19

Speculating on the A’s potential lineup

Just for kicks, here’s my guess at the A’s Opening Day batting order w/the current roster (I’m including Coco Crisp, though his signing hasn’t been announced yet):

1. Weeks 2B
2. Sizemore 3B
3. Crisp CF
4. Allen 1B
5. Suzuki C
6. Reddick RF
7. Carter DH
8. Taylor/Cowgill LF
9. Pennington SS

I initially penciled in Crisp as the No. 2 hitter behind Weeks because it just seemed a natural fit. But I see him as the A’s most complete hitter as things stand, so I slotted him third, where a team’s best hitter usually bats. I’m hesitant putting Allen at cleanup considering his inexperience, but given the A’s current makeup, he offers some of the best run-producing potential. I could see him and Suzuki flip-flopping, though Suzuki is not an ideal cleanup man either. I have no idea where Reddick fits best, but I put him sixth to get a little left-right-left variation going in the 4-5-6 spots.

This batting order wouldn’t exactly make pitchers run the other way, no matter how you arrange it. I expect the A’s to add another hitter or two through free agency, though I’m not sure how much more formidable they will make the offense.

Give me some feedback. What adjustments would you make?

5

Coco Crisp to re-sign with A’s on two-year, $14 million deal

Finally, there’s some A’s news about a player returning rather than being shown the door. Free agent center fielder Coco Crisp will return to Oakland on a two-year deal worth $14 million, plus a $7.5 million club option for 2014, reports ESPN’s Buster Olney. All indications I’m getting are that this is all but a done deal. Here’s my story on the topic. A’s officials aren’t confirming anything and neither is Crisp’s agent, Steve Comte. But Oakland GM Billy Beane had complimentary things to say about Crisp even as he declined direct comment on whether a contract was in the works.

Does this signing surprise you? I’m a little shocked that Crisp would return given the direction of the franchise. Top starting pitchers Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill have been traded, as have closer Andrew Bailey and fellow reliever Craig Breslow. Beane and Co. have clearly stated they don’t think it’s realistic for the A’s to contend in the AL West this season, and they’re building for a future they hope includes a new stadium in San Jose. Crisp told me in September that playing for a contender would be important to him as he entered free agency. I asked Comte how Crisp viewed the A’s given the trades that have been made this winter. “(GM) Billy (Beane) always finds a way to piece it together,” Comte said. “ … I think we’ve seen a few teams with young talent that have probably exceeded expectations.”

A two-year, $14 million deal is pretty steep for a player with Crisp’s injury history. And you figure there weren’t many teams offering Crisp as much as the A’s did on a multi-year deal. Nonetheless, this is an important signing for the A’s simply because it brings a recognizable player back into the fold after they’ve sent so many guys packing. Does it improve Oakland’s chances in the AL West? Not really. Does Crisp bring the power this team so desperately lacks with Josh Willingham’s departure? Negative. But he provides a steady glove in center field, and manager Bob Melvin is preaching improved defense in 2012. Crisp also brings a little name recognition, as second baseman Jemile Weeks was looking like the A’s only hope to build a marketing campaign around. Given how this offseason has unfolded, I’m guessing fans are chalking this up as a surprise victory.

Am I right?

3

Aftermath of the Conor Jackson trade

Here’s a quick take on the Conor Jackson trade …

It was no shocker to see him dealt. The emergence of Brandon Allen had pushed Jackson into a minor role. But the bigger impact is the playing time this might open up for September call-ups. There’s one less player now vying for playing time at first base/outfield. As I’ve written before, the rest of this season should be about evaluating young players who might be part of the future moving forward. Not just Allen and Jemile Weeks, but also a guy like Michael Taylor. I realize Taylor hasn’t destroyed Triple-A pitching, but I’m surprised he hasn’t gotten a look yet with the big club. There’s a better opportunity to get him up here with Jackson out of the picture. Chris Carter? It’s going to be trickier to find him playing time in the majors given how impressive Allen has been at first. Carter could get DH at-bats, but if the A’s are entertaining any thoughts of re-signing Hideki Matsui (I’ve gotten no indication one way or another), they probably wouldn’t want to take the veteran out of the lineup.

