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Barton back with a new attitude and second chance

UPDATED

If there was one player in the A’s spring training camp that seemed the least likely to make it onto the Oakland roster in 2013, Daric Barton would have gotten many, if not most, of the votes.

He is a left-handed hitting first baseman with minimal power and he is on a team where Brandon Moss is a one-time outfielder-turned-first base who is left-hand and who has plenty of power. It was Moss who had taken Barton’s job last season.

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Barton goes from least likely to back on A’s roster

If there was one player in the A’s spring training camp that seemed the least likely to make it onto the Oakland roster in 2013, Daric Barton would have gotten many, if not most, of the votes.

He is a left-handed hitting first baseman with minimal power and he is on a team where Brandon Moss is a one-time outfielder-turned-first base who is left-hand and who has plenty of power. It was Moss who had taken Barton’s job last season.

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Freiman an imposing presence in A’s clubhouse

Nate Freiman s an imposing figure in A's camp

The initial impression brought on by Nate Freiman’s first morning in the A’s camp is that the Warriors missed out on a good bet.

This guy has a power forward’s body.

It’s yet to be proven if he’s the right-handed power hitter the A’s need as an option to the left-handed Brandon Moss at first base, but spring is all about optimism, right?

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Players without options have an advantage with A’s

PHOENIX – There’s hardly ever anything completely fair in baseball when you are a player looking to make a big league roster, and that’s as true with the A’s this spring as with any other club.

The A’s have eight players who are out of options, meaning Oakland has to find a way to keep them on their roster this season or risk losing them by having to put them on waivers.

Daric Barton, Travis Blackley, Jerry Blevins, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Pat Neshek, Chris Resop and Adam Rosales all are on that list. And it wouldn’t be a tremendous surprise if all eight landed a job, some at the expense of other otherwise worthy candidates.

Blevins is a fixture in the bullpen and Donaldson and Moss make up the corners of the infield, so they seem to be locks to make the final 25-man roster.

The other five will have a leg up on the competition based on the fact that the A’s historically don’t want to lose players without any return. Some could be traded, but all have value, as manager Bob Melvin admitted Wednesday.

“With our organization, we try to keep as many guys as we can,’’ Melvin said before the second day of spring workouts for pitchers and catchers. That’s not always the most popular position, but …’’

Melvin says the A’s will give everybody a look this spring, but come the end of March when rosters have to be finalized, he suggested that the desire to keep players would become a factor.

“The important thing right now is to give everybody a chance to play and see where we are,’’ he said.

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Postgame thoughts as A’s notch their sixth straight victory

Here’s a few odds and ends that didn’t all make it into my story for tomorrow’s paper. …

–How much should we pay attention to Cactus League winning streaks? Not a whole lot. But the A’s notched their sixth victory in a row with Thursday’s 11-7 win over Texas, and manager Bob Melvin thinks there’s something to be said for it. The A’s are 10-3-1, tied with Seattle for the best mark in the Cactus League heading into the Mariners’ game Thursday night. “We have a lot of new guys, and winning is important, whether it’s an intrasquad game or a spring training game,” Melvin said. “If we were 2-12, I’d probably be talking differently. But it does matter. It really does.”

Right now, I think fans should be more enthused about the hot hitting of Jemile Weeks and Cliff Pennington. Weeks, who is batting .419 and homered from both sides of the plate Thursday, is an obvious key in the leadoff spot. I’ve had Pennington pegged as the No. 9 hitter in my projected batting order. But the guy is hitting .464 right now (4 for 4 on Thursday). If he keeps this up, might Melvin be inclined to hit him higher in the order? I still like him hitting ninth, a speedy guy who can turn the lineup over and get Weeks some at-bats with runners on base.

Where would you like to see Pennington hit?

