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A’s announce spring training schedule

The A’s released their 2011 spring training schedule today. Check it out

Season tickets and weekend packages for home games at Phoenix Muni are on sale now at www.oaklandathletics.com/spring, while single-game tickets go on sale Dec. 13. The A’s open Cactus League play Feb. 27 against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, Ariz. There’s just two games against the Giants in Arizona — March 5 in Phoenix and March 20 in Scottsdale. And if you’re used to booking a spring training trip in late March, you better do it earlier. The regular season schedule is being moved up, with the A’s Opening Night set for April 1 at the Coliseum (a Friday) against Seattle. Their final exhibition in Arizona is March 27, a road game against the Rockies. Then they return to the Bay Area for the annual Bay Bridge Series against the Giants, March 28-30. That series runs Monday through Wednesday, which just seems weird after seeing these teams play over the weekend for so many years.

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A’s going hard after Lance Berkman?

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal has a story posted on free agent Lance Berkman that’s pretty interesting reading for A’s fans. Among other things, Berkman says the A’s have been the “most aggressive” team in terms of making contact with him. He also says he’s fully recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery that hindered him the entire 2010 season, and that he considers himself ready to play first base or the outfield. Last year, Berkman was the Astros’ first baseman until his July 31 trade to the Yankees, who used him as a DH. The switch-hitter hasn’t played the outfield since 2007. Berkman told Rosenthal that he believes the A’s are searching for a DH, but that he still wants to play the field. He also notes the A’s have Daric Barton at first base and lots of outfielders already.

I reported the A’s had interest in Berkman in a Nov. 13 story, and from what I’m hearing, they might consider him on a one or two-year deal (Berkman turns 35 shortly before spring training begins). He’s coming off a down year offensively, hitting .248 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs. But he hit 25 homers as recently as 2009. I would expect the A’s are viewing him as a potential full-time DH. But all three of the A’s projected starting outfielders at this point — David DeJesus, Coco Crisp and Ryan Sweeney — battled injuries last season, so I’d say there’s a chance Berkman would get to play some outfield were he to join the A’s.

Of course, he’s just one of several power-hitting types who could make sense for Oakland. But how would you feel about Berkman’s name in the 2011 lineup?

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More on the Rajai Davis trade

A few thoughts on the Rajai Davis trade …

–The A’s are going to miss his daredevil baserunning and the spark he provided. Davis’ game is rough around the edges. On the hitting side, his strike zone can get out of whack. On the glove side, he doesn’t have the natural instincts that Coco Crisp does in center field. But Davis was instrumental in all that’s gone right for the A’s offensively the past two years (granted, not much has). And he was the main thrust behind the team’s shift to a more aggressive, base-stealing oriented attack once it was obvious there was no power to speak of.

But I believe this trade shows two things: 1) Once the A’s decided to trade an outfielder, Davis definitely was the most appealing option to other teams. Assistant GM David Forst told me that the phones started ringing with inquires about Davis as soon as the A’s traded for David DeJesus. 2) It looks like the A’s still want to give Conor Jackson an extended look to see if he’s a fit for this team. They didn’t get much of a look last year because of Jackson’s injury problems. How healthy can Jackson stay next season? That’s the question. But considering the A’s traded to get him in June, I’m not surprised to see them holding on to him. Of course, they don’t have to tender Jackson a contract until Dec. 2, the deadline to offer contracts to players who are arbitration-eligible. “There’s obviously a lot of moving pieces between now and then,” Forst said.

–As for the scouting report on Trystan Magnuson and Daniel Farquhar, the two relievers obtained for Davis: Farquhar is just 5-foot-11 but reaches 95-96 mph with his fastball, according to Forst. “He has a closer’s mentality, just outstanding stuff.”

By contrast, Magnuson stands 6-foot-7. His command is a strength, and his slider is a swing-and-miss pitch. “We got two young arms that we feel will be part of our major league bullpen sooner rather than later,” Forst said.

Time will tell. The A’s need a nice return on this one, because they gave up an important piece to their puzzle …

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A’s trade Rajai Davis to Toronto Blue Jays, reportedly make offer to Adrian Beltre

The news keeps coming from A’s headquarters. ESPN Deportes is reporting that Oakland offered free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre a five-year, $64 million contract. Then a more concrete development was announced: The A’s have traded outfielder Rajai Davis to Toronto for minor league relievers Trystan Magnuson and Danny Farquhar. You can read a full story on that trade. The A’s had too many outfielders and not enough spots, so it wasn’t a shock they dealt someone. Davis is a big loss — he’s an electrifying player that often sparked the A’s with his speed. He was also one of the team’s healthiest position players the past two years. That made him a very valuable player — and also one other teams would covet.