Bottom line, it’s still unclear whether Taylor, 25, and Carter, 24, are factors for this team in 2012, and that’s a problem. At this point, you need to give these guys extended playing time in the big leagues or assume they’re not part of the plans moving forward.

–One last thought on the Jackson trade. It’s tough to see him go from a beat writer’s standpoint. He was definitely one of the team’s best quotes, a guy who would give an intelligent take on whatever question you threw at him. The Red Sox press corps is in for a pleasant surprise …

0

A long journey begins

The key number for this nine-game road trip the A’s are starting: 6,544.

That’s the total miles the team will fly from Oakland to Seattle, to Tampa, to Toronto and back home. There are off-days sandwiched around both ends of the Rays series, but that is one brutal trip given the crazy routing. Not exactly ideal for a team sporting a 18-35 road record, though I’m not sure how much the travel itself has factored into the A’s play on the road. Given how well they played on the last homestand, an obvious key is whether the A’s bats can stay hot on this three-city journey. They open up against a Seattle team that just traded two-fifths of its starting rotation in Doug Fister and Erik Bedard.

Speaking of travel, the Mariners won’t have too much sympathy for the A’s, given the grind they annually face as a result of being tucked away in the northwest corner of the country. The difference for the Mariners and, say, the teams situated way up in the Northeast is that Seattle’s division opponents are much more spread out, making for longer trips (and more often) throughout the season.

Personally, I’m just happy I remembered my passport for when we cross into Canada.

–Lefty Jordan Norberto, one of the players obtained in the Brad Ziegler trade, joined the A’s today. He knows Conor Jackson (a former teammate with Arizona), Jemile Weeks (an opponent in the minors) and Fautino De Los Santos (who grew up in a neighboring town in the Dominican Republic.). His addition gives the A’s eight relievers – four lefties and four righties – and manager Bob Melvin said he likes the flexibility that gives him for matchups. I’d expect a reliever to be sent down sometime after this series, however. Melvin acknowledged that it’s tough operating with a three-man bench, and since Toronto and Tampa Bay both play on turf, he would like to give some position players a game off to save them wear and tear. He’ll need more depth in order to do that.

–Norberto throws a fastball, slider and change-up, and he said his command has improved a little lately because he’s repeating his delivery better.

–Still no David DeJesus in the lineup, but he swung off a tee today and said his right thumb is feeling better.

Tonight’s lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Willingham LF, Sweeney RF, Jackson 1B, Pennington SS, Suzuki C, Sizemore 3B, Cahill RHP.

Mariners – Ichiro RF, Ryan SS, Ackley 2B, Carp DH, Kennedy 1B, Olivo C, Wells LF, Figgins 3B, Gutierrez CF, Beavan RHP.

9

Jemile Weeks, Gio Gonzalez earn honors; Willingham might play vs. Texas Rangers

Here’s the latest on another very warm day at the Coliseum …

A couple of individual awards came the A’s way Tuesday, as second baseman Jemile Weeks was named the American League’s co-Rookie of the Month along with Minnesota Twins outfielder Ben Revere. Left-hander Gio Gonzalez earned AL co-Player of the Week honors with the Toronto Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista. It’s the sixth time an A’s player has earned Rookie of the Month, but Weeks is just the second  position player to do it. Shortstop Bobby Crosby was honored in June 2004.

