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Big turnout on Day 1 of Camp Melvin

I realize it’s a little late in the day, but here’s your first blog post of A’s spring training 2012. …

–Today was reporting day for pitchers and catchers, but I was surprised how many position players were on hand too. Jemile Weeks, Cliff PEnnington, Daric Barton, Michael Taylor, Michael Choice, to name a few. Granted, some were scheduled for physicals, but some were on the field getting some running in too. It’s the first spring under manager Bob Melvin, so in a way, it’s another chance to make a first impression. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising to see players getting a head start on things.

–The A’s have a lot of work to cram in before they head to Tokyo on March 22 to open the regular season. They need to identify at least two starting pitchers (three if Dallas Braden misses his first turn), a closer, a designated hitter and a starting first baseman. Oh, they also need to figure out their outfield. For that reason, Melvin and his staff will be evaluating Cactus League stats/results a lot more than they normally would to make some decisions. “We’re going to have some guys that are integral parts of our team that we’re gonna have to evaluate here (during spring training),” Melvin said. Don’t expect a quick decision on a closer. Melvin said he’s in no rush to pick one, so keep an eye on how Grant Balfour, Fautino De Los Santos, Joey Devine and Brian Fuentes fare as exhibition play unfolds.

–Melvin wants spring workouts to be sharp, focused, and, if all goes well, on the brief side. He doesn’t see the need to keep players on the field for hours and hours if things are being done right. “I know from a player’s standpoint,” Melvin said, “the last thing you want to do is watch your staff be unorganized, and stand around and wait … We’re gonna use all the fields at Papago (Park Baseball Complex). We’ll try to get a lot of work in for a minimal amount of time.”

Today was a weird day with no official workout. You’ll be getting more posts earlier in the day from here on out, and hopefully some video footage too!

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The latest on potential Manny Ramirez-A’s deal

The speculation remains heavy that Manny Ramirez will sign with the A’s sometime soon. I can tell you Ramirez’s representatives are being very tight-lipped, as are the A’s, who don’t discuss their free agent pursuits publicly. But there’s nothing that suggests to me that a deal won’t eventually happen. There simply aren’t many alternatives for Ramirez. Baltimore Orioles GM Dan Duquette told reporters Friday that he doesn’t see Ramirez as a fit, and talks between Ramirez and the Blue Jays (another team with some interest) reportedly didn’t go very far. That leaves the A’s, who have several in-house DH candidates they can evaluate while Ramirez serves his 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s drug policy.

Speaking of that, here’s some details passed along by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal on what Ramirez can do baseball-wise during his suspension:

–Ramirez can play in spring training games and extended spring training games.

–Once the regular season begins, he can work out with either major or minor league teams, but he must leave before the gates open for fans to enter the stadium.

–As his suspension nears its end, Ramirez can participate in a 10-game minor league rehab assignment.

**A note for those planning to attend A’s spring camp. Unlike the past two years, all workouts leading up to Cactus League games will take place at Papago Park Baseball Complex, just a five-minute drive from Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Papago serves as the A’s year-round minor league headquarters. It doesn’t have the charm of a regular ballpark, but there are four diamonds clustered together, and fans can get up-close views on any of the fields as players bounce from diamond to diamond for different drills. The first pitchers-and-catchers workout will be Sunday, probably starting around 9 a.m. The first full-squad workout is Feb. 25.

–And in case you didn’t catch my spring training preview in this morning’s paper, give it a look. Here’s a roster breakdown too. …

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Bob Melvin’s response to Coco Crisp wanting to remain A’s center fielder

The A’s anticipated signing of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes brings a crucial question to the forefront: Who will play center field for this team? Do the A’s go with Cespedes, the newcomer who is accustomed to playing center and agreed Monday to a four-year $36 million deal? Or do they stick with Coco Crisp, the incumbent at the position who re-signed with Oakland this winter on a two-year contract? I wouldn’t call it a controversy at this point, but it’s an issue that will need to be addressed quickly for all parties involved once position players report to camp Feb. 24.

Manager Bob Melvin responded Wednesday to comments Crisp made to the San Francisco Chronicle about his desire to remain in center. “If someone feels there’s someone better than me, it’s hard for me to believe,” Crisp said. “Unless (Cespedes) is a demigod come down from the heavens, no one is going to outshine me in center field.” Melvin’s reaction? “I’m not upset by his comments,” the manager told this newspaper. “I want him having that kind of confidence in playing center field. And in my opinion, he’s one of the best center fielders in the game.” Nothing concrete to glean from that, except that Melvin has a ton of confidence in Crisp patrolling center. There’s lots of issues for the A’s to consider here, chief among them: Would allowing Cespedes to play center ease his transition to the big leagues and help him perform better? And if Cespedes’ arm is as good as people claim it is, might he be put to better use in right field and let Crisp remain in center?