A potentially bigger story would be if the A’s land Beltre, one of the cream-of-the-crop hitters of the free agent class. Would he consider the A’s after turning down a three-year offer from them last winter?

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Chris Carter, winter league updates, plus other A’s food for thought

Here’s some random tidbits from what’s been a busy start to the A’s offseason. We’ll begin with updates on some noteworthy prospects playing ball this winter …

–The plan is for Chris Carter to gain more outfield experience playing in the Venezuelan Winter League. But the A’s top prospect has yet to leave for Venezuela as he’s still recovering from a left thumb injury that cost him games late in the regular season. A’s assistant GM David Forst said Carter was scheduled to see a doctor this week, and only after being fully cleared will he head to Venezuela and suit up for Tiburones de La Guaira. Despite the delay, Forst stressed that Carter hasn’t suffered any setbacks in his recovery.

The A’s trade for David DeJesus indicates the team might feel Carter needs more minor league seasoning. Do the A’s view him more as a DH now? I keep remembering back to what GM Billy Beane told me during the regular season: The A’s aren’t crazy about relegating Carter to full-time DH duty at such a young age. Perhaps that view will change given the surplus of outfielders right now. At any rate, the A’s don’t have to make that decision until Carter proves he’s ready to be a productive everyday hitter in the majors.

–The Arizona Fall League regular season wraps up Thursday, and outfielder Michael Taylor has gotten steady playing time for the Phoenix Desert Dogs. Through Monday, he was hitting .278 with two HRs, eight doubles, 15 RBIs, 16 walks and 16 strikeouts in 97 at-bats. Taylor’s a long shot to make the big league team out of spring training, but the A’s surely would like to see a major step forward in his second season at Triple-A.

–Shortstop Grant Green is another of the seven A’s prospects playing in the AFL. Green was slated to be the team’s representative in the Rising Stars Game – the AFL’s All-Star showcase – but was held out as a precaution. He’d played just 12 games as of Monday because of some calf soreness, but he returned to action a few days ago and Forst said the calf issue isn’t serious.

Third baseman Stephen Parker, who, like Green, enjoyed a big 2010 season for Single-A Stockton, was hitting .318 with one homer and six RBIs in 88 at-bats for the Desert Dogs. Check out the full winter league stats for A’s prospects.

–Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes says the A’s are once again pursuing free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. Oakland made a serious run at this guy last winter, but Beltre turned down their reported offer of three years and $24 million. At the time, Beltre was coming off a poor season with Seattle and had something to prove. He opted for a one-year, $9 million deal with Boston and enjoyed a fantastic season that boosted his value once again. He’ll have no shortage of suitors, and he’d have to undergo a serious about-face in his thinking to consider the A’s this time around. But Oakland has a nice selling point with its strong pitching staff, which has the A’s in position to contend if some offense can be acquired.

The team already has two third basemen in the fold with Kevin Kouzmanoff and recently acquired Edwin Encarnacion, but obviously Beltre would be a colossal upgrade. Either Kouzmanoff or Encarnacion figures to be non-tendered or traded even if Beltre isn’t signed. And based on what I’m hearing, I’d say Encarnacion stands the better chance of being retained of the two.

What’s your guess on whether the A’s keep Encarnacion, Kouzmanoff or both?

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A’s claim third baseman Edwin Encarnacion off waivers, what’s next for Kouzmanoff?

More news from the A’s transaction wire today … They claimed third baseman Edwin Encarnacion off waivers from Toronto, signaling that Kevin Kouzmanoff’s status is in limbo after one year as the starter at third. Encarnacion hit just .244 last season but popped 21 homers with 51 RBIs in just 96 games. That homer total would have led the A’s last season (Kouzmanoff had a team-high 16 homers). Encarnacion spent a short spell in the minors and also had two DL stints for shoulder and wrist injuries, accounting for his lower number of games played.

I asked A’s assistant GM David Forst if he considered Encarnacion a candidate to start at third. “I think we’re probably (three) months away from spring training. We obviously have him and Kooz on the roster right now. We have to make some decisions,” Forst said.