It’s impressive in that this truly was Weeks’ first month in the major leagues. He’s hitting .299 with 13 runs and six stolen bases in 25 games since being called up June 7, providing a jolt of excitement immediately upon his arrival. But I’ll be interested to see what happens with him once cleanup man Josh Willingham returns from the DL. I would think Hideki Matsui goes back to the No. 3 spot, Coco Crisp returns to leadoff and Weeks might drop back down to the No. 9 spot. I think that makes for an overall stronger batting order. Where would you like to see Weeks hit once Willingham comes back? …

–Speaking of Willingham, he’s been running for the past couple days and is doing well enough that both he and manager Bob Melvin think he could return sometime during the four-game series at Texas that begins Thursday. “Cautiously optimistic” is how Melvin characterized things. Willingham said the key is how his strained Achilles responds AFTER he’s done running. That’s when he still experiences problems. “If it continues to get better, I’ll play in Texas,” he said.

–Check out this all-encompassing review of the Oakland Coliseum, courtesy of www.stadiumjourney.com. Do you agree with the points made? Disagree? Feel free to share …

The lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Sizemore 3B, Crisp CF, Matsui DH, Jackson 1B, DeJesus RF, Suzuki C, Sweeney LF, Pennington SS; Cahill RHP.

Mariners – Ichiro DH, Ryan SS, Kennedy 3B, Smoak 1B, Ackley 2B, Olivo C, Peguero LF, Guiterrez CF, Halman RF; Hernandez RHP.

0

Jemile Weeks staying as A’s starting second baseman; Mark Ellis to be utility man

We’re in a rain delay at Citi Field. The announcement just came as rain started falling right around the time first pitch was scheduled for. No word yet on when we’ll start. Until then, here’s the pregame update …

The expected news came down that rookie Jemile Weeks will remain the A’s starting second baseman and Mark Ellis will slide into a utility infielder role. Ellis will be an option at first and third base as well as second, manager Bob Melvin said, and he could start at first as soon as Thursday.

Ellis is handling the news extremely well and saying all the right things, which isn’t surprising considering what a class act he is. “I wasn’t bracing myself,” Ellis said. “I’ve been in (Weeks’) position before. I’ve been that guy before. So I wasn’t bracing myself. But watching him play, I’m proud of him. He’s done a great job, and he’s my teammate.”

At the same time, reading between the lines, I get the feeling Ellis would welcome a trade if it meant going somewhere to be a starting second baseman. “I still see myself as playing second base every day,” Ellis said. “We’ll see what happens there as far as wherever.” Ellis said he has a no-trade clause that allows him to veto a trade to six teams, but didn’t say who they are. I’ve been told by another trustworthy source that the Giants are not one of the six teams. Even with Daric Barton going down to the minors and Conor Jackson being the regular first baseman, the A’s still have two right-handed hitting utility infielders in Ellis and Adam Rosales (Melvin said Rosales will serve as the backup shortstop and not Ellis).

Melvin commended Ellis for how well he took the news, and that Ellis took all the tension out of the conversation when the two talked.

–In other news, left fielder Josh Willingham was scheduled to test his sore Achilles’ tendon by running. That’s the main hurdle for Willingham to clear before he returns to the lineup. He’s OK hitting, he said. If Willingham can’t play Thursday, Melvin said Jackson likely would go to left field and Ellis might play first.

–As things currently stand, Melvin said he envisions Hideki Matsui getting two starts in left field against Philadelphia this weekend, though that depends a lot on Willingham’s availability.

–One man who’s still the odd man out of playing time — David DeJesus. With Jackson playing first, that relieves a bit of the outfield logjam. But you saw how Ryan Sweeney played last night — four hits and a sliding catch in right-center. It’s hard to take that guy out of the lineup right now. DeJesus, like Ellis, is taking his situation very well. “To hang my head and be miserable, the season is way too long to be like that every day,” DeJesus said.

The lineups:
A’s — Weeks 2B, Pennington SS, Crisp CF, Matsui LF, Jackson 1B, Sweeney RF, Suzuki C, Sizemore 3B, Gonzalez LHP.

Mets — Reyes SS, Turner 3B, Beltran RF, Bay LF, Hairston CF, Paulino C, Duda 1B, Tejada 2B, Dickey RHP.