–Melvin applied some sugar-coating on Brad Peacock’s poor start Thursday — 2 1/3 innings, 5 runs, 3 walks. But Peacock was understandably disappointed in himself. He walked two men in the first and then allowed a three-run double to Nelson Cruz on a 1-2 pitch. “I was missing spots,” Peacock said. “I can’t walk guys.” He’s had two shaky outings sandwiched around one good outing. Right now, it’s tough to see him nailing down a rotation spot. If I were choosing winners today for the three open rotation spots, I’d go Tom Milone, Jarrod Parker and Tyson Ross. “He’s going through a little bit of a tough time,” Melvin said of Peacock. “He hasn’t had the greatest draws either with lineups. The results aren’t what he wants to see right now. The stuff’s still good.”

–The first base job is looking like a two-man battle between Brandon Allen and Kila Ka’aihue. That’s what I gleaned from Melvin’s comments Thursday morning when asked about Chris Carter’s spring camp. Carter is hitting .263 with no homers and one RBI. That average is actually better than Ka’aihue’s .211 mark, though Ka’aihue has one homer. But it’s clear, judging how playing time is being doled out, that Carter doesn’t appear to be in the big league plans. Melvin remarked recently that Carter’s at-bats were better in early exhibitions than they have been lately. He has seven strikeouts in 19 at-bats overall.

“We were looking to try to see if his at-bats were better at the big league level. That’s really the only thing that’s been missing,” Melvin said. “He’s ended up feeling comfortable at every level, but (not) at the big league level at this point.”

Interestingly — and surprisingly — Melvin does not count Daric Barton out of the competition. Barton has been slowed all spring by complications as he comes back from shoulder surgery. His throwing has been limited, but he is tentatively set to play defense for the first time Saturday. Melvin does acknowlege, however, that a stint in extended spring training is possible for Barton.

The smart money remains on Allen to be the A’s opening day first baseman …

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Bob Melvin takes part in “Feats of Strength” tradition

Pretty quiet Sunday morning at Muni, where the A’s host the Royals this afternoon. There wasn’t much in the way of news, although the first big round of cuts is expected after the game. Right-hander Sonny Gray, the 2011 first-round pick, was the first to be sent down. He got word yesterday.

–An A’s spring tradition, the “Feats of Strength” presentation, took place in the clubhouse. I’ve seen this six times now, and it never fails to entertain. Team chaplain Donnie Moore and a couple of his assistants tear apart phone books, bend steel bars and karate-chop concrete blocks with their bare hands – the motivational message being that if you envision yourself able to do something, you can accomplish any goal.

This was the first time manager Bob Melvin has seen the “Feats of Strength.” Little did he know he’d be asked to lay flat on his back on a bench, with a slab of concrete resting on his chest. Then someone took a hammer of some sort (my view was blocked by all the players gathered around) and smashed the concrete across his chest. Melvin hopped up and gave a couple high-fives, admitting later he had his eyes closed through the whole episode. Moore did the same thing with former manager Bob Geren last spring.

“There’s motivational speaking and then there’s that,” Melvin said. “Actions speak louder than words, and it was all it was cracked up to be.”

On the baseball front …

–Yoenis Cespedes is hitting third as D.H. today. “Maybe we’ll move him back to fourth the next day,” Melvin said. “We do feel he’s a middle-of-the-order bat. I don’t think he did anything to disprove that (Saturday).” Where might Cespedes settle in the batting order? I’d say that depends on whether anyone else emerges as a potential No. 3 hitter. Seth Smith or Josh Reddick could fit the bill, although we don’t even know if Smith will be in the lineup full time. Cespedes will be off Monday, as Melvin is putting him on the same two-on, one-off rotation as his regular starters.

–Daric Barton will make his exhibition debut Monday, serving as D.H. against the White Sox in Glendale. His throwing is still coming along slowly after shoulder surgery, so no word yet on when he’ll play first base.

The lineups:

A’s: Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Cespedes DH, Gomes LF, Donaldson 3B, Smith RF, Recker C, Ka’aihue 1B, Pennington SS; Milone LHP.

Royals: Cain CF, Betancourt 2B, Hosmer 1B, Butler DH, Francoeur RF, Moustakas 3B, Pena C, Robinson LF, Escobar SS; Chen LHP.