Those decisions figure to come quickly, as Dec. 2 is the deadline for teams to offer contracts to their arbitration-eligible players. Kouzmanoff and Encarnacion, 27, both are up for arbitration. Kouzmanoff made $3.1 million last season and Encarnacion made $4.75 million. Both play third base and both hit right-handed, so I don’t see the A’s keeping both players. Is a trade for Kouzmanoff in the future? We’ll find out …

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A’s 2011 Promotion Days schedule

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the A’s top promotions for next season’s home schedule:

–April 30: Rickey Henderson Bobblehead Day vs. Texas

–June 30: Root Beer Float Day vs. Florida

–July 16: Doubheader vs. the Angels beginning at 1:07 p.m. Second game will follow shortly after first, with one ticket good for both games.

–Five fireworks shows, including July 2 vs. Arizona

–August 13: Ray Fosse Bobblehead Day vs. Texas

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A’s trade Vin Mazzaro, Justin Marks to Royals for David DeJesus

Well, it didn’t take long for the A’s to trade some of that surplus pitching. They shipped Vin Mazzaro and minor league left-hander Justin Marks to Kansas City in exchange for outfielder David DeJesus. The announcement came late this afternoon. After Monday’s news that the A’s won the bidding for Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, it was logical to assume that they would then flip a pitcher(s) in return for a hitter. And Mazzaro has been a widely speculated trade chip for a while. DeJesus, 30, has been one of the top players in the Royals lineup for several years now, but (and you knew this was coming) he missed the final two months of the 2010 season after having surgery on his right thumb. And he doesn’t provide an answer to the A’s need for power, so I suspect this is just the first of the moves the A’s make to address their offensive needs this winter. But he’s an intriguing player to add to a crowded outfield mix. This move indicates to me there’s an even greater chance now that outfielder Conor Jackson won’t be tendered a contract. The A’s must decide whether to offer contracts to all of their arbitration-eligible players by Dec. 2 …

I’ll have a full story on the DeJesus trade later …

What are your initial thoughts on this move?

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A’s let Eric Chavez go, pick up options on Mark Ellis and Coco Crisp; Angels doubleheader on tap next season

The A’s announced they’ve exercised their club options on second baseman Mark Ellis ($6 million) and center fielder Coco Crisp ($5.75 million), ensuring both players are back in the fold for 2011. But the A’s officially cut ties with third baseman Eric Chavez, declining his $12.5 million option and instead paying him a $3 million buyout.

None of these moves ranks as a big surprise, though this closes the book on Chavez’s Oakland career. It’s possible he could come to spring training as a non-roster invitee if he’s healthy, but he hasn’t played a full season since 2006. Club officials had strongly hinted that Ellis would be brought back, and his scorching September at the plate really boosted his cause. Is it a high price tag for him? I think so, considering he’s had his own injury struggles and his power has declined considerably.

This move was based on defense, which the A’s have made a priority since heading into the 2010 season. And Ellis is still an excellent defender. But this move also speaks to the fact that the young second basemen in the farm system haven’t come along as quickly as hoped. Jemile Weeks continues to battle injury problems and Adrian Cardenas hasn’t developed as quickly as expected. Adam Rosales? I think he’s more valuable to the A’s in the super-utility role he played this season. Eric Sogard looked pretty good in his September call-up, but the team still hasn’t seen enough of him to hand him the job.

The decision to bring Crisp back could hardly be considered a slam-dunk given his considerable injury struggles, but I like the move. Not only does he provide excellent defense in center, he was an impact leadoff man. In just 75 games, he hit .279 with eight homers, 38 RBIs and a career-high 32 stolen bases. Now, the key is to make sure he plays MORE THAN 75 games in 2011. And Crisp had two lengthy DL stints this season with a fractured pinkie (twice) and a strained rib cage. But this team is a different lineup with Crisp in it, and it’s worth the gamble to bring him back. Now we’ll see if the A’s search for a power-hitting outfielder to put on either side of him.

–One last note: The A’s have scheduled a traditional doubleheader next season for July 16 against the Angels. They’ve shifted a July 14 (Thursday) game in order to do so. It’s the first time the A’s have staged a planned doubleheader since 1995. The first game will start at 1:07 p.m. with the second game to follow after a short break.

Let’s hear some thoughts on today’s news …

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Ron Romanick named A’s new pitching coach

The A’s have promoted Ron Romanick to take over as their new pitching coach following Curt Young’s departure last week. Romanick has served the past three seasons as the team’s bullpen coach and has been instrumental in constructing throwing programs for the entire pitching staff — including offseason routines and programs for players coming off injury. Before that, Romanick was the A’s roving minor league pitching instructor, working with players individually. He was the main figure responsible for Brad Ziegler’s successful conversion into a submarine pitcher, which paved the way for Ziegler to make it to the big leagues.

As for Young, he’s still considered the front runner to be named the Red Sox’s new pitching coach …