0

A few vets, lots of prospects on display in Friday intrasquad game; some thoughts on the outfield

There wasn’t a whole lot of news coming out of A’s camp this morning, but here’s a brief rundown:

–Kurt Suzuki is behind the plate for one side in today’s intrasquad game after he got yesterday off. Center fielder Coco Crisp, right fielder David DeJesus and shortstop Cliff Pennington are also in the lineup, though Pennington won’t hit as his left shoulder is still recovering from surgery. Lots of top prospects are playing: Chris Carter (playing first, though the A’s still consider him mainly an outfielder right now), second baseman Jemile Weeks, catcher Max Stassi, left fielder Michael Taylor and shortstop Grant Green.

–Ryan Sweeney is at DH today but he’s still not playing in the field. Manager Bob Geren offered March 7 as the date Sweeney might make his exhibition debut as he comes back from right knee surgery, and Geren believes that is plenty of time to have Sweeney ready for the regular season.

–Geren talked about his outfield rotation and who might play where. Notably, he likes DeJesus as his main choice to play center when Crisp needs a day off. I envision Crisp getting a substantial amount of rest this season as the A’s try to keep him healthy. A writer who has covered DeJesus extensively told me that he’s an underrated defensive player, but that he’s lost a bit of range and therefore isn’t ideal in center anymore. I’ll be interested to see what kind of ground he still covers. I could also see Sweeney drawing the occasional start in center to spell Crisp, especially against right-handers. Conor Jackson will see time in left and right field this spring, Geren said, but Jackson is playing first base in today’s intrasquad game. He’s a backup option at first when Barton isn’t playing.

–Reliever Michael Wuertz will resume throwing Saturday or Sunday, according to Geren.

4

Updates on some top Oakland A’s prospects

With two weeks left until spring training begins, it’s a good time for an update on some of the A’s top prospects. As I did last year, I stuck to those who were active over the offseason – either playing winter ball somewhere or participating in the Arizona Fall League or the A’s instructional league program. I sought out the team’s director of player personnel, Billy Owens, who spends much of his winter evaluating the A’s top young players. Owens offered a few of his thoughts (only after he got done scouting super prospect Bryce Harper in a junior college game. Owens has no offseason, I tell you).

Baseball America recently ranked the A’s top 10 prospects, which you can read about. The players below are listed in no particular order. I put an (*) next to those who will be in major league spring camp. You’ll notice a common thread: Most of these guys are crossing their fingers for better health in 2010 …

–*Jemile Weeks, 2B: The A’s believe Weeks can be a speedy table-setter batting from the first or second spots in the lineup. But his development with the glove probably will determine how quickly he makes the big leagues. Weeks, 23, has logged lots of hours with A’s roving infield instructor Juan Navarrete. A hip-flexor injury delayed the start of his 2009 campaign. “Defensively he made strides (during the Arizona Fall League),” Owens said. “He worked on his pivots at second base and being more aggressive. He’s going to be a catalyst down the road at the top of the order, in the same mold as Ray Durham.”

–*Corey Brown, OF: Knee and shoulder injuries sidetracked his 2009 season at Double-A, but the A’s saw the player Brown can be during the Arizona Fall League. He hit .333 with six homers and 28 RBI in 105 at-bats. A sandwich pick between the first and second rounds in 2007, Brown is a center fielder but can play all three outfield spots well. The A’s love his power and defense, but as Owens says, “His kryptonite can be strikeouts.” Brown, 24, combined for 168 strikeouts in 2008 at two levels of Single-A ball, but he also hit 30 homers that season, so A’s fans may have to take the good with the bad. Brown was extended a non-roster invitation to spring training after fellow outfielder Grant Desme retired.

Michael Ynoa, RHP: Ynoa, now 18, was supposed to make his professional debut last season, but the A’s shut him down due to elbow soreness. His fastball topped out at 94 mph during the Dominican Republic instructional League this winter. Ynoa’s English is improving rapidly, Owens said, and he’ll report for the start of minor league spring training March 7. After participating in extended spring training in April, Ynoa will join either the A’s rookie league team in Phoenix or the short-season Single-A Vancouver squad, assuming all goes well. The A’s are taking it slow with Ynoa, given a $4.25 million signing bonus in 2008.