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Manny Ramirez will DH in A’s exhibition opener Friday

The morning recap as the A’s take infield and prepare for this afternoon’s intrasquad game …

Manny Ramirez will be the designated hitter Friday when the A’s open Cactus League play against the Seattle Mariners. But manager Bob Melvin cautioned not to read too much into Friday’s lineup, backing off somewhat from his statement Wednesday that the starting nine in the exhibition opener might look a lot like his lineup for the March 28 regular season opener. The A’s have several starting spots up grabs, including first base, third base and DH. The look of the outfield is also undecided, with Yoenis Cespedes factoring heavily in that picture when he reports to camp.

Ramirez can’t even play in the regular season until he serves a 50-game suspension. Melvin said earlier in camp that he will rotate hitters through the DH spot. Ramirez will draw starts so he can shake off rust. But figure that Brandon Allen, Chris Carter, Jonny Gomes, Kila Ka’aihue and Seth Smith will also see DH time as the A’s must identify someone for that spot to begin the regular season.

Allen, Carter and Ka’aihue are also competing for the first base job along with Daric Barton. Barton, who is recovering from surgery on his throwing shoulder, had a cortisone shot recently and is getting a couple day off from baseball activity. He isn’t expected to be ready to play defense until later this month. Does that put him behind in the first base battle? Melvin says no. “We know what to expect for him,” Melvin said. “We need to get him healthy.”

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Catching up on a quiet (so far) A’s offseason

Hello everybody … long time, no blog.

I’ve been doubling up lately with Cal football coverage and that’s taken the lion’s share of my time. But “Inside the A’s” has been neglected long enough, so I wanted to drop in. Not that there’s been a ton of A’s news to report anyway this offseason. By now you’ve caught the drift that the A’s won’t be as aggressive going after players as they were last winter (unless those acquisitions come in the form of prospects via trade). You might have seen this story from ESPN’s Buster Olney regarding the A’s being sellers, largely because their stadium situation remains unsettled. If the A’s get approval to build a ballpark in San Jose, we know that GM Billy Beane plans to rebuild with younger players, hoping to have a nucleus ready to blossom when that ballpark opens for business. If they were to be denied, it’s possible they might open the checkbook a little more. And what if the issue continues to drag through the winter with no word from MLB? The indications I’ve gotten are that the A’s won’t spend aggressively as long as they remain in limbo.

Olney wrote that he could see the A’s trading starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez and closer Andrew Bailey. Of the two, I see Bailey as the stronger possibility to go. If the A’s don’t see themselves contending in 2012, then a dominant closer becomes less of a necessity. And Bailey could fetch a nice haul given he’s just 27 and under team control for the next three seasons. A front-of-the-rotation starter such as Gonzalez is more of a foundation piece and much tougher for a team to replace. Having said that, if a team knocks Beane’s socks off with an offer for Gonzalez, I think he would certainly pull the trigger. The Marlins are looking for starting pitching as they move into their new ballpark in Miami, and this report out of Florida says they’re eyeing Gonzalez, who is from the Miami area and would be a great addition from a baseball and marketing standpoint. The question is whether the Marlins (or any team) have the pieces to pry Gonzalez away.

Here’s some key dates to keep an eye on:

Nov. 23: This is the last day for teams to offer salary arbitration to a Type “A” or “B” free agent in order to get compensation should that player sign elsewhere. The A’s have decisions to make on outfielders Josh Willingham and David DeJesus. Willingham is a Type A, meaning the A’s stand to get a first-round pick and a sandwich pick (between the first and second rounds) should he be offered arbitration and sign elsewhere. DeJesus is Type B, meaning the A’s would get a sandwich pick if he’s offered arb and signs elsewhere. The risk for teams, of course, is that a player unexpectedly accepts arbitration, and the team is stuck paying a large salary to a player it didn’t expect to have around. I see no such risk with Willingham. He’s likely to land a multi-year deal somewhere and would seemingly want to keep his options open. DeJesus might be more willing to accept arbitration, so unless the A’s feel good about him returning, they have a decision on whether to offer it. Sometimes a team and player will reach a gentleman’s agreement that the player won’t accept arbitration if offered. I’m not sure if that’s being discussed with DeJesus.

