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Giambi’s media address

Jason Giambi sent a few balls rocketing over the fence at Papago Park Baseball Complex this afternoon, then held court for an 11-minute media session after the A’s first full-squad workout. Sporting a short haircut and a beard he admitted is going gray, Giambi reiterated how happy he is to be w/the A’s again and that he’d like to bring some fun to the clubhouse.

He also confirmed he’s been subpoenaed to testify in Barry Bonds’ perjury trial, which is scheduled to begin March 2. He didn’t know the date he’d have to testify. Giambi, who issued a public but vague apology about his own use of performance-enhancing drugs back in 2005, said he wasn’t anticipating anything one way or another from the experience. “I’ve already said what I had to say. I think everybody knows about it.”

That was the most serious moment of an otherwise light-hearted Q&A. Giambi, the life of the clubhouse when he played with the A’s from 1995-2001, said he appreciated the welcome he got from his mostly younger teammates this morning.

“I told them, ‘Listen, I don’t blow up balloons and do parties and stuff like that, but we’re gonna have fun. We’re going to go to dinner and do all the stuff we used to do.”

As for how many years he wants to keep playing?

“Until they tear this ‘uni’ off me. What else am I gonna do? Maybe be a bouncer at strip joints. That’s about all I’m qualified to do.”

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Higher expectations

The A’s just hit the field for their first full squad workout, which came right after manager Bob Geren assembled everybody for an introductory team meeting. It covered a wide range of topics, Geren said, but had one major theme: The A’s are better than last season’s 75-86 squad, and the bar is set higher for ’09. Asked if the idea of contending for the AL West title was addressed, Geren answered in the affirmative.

“I said expectations are up with what we’ve done and that’s a good thing,” said Geren, referring to the acquisition of players such as Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi. “I don’t imagine anybody has picked us to finish first (in the AL West), but we’re definitely an improved team.”

This will be the first day Giambi takes the field with his teammates, many of whom showed up early for informal workouts. He looked upbeat as he settled in front of his locker this morning, located just two spots away from Holliday. He’s scheduled for his first media chat after practice, so check back here a bit later …

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Ziegler to pitch in WBC

Reliever Brad Ziegler received word that he’s made the final roster for the Team USA squad that will play in next month’s World Baseball Classic. He’s likely to be one of two Athletics in the WBC, as outfielder Chris Denorfia is expected to make Italy’s roster. Every country’s final roster is expected to be announced by Tuesday.

It’s a huge deal for Ziegler. His family has a military history that goes back generations, and he oozes patriotism.

“I’ve wanted this opportunity for a long time. I was trying to campaign to get on the Olympic team, and they told me I would have got it if I didn’t get called up (to Oakland last season),” Ziegler said. “Considering the magnitude of this tournament, to be mentioned in the same breath (as the other players involved) is truly an honor.”

Team USA reports to Clearwater, Fla., on March 1, and Ziegler will be away from the A’s as long as the Americans remain in the tournament. Their first game is March 5 in Toronto, and it’s possible Ziegler and Denorfia could face each other, as the U.S. is in the same pool with Italy, Canada and Venezuela.

A’s manager Bob Geren isn’t worried about Ziegler’s preparation for the regular season being affected by pitching in the WBC. “I think with the intensity of games like that being higher than spring training or a Cactus League game, it will be good for him. He’s really a one-inning kind of guy. He’ll be fine. When the spring is over, he’ll have the right amount of innings when we go to Anaheim (April 6 for the season opener).”

Other tidbits from Geren’s morning media chat:

–He’s gone over possible batting orders in his head, and is still tinkering with the idea of hitting Jack Cust second because of his high on-base percentage. “I’ve thought about it. I haven’t (decided) one way or another on it.”

–Right-hander Edgar Gonzalez and catcher Joel Galarraga are still being delayed by visa problems in Mexico. Both are non-roster players, but Gonzalez is considered a fifth-starter candidate. Because he pitched in winter ball, Geren doesn’t think Gonzalez will be behind. He didn’t say the same for Galarraga. “I think it hurts him. A catcher needs to get through drills and work with pitchers.”

Still no Jason Giambi sighting today, the reporting deadline for position players. When he does arrive, he’ll likely address the media at some point today. Infielder Gregorio Petit and outfielder Javier Herrera, both from Venezuela, are the only position players along with Giambi yet to show.

