban-born catcher hit better than .300 in each of his two seasons in the Mexican Summer League, which is generally considered to be equivalent to Triple-A baseball in the United States. He is in camp as a non-roster player and has been busy acclimating to his new team and to the United States. Galarraga has had limited at-bats thus far, but he is hitting well, with three hits and two RBIs in five at-bats.
Here For The Future
|Doolittle's looking to build off of an impressive first full season. b>|