Dec. 5-8: The four-day event known as the winter meetings, where reporters bump into each other as they walk with noses buried in cell phones, monitoring Twitter. The A’s are often subject of rumors at the meetings, but usually this period is a time for them to lay the groundwork for future moves. Now that I’ve said that, they’re bound to pull a blockbuster there. Just you watch …

Dec. 12: The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players. It’s an important day because any arb-eligible player not offered a contract is cut loose and becomes a free agent. The A’s have 10 players eligible for arbitration – Gonzalez, Bailey, relievers Craig Breslow and Joey Devine, starters Dallas Braden and Brandon McCarthy, first baseman Daric Barton, outfielder Ryan Sweeney, infielder Adam Rosales and catcher Landon Powell. Beane said at his season-ending press conference he expects all will be tendered contracts, but we won’t know until deadline day.

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Michael Taylor makes his debut with A’s

Outfielder Michael Taylor was among three players the A’s called up from the minors before Friday’s series opener against Seattle.

It marks the big league debutfor Taylor, 25, a much talked-about prospect since the A’s acquired him from Toronto for infielder Brett Wallace before the 2010 season. Taylor hit .272 with 16 homers and 64 RBIs in 93 games for Triple-A Sacramento.

Infielder Adam Rosales and reliever Andrew Carignan also were called up. To clear a 40-man roster spot for Carignan, making his major league debut, first baseman Daric Barton was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

The A’s also reinstated reliever Michael Wuertz from the 15-day DL.

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Conor Jackson gets another start at first base for A’s; Kevin Kouzmanoff back at third

It’s early May, and the Royals are 17-14 and in second place in the AL Central. That has people talking in Kansas City after this franchise has struggled for so long. But the real buzz as the A’s begin a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium is the major league debut of Royals top prospect Eric Hosmer. The left-handed hitting first baseman wasn’t supposed to reach the bigs until later this season. But he mashed at Triple-A and the Royals believe he’s ready. Hosmer, 21, was the third overall pick in the 2008 draft. He’s the crown jewel from Kansas City’s loaded farm system, and it should be entertaining to watch him take his hacks against lefty Gio Gonzalez.

The A’s could use some exciting new blood in their batting order. For now, Oakland fans will have to settle for tonight’s intriguing lineup. Conor Jackson draws his second start in three games at first base in place of Daric Barton. Ryan Sweeney’s five-hit game Thursday buys him a start in left field, with Josh Willingham sitting. Andy LaRoche spells Cliff Pennington at shortstop and Kevin Kouzmanoff returns to third base after riding the bench for five games. A’s manager Bob Geren says no one is out of the lineup for health reasons. “Everybody’s healthy. That’s why I’m continuing to mix guys in to keep everybody healthy and everybody fresh,” Geren said.

I don’t read too much into Willingham sitting, but it’s interesting to see Jackson getting another start at first base, particularly against a right-hander. Geren is looking for ways to keep Jackson’s bat in the lineup, and Barton is hitting .204 with six RBIs in 31 games. If Jackson keeps hitting, might he get more time at first? Right now, I like him in the No. 3 spot with David DeJesus batting second.

–A team spokesman said there was no more news on Dallas Braden, so we can assume he has yet to get that second opinion on his injured shoulder.

–It’s a big night for DeJesus, who returns to Kansas City for the first time after spending the previous seven-plus seasons with the Royals. He held a pregame press conference but then had no idea how to find his way from the interview room to the visitor’s dugout. He never spent much time on the visitor’s side of this stadium until tonight …

The lineups:
A’s – Crisp CF, DeJesus RF, Jackson 1B, Matsui DH, Suzuki C, Sweeney LF, LaRoche SS, Ellis 2B, Kouzmanoff 3B; Gonzalez LHP.

Royals – Aviles 2B, Cabrera CF, Gordon LF, Butler DH, Francoeur RF, Hosmer 1B, Betemit 3B, Treanor C, Escobar SS; O’Sullivan RHP.