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Rajai’s offseason

Thought I’d give you a quick note that didn’t make its way into my stories for tomorrow. Center fielder Rajai Davis arrived at A’s camp today, having spent much of his offseason playing in the Venezuelan Winter League. With all the talk surrounding Ryan Sweeney’s switch to center field, Davis hasn’t been written about much. But he’s deep in the A’s thoughts after showing his great speed on the bases and in the outfield last season. His tools probably suit him best in a reserve role, and I could see him being really effective drawing the occasional start, or being used as a pinch runner or defensive replacement. Assuming the A’s want five outfielders, I see them keeping Matt Holliday, Sweeney, Jack Cust and Travis Buck. Then I would think Davis gets the nod over Chris Denorfia because his speed is just too valuable. Aaron Cunningham could have a say here with a great camp, but he could benefit from more seasoning. Obviously it’s very early to piece together the roster, and much can change once the Cactus League begins, but that’s how I see things now.

While in Venezuela, Davis wanted to improve the mental part of his game, trying to avoid the concentration lapses that he said happen at times. His focus must have been put to the test playing in the Venezuelan heat. “Just going (outside) in jeans and a T-shirt, it feels like you’re in front of a heater,” he said. A’s manager Bob Geren said the most important thing in winter ball was for Davis to get regular playing time. “When you’re a fourth or fifth outfielder, the best thing about going down there is just to get at-bats. There’s nothing specific he needed to work on.”

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Monday A’s leftovers

As A’s pitchers took to the mound for the third day of official workouts, a large number of position players were on another of Papago Park’s four diamonds Monday. They took batting practice, with infielders taking grounders and outfielders shagging flies in preparation for Thursday’s first full-squad workout. Manager Bob Geren said he was pleased with the early turnout of so many position players. “It tells you about the excitement surrounding the team this year,” he said. “I’m impressed.” Geren likes what he sees in the cage so far from new left fielder Matt Holliday. “He really gets through the ball using his lower half and drives (the ball),” Geren said. “He’s a big, strong, athletic guy with a good swing.” Interestingly, hitting through the ball and using his legs in the swing is something Bobby Crosby says he’s working on. Not coincidentally, Crosby and Holliday hit together frequently leading up to spring training.

–Right-hander Edgar Gonzalez and catcher Joel Galarraga are still not in camp, as they’re being delayed in Mexico by visa issues.

–Jason Giambi is the most notable regular who has yet to report to camp, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him tomorrow. …

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Chavy’s State of the Team Address

We’re just two days from the reporting deadline for position players, and lots of the A’s regulars have arrived. Eric Chavez and Mark Ellis have popped in and out of Papago Park in recent days and were here again today. Bobby Crosby, Jack Cust and Daric Barton (wandering around with his mom’s 8-week-old bulldog, Diesel) showed up this morning.

Chavez,  the team’s longest tenured player, held his traditional start-of-the-season media chat, touching on a variety of issues. Here are a few highlights:

–He’ll sit out at least the first week’s worth of exhibitions as a precaution, after undergoing right shoulder surgery that ended his season last August. But he’s encouraged about his health at this point. “I can pretty much do everything. The only thing I haven’t done baseball-wise is actually field a ground ball and throw to first, which I’ll do today.” 

–On the addition of Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi: “I think it’s going to solidify the offense, really. The only question marks I guess are (the) leadoff (spot) and speed. If Jason can do what he’s been doing, Matt’s obviously had a great career, and throw Custie, myself and Bobby in there, Ellis is healthy, it can be pretty good.”

–On trading three important  players for Holliday: “It signals for us that I think Billy (Beane) saw a window of opportunity. as far as the (AL) West is concerned. … With the Angels losing a few of their key components, i think the window opens a little bit.”

–On the keys to the season: “If we can stay healthy and the (young) pitchers make that jump, we can be competitive. How good we can be and how many games we’ll win, it’s hard to say. Definitely we have the pieces to contend. That’s all you ask for is a chance to win.”

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He’s catching on

After the A’s second day of workouts wrapped up, manager Bob Geren went out of his way to praise catching prospect Josh Donaldson, who was acquired from the Cubs as part of last July’s Rich Harden trade. Donaldson, 23, is a long-range prospect (he didn’t start catching until his junior year at Auburn). But the A’s like his bat as well as his physical tools behind the plate. “I had some (discussion) with him about how many games he’s caught in his life,” Geren said. “He thought maybe 160. I told him that’s (close to) how many Kurt Suzuki caught last year. With the minimal exposure he has now, I think he can improve rapidly.” A former big league catcher himself, Geren said the biggest thing for a player who’s relatively new to catching is to master the fundamentals of the position. From there, learning how to handle pitchers and call a game comes with experience.