Melvin said he hasn’t spoken with Crisp since news of Cespedes’ deal broke Monday. But knowing how big Melvin is on communicating with his players and letting them know where they stand, I’d expect a conversation to take place as soon as Crisp arrives in camp, if they don’t talk sooner.

Any thoughts on how you think the A’s starting outfield will materialize?

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A closer look at A’s signing of Yoenis Cespedes

The A’s stole the spotlight Monday with news that they’ve agreed to terms with Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes on a four-year $36 million contract. With that, the A’s have grabbed the top hitter on the international free agent market. Cespedes, 26, still must pass a physical (figure that won’t happen for at least a week) and he needs to obtain a worker’s visa to play baseball in the United States. But assuming the contract gets finalized, his arrival will bring a jolt of excitement to the A’s, regardless of whether Manny Ramirez joins him or not …

The reason A’s fans should be thrilled: Cespedes is a physical specimen with terrific tools. At 6 feet, 215 pounds, he’s built like a running back and is said to have terrific power and speed to go with a strong arm, which could play well in center or right field. If you haven’t seen this promotional video yet, check it out. It’s an odd, and at times, hilarious production, but it also offers a glimpse of Cespedes’ raw ability. Baseball America’s Jim Callis says Cespedes would have ranked somewhere in the No. 7-15 range of the list of the major leagues’ top prospects, so the A’s have landed a premium guy. Perhaps they finally have a young, impact middle-of-the-order bat.

The reason for A’s fans to be skeptical: There’s still no way of telling how Cespedes’ talent translates to the major league level. He not only will be making a huge jump in competition level, he’ll be adapting to a new country and new culture as well. I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk he’s in the opening night lineup. Perhaps he gets a bit of minor league time to adjust. That will depend on how he looks in spring training. And as one scout told me this afternoon, if Cespedes is ready to contribute right away, will he have the lineup protection to thrive? “They did a good job outbidding other clubs and getting a hell of prospect,” the scout said. “But there’s so many questions in the middle of that lineup.”

Bottom line, this is an example that the A’s are breaking away from the “Moneyball” mentality. They’re now going after the blue-chip, can’t-miss physical talents who blow you away with their bench press and sprint times. And the A’s are throwing big money at these players to land them.

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A’s co-owner Lew Wolff touches on San Jose ballpark, revenue sharing and how long he’ll play waiting game

I attended a Q&A session involving A’s co-owner Lew Wolff this afternoon hosted by the Rotary Club of San Jose. It’s interesting to see Wolff operate in that kind of environment. He represents the bad guy to so many A’s fans. But he was on friendly terrain Wednesday, speaking in the same downtown area where he hopes to build his new ballpark someday – and he drew laughter with a few sharp one-liners. You can’t help but wonder how he would have been greeted in Oakland for a similar function. Here’s a few highlights from his 39-minute Q&A and the short media session he conducted afterward:

–If the team does indeed move to San Jose, they will be called the “San Jose A’s,” which has been assumed. Wolff pointed out how the franchise has moved from Philadelphia to Kansas City to Oakland, always keeping the “Athletics” label. There was a stuffed Stomper on hand at Wednesday’s event, with the A’s mascot wearing a “San Jose Athletics” uniform.

– Wolff was asked about the possibility of the A’s simply buying out the Giants’ territorial rights to San Jose. “That has not been discussed with us,” he said. That’s surprising to me. Considering nearly three years has passed since Major League Baseball began researching the A’s stadium options, I’d be shocked if MLB hasn’t tried to broker a financial settlement between the teams regarding territorial rights, if indeed what Wolff says is true.

–Wolff said the A’s received about $32 million in revenue sharing last year from MLB. He claimed the A’s take that $32 million, along with all other revenue generated, and allocate about half of it toward the major league payroll. The rule of thumb, according to Wolff, is for major league teams to devote about half of their revenue to the major league payroll. The A’s carried an opening day payroll of roughly $67 million in 2011. “We use every penny of it,” Wolff said of revenue-sharing funds.

–Getting an answer from MLB on the stadium issue “in the next couple months would be great,” Wolff said. Someone asked how long he might wait for an answer before throwing in the towel on building a ballpark. “I’m not going to continue this much longer,” he said. “What we want is an answer. We want a ‘Yes, you can relocate and share the territory,’ or ‘You can’t.’ But not having any answer is difficult not just for me, but for the 130 people that work for us, for planning, for our baseball team every year.” So what happens if his timeframe expires and there’s still no answer? Would Wolff and his fellow owners sell? He said he’s not entertaining that option yet.

–Despite the trades of three All-Star pitchers over the winter, Wolff thinks the A’s will field a quality team this season. “We’re going to fool a lot of people with our team, I think,” he said.