It appears that most of the A’s off-season work is done. The team has found capable replacements for departing free agents Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour and Chris Young and filled a few other holes as well. It’s possible that someone like Alberto Callaspo, who’s set to earn close to $5 million and doesn’t have a full-time position, could still end up being traded before spring training is through. It’s possible that a few younger players with major league experience who are out of options like outfielder Michael Taylor or reliever Evan Scribner could be dealt as well. But for the most part, barring any unforeseen injury issues, it looks like the A’s are now holding most of the cards they’ll be playing to start the 2014 season. And it’s becoming increasingly clear who most of the players are that Sacramento River Cats fans can expect to be seeing at Raley Field in 2014 as well.
2014 OAKLAND A’S
One area that seems to be most clearly set for the team is the outfield, with Josh Reddick in right, Coco Crisp in center, Yoenis Cespedes in left and newcomer Craig Gentry serving as the fourth outfielder. The left side of the infield will also remain in place for the A’s, with the team’s most valuable player in 2014, Josh Donaldson, manning the hot corner and the team’s best-hitting shortstop in recent memory, Jed Lowrie, returning to shortstop.
The other four positions in the lineup – second base, first base, catcher and designated hitter – are the areas where the A’s will deploy their patented platoons. Free agent infielder Nick Punto is likely to take over for Adam Rosales and Callaspo as Eric Sogard’s platoon partner at second base. And based on manager Bob Melvin’s comments, it seems like that might push Callaspo into the role of Brandon Moss’s platoon partner at first base, which would then push Nate Freiman to Sacramento along with fellow first baseman Daric Barton.
Melvin’s recent comments also make it sound like John Jaso is likely to get most of the DH at-bats, replacing the departed Seth Smith in that position, while against left-handers, Craig Gentry would join the lineup in left field with Yoenis Cespedes moving into the DH spot. With Jaso getting most of the DH at-bats, that requires the A’s to carry a third catcher, and that’s most likely to be Stephen Vogt, who got plenty of valuable experience last year down the stretch and in the postseason for the A’s. And his left-handed bat is the perfect complement to righty-swinging backstop Derek Norris, who hit just .149 against right-handed pitching last year.
Basically, Vogt would be replacing Jaso in the catching platoon, just as he did late last year, with Jaso moving out from behind the plate to replace Seth Smith in the DH platoon, while Punto replaces Callaspo in the second base platoon, Callaspo replaces Freiman in the first place platoon and Craig Gentry takes Chris Young’s place in the lineup against left-handers.
As far as the pitching staff goes, the plan seems pretty clear. Free agent lefty Scott Kazmir will take over for Bartolo Colon as the veteran presence in the team’s starting rotation, while young righty Sonny Gray appears set to take lefty Tommy Milone’s spot in the rotation, just as he did late last season, with Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily rounding out the starting five.
Meanwhile, in the bullpen, Jim Johnson will take over for Grant Balfour as the team’s closer, while top-notch setup man Luke Gregerson will take the roster spot that Pat Neshek occupied most of last season and lefty Fernando Abad is likely to take Jerry Blevins’ spot on the left side of the bullpen, with fellow lefty Sean Doolittle and righties Ryan Cook, Jesse Chavez and Dan Otero rounding out the rest of the A’s bullpen – though it’s possible that, since he’s out of options, the team could also decide to have Evan Scribner take Otero’s spot to start the season. The A’s will also likely start the season with two relievers who are both recovering from Tommy John surgery on the disabled list – recently-signed free agent lefty Eric O’Flaherty and righty Fernando Rodriguez, who was acquired from the Astros in the Jed Lowrie deal.
2014 SACRAMENTO RIVER CATS
If we make the preceding assumptions about the major league roster, then the River Cats roster starts to fall pretty clearly into place. Of course, there are a few players who are out of options, and it’s quite possible that at least one of them won’t end up clearing waivers.
The A’s have two veteran minor league catchers to handle the River Cats pitching staff, returning backstop Luke Montz along with Chris Gimenez, who was recently claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, the team looks to be overloaded with first basemen, with Daric Barton, Nate Freiman and Anthony Aliotti all looking for playing time – unless the A’s end up trading Callaspo and opening up a roster spot for Freiman as Brandon Moss’s platoon partner. If not, there could still be plenty of playing time to be found for all three between the first base and the designated hitter spot.
Returning River Cat Andy Parrino appears to be set at shortstop. Hiro Nakajima is likely to get the majority of starts at third base while also picking up at-bats at other positions around the infield, while free agent signees Jose Martinez and Alden Carrithers should get most of the playing time at second base. Shane Peterson is set to return to Sacramento’s outfield, along with Jake Goebbert and, if they clear waivers, veteran minor leaguers Michael Taylor and Corey Brown (who was recently designated for assignment).
The River Cats should have plenty of worthy contenders for their starting rotation. If the A’s other five starters are all healthy to start the season, then Tommy Milone is likely to anchor Sacramento’s starting five, along with recently-acquired righty Josh Lindblom and lefty Drew Pomeranz. Returning River Cats Andrew Werner and Arnold Leon will also be competing for a spot as well as free agent signees Phil Humber and Matt Buschmann, with those don’t make the rotation starting the season in the River Cats bullpen. If he clears waivers, they’re likely to be joined there by Evan Scribner, along with returning River Cats Paul Smyth and Fernando Nieve and free agent signees Deryk Hooker and Jose Flores as well as Triple-A Rule 5 draftee Tim Atherton.
So that’s how things seem to be shaping up for both the A’s and the River Cats, assuming everyone clears waivers and Billy Beane doesn’t have any last-minute surprises up his sleeve!