The backup catcher situation might merit paying attention to. The A’s re-signed Rob Bowen as the No. 2 man behind Suzuki, but the team also has Landon Powell in camp. A first-round pick in 2004, Powell’s career has been sidetracked by a knee injury, but he appears to be 100 percent now. Bowen has an edge in experience (his at-bats are few and far between because Suzuki logs so many innings as the starter). But Powell still has lots of upside and could force the A’s to make a decision if he has a big spring. And, of course, Donaldson figures to get his chance down the road …

Other Sunday bits:

–Ace Justin Duchscherer threw his first bullpen session, and he’s shown no lingering effects from right hip surgery last September.

– Geren, on whether third baseman Eric Chavez would be ready for the exhibition opener Feb. 25: “I have no reason now to say he wouldn’t be, but I want to see him in daily workouts first.”

–Trevor Cahill, the club’s other blue-chip pitching prospect along with Brett Anderson and Vin Mazzaro, threw Sunday. Catcher Anthony Recker, who was behind the plate for many of Cahill’s games last season in Double-A, also caught him Sunday, and said his fastball, curve and slider seemed sharp. “But I tell you what, I was really impressed with his change-up,” Recker said.

–In his morning chat w/reporters, Geren said competition should be fierce for what figures to be one or two available spots in the bullpen. Non-roster pitcher Jerome Williams doesn’t seem to be a candidate, as Geren said Williams is being considered primarily as a starter. Along those lines, it’s assumed that lefties Gio Gonzalez and Josh Outman will be considered for the ‘pen if they don’t open the season in the rotation. But judging from Geren’s comments over the offseason, I’m gathering that Outman is seen as being better suited for relief if it comes to that. This is speculation on my part, but I see Gonzalez beginning the season in the Triple-A rotation if he doesn’t crack Oakland’s starting five. …

That’s all for now …

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First (day’s) impression

Checking in from Phoenix, where the A’s pitchers and catchers took the field for their first workout today. My laptop seems to be shaking off some winter rust right now, much like the ballplayers, so the blog updates may be lighter than I’d hoped for the next day or two until I get some technological glitches ironed out.

Overall, it was pretty uneventful, which is how the first day of camp usually is. The biggest note of consequence: The A’s are holding Joey Devine and Santiago Casilla out of the World Baseball Classic. Each are healthy now, but considering they missed time with elbow problems last season, the A’s are playing it safe. MLB teams can petition an individual player’s country to request they not participate in the WBC if there are health concerns. Devine (who was on the U.S.’s provisional roster) and Casilla (Dominican Republic) each really wanted to play, but they seemed to take the news well. That leaves fellow reliever Brad Ziegler (US) and outfielder Chris Denorfia (Italy) as WBC hopefuls from the A’s. Final WBC rosters will be set Feb. 24.

As for the A’s first workout, drills and fundamentals took up most of the day, though several pitchers threw their first bullpen session — Gio Gonzalez, Dana Eveland, Dallas Braden, Sean Gallagher, Vin Mazzaro and Brett Anderson among them. Surely, Bob Geren and his staff had to be eager to see Mazzaro and Anderson, two of the organization’s brightest prospects pitching in their first big league camp. It’s tough to glean too much this early. Mazzaro seemed to struggle with his command a bit (pitching coach Curt Young actually took him aside and chatted w/him briefly). Geren mentioned in his morning team meeting that he wants his young pitchers to try to keep their composure early on (“Nobody wins a roster spot on the first day.”)

A few position players took some informal BP, including Matt Holliday, who was spraying line drives all over the field. This guy looks like the baseball equivalent of a “gym rat.” During the pitchers’ bullpen sessions, long after most veterans would have called it a day, Holliday wandered over and stood in the batter’s box while Gallagher was pitching. I think he wanted to just get a look at some live pitching. If this is typical of his work ethic, it’s not surprising he’s developed into the player he has.

Speaking of Gallagher, he’s sporting a bit of a mullet, and, from afar, he’s a dead ringer for Travis Buck. It’s always entertaining to see what kind of look these guys show up to camp with, and how long it lasts. … Like I said, news is slow, so you’re getting some random observations!

Check out tomorrow’s paper for some more coverage …

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Bummin on Tejada

I’m sad about Miguel Tejada.

See, when I was growing up, I was raised on Joe Rudi. When I was in college, I had season-ticket packages to see Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley. And as a professional, well, you don’t get much better than to be around a guy like Miguel Tejada.

I’ve gone on a lot in other blogs about my lifelong ties to the A’s. You lose those when you become a beat writer, because it’s just a natural by-product of the gig. I knew that going in. But what was new to me was that you’re drawn to players for different reasons than by what they do on the field. Tejada, to put it simply, was one of those guys in the industry who you’d want to introduce to your family (in all the years of doing this; I’ve met about a dozen, but Shooty Babbitt, Mark Ellis and Kirk Rueter head the list). Closest thing to Pete Rose I’ve ever seen in terms of playing hard every single second and loving the game so much.

You know what? I’m more proud today of my affinity for Tejada than I’ve ever been. Watch the video. THAT’S how you apologize for something

(And as for Buster Olney’s point — and I love Buster Olney’s blog — two points of my own: 1. Do we really need to hear what the players have to say anymore? Can’t we just assume most of them, if not all, were doing something?  2. Let’s be careful before we start accusing people of what they’re doing behind closed doors? I mean, maybe Miggy did throw away the steroids he bought. Granted, not very plausible, difficult to believe and only a fool probably does; but we can’t write as fact that it didn’t happen).

More important to me is that he was contrite. He seems to know his actions were wrong. If he could go back and do it differently, it seems he would. I did not come away from the A-Roid interview feeling the same way. And once upon a time, I loved Alex Rodriguez, too.

In 2001, the last A’s season before I joined the beat, I bought a Tejada jersey, just to add to my collection (and I don’t collect much anymore; another by-product of the job). I have that to go with ones of Dennis Eckersley and Dave Stewart (I gave the Mark McGwire one to charity). I’m very glad I have it.

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Giambi on A-Rod

Jason Giambi already was guaranteed to be a popular guest during Wednesday’s joint A’s/Giants baseball media luncheon, hosted by Comcast SportsNet. But in light of Alex Rodriguez’s recent admission about taking performance-enhancing drugs, Giambi was hit pretty good with questions about his former Yankees teammate. In 2005, Giambi gave a well-publicized apology about his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs, though he never used the word “steroid” or said specifically what he was apologizing for. But I was surprised how forthcoming he was about Rodriguez on Wednesday.

“I played a lot of years with ‘Rod.’ Hopefully this is a thing (where) you learn a lot about yourself as a player and as a human being. I know I learned a lot about myself when I (publicly apologized). You don’t really measure yourself as a man by your great accomplishments. Sometimes you measure it by your mistakes and how you work through them, doing the right thing. Maybe this is like a turning point in his career. I know when I did it, it was a tough thing but it was probably the greatest thing that ever happened to me because you learn a lot about yourself.”

Does he wish more accused players came out and addressed the issue of performance-enhancing drugs?

“That’s tough. I did what was best for me. I’m not gonna speak for anybody else. It was important for me to do the right thing. That was the most important thing and that’s what I did.”

On former A’s teammate Miguel Tejada, who plead guilty Wednesday to misleading Congress about performance-enhancing drugs: “I just read about it. It’s unfortunate for Miggy. He was like a little brother when I played (with him in Oakland).”

–Moving on to the actual baseball talk that took place Wednesday, A’s manager Bob Geren was asked about his first base situation. He reiterated that Giambi and Daric Barton could rotate there, but that Travis Buck will affect the situation. Translation: If Buck plays well enough to merit time in right field, that slides Jack Cust to DH and means Giambi sees more time at first, squeezing Barton out.

Geren also said: “Jason and Jack will both go into spring training (with the mindset) they’re going to play defense every day.” Read into that what you will …

–As for his starting rotation, Geren made a point of mentioning Edgar Gonzalez, recently signed to a minor league deal, as a candidate for the fifth spot along with Gio Gonzalez, Josh Outman and prospects Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro.

Anyway, the next time I post here it will be from Phoenix, where pitchers and catchers report for spring training Saturday. I’ll be blogging often during camp, so check in frequently for your updates!