–*Fautino De Los Santos, RHP: He’s the forgotten man in the Nick Swisher trade. The A’s obtained De Los Santos from the White Sox along with Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Sweeney in January 2008. But he missed most of 2009 following elbow ligament replacement surgery. De Los Santos, who turns 24 this month, made seven appearances in rookie ball toward the end of the season, but Owens said he was closer to full strength in November and December. “He didn’t truly dial it up until the Dominican instructional league. The results were very positive. He had a dynamite arm. It came back in full force.”

James Simmons, RHP: Simmons’ rise through the system has been slow considering he began his pro career at Double-A in 2007. A minor shoulder problem set him back last season, when he went 7-7 with a 5.72 ERA at Triple-A. He posted a 1-4 mark and 4.50 ERA in six starts during the Arizona Fall League. “He’s a kid that’s got exquisite fastball command,” Owens said. “His change-up is solid, major league average or above. He’s just been working on that third offering — a breaking pitch, whether it’s a breaking ball, slider or cutter.” Simmons was a non-roster invitee to big league camp each of the last two years, but not this spring.

–*Grant Green, SS: The A’s will get a close-up look at their 2009 first-round pick during spring training. He appeared in five games with Single-A Stockton after signing last summer, then took part in the A’s instructional league after the season. Owens compares Green to the Texas Rangers’ Michael Young, a hitter who can “go gap-to-gap with authority.” The question marks may come on defense, where some think Green might project more as a third baseman.

–*Max Stassi, C: Just eight months after graduating from Yuba City High School, Stassi will report to major league spring camp. It’s likely the A’s just want to give him a taste of big league life. But there’s serious hype around Stassi, whose $1.5 million signing bonus was a record for a fourth-round pick. His father, Jim, was his high school coach, and Owens said it’s obvious Stassi comes from a baseball family. “He’s a student of the game. He has an amazing maturity level for a teenager, from what he showed in instructional league. He was born to catch.”

NOTE: Chris Carter played winter ball in the Mexican Pacific League, but his stint was very short due to illness, so I didn’t include him. Besides, you’ll be reading plenty about Carter come spring training!

3

Desme, Weeks to play in televised Arizona Fall League showcase

I saw that the MLB Network will broadcast Saturday’s Rising Stars Showcase live from Surprise, Ariz. It’s basically the All-Star Game for the Arizona Fall League, and first pitch is 5:15 p.m. (West Coast). Outfielder Grant Desme and second baseman Jemile Weeks will represent the A’s, and heralded prospect Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to start on the mound for the East Division squad.

Desme, as you may know, has been the AFL’s offensive star, hitting 10 homers in just 16 games and leading the league in RBI. He’s four homers shy of the AFL’s season home run mark with three games remaining. Tune in Saturday to see him for yourself …

–About a year ago, I drew your attention to a Web site run by baseball fanatic Paul Sullivan, where he ranked all-time teams for all 30 major league franchises. He’s at it again … now giving his thoughts on the most forgettable baseball uniforms of the past 30 years. You can check it out here

3

Stephen Strasburg playing alongside A’s prospects at Arizona Fall League

If you need a baseball fix (outside of the playoffs) during October or November, the Arizona Fall League is a pretty nice option. It’s a developmental league featuring some of the major leagues’ best young prospects, and runs from Oct. 13-Nov. 6. Games are held at spring training ballparks all over the Phoenix area, and single-game tickets cost no more than $6. Check out rosters here.

The A’s have seven players suiting up for the Phoenix Desert Dogs — second baseman Jemile Weeks; outfielders Corey Brown and Grant Desme; and pitchers James Simmons, Sam Demel, Mickey Storey and Justin Friend. Also playing for the Desert Dogs — pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2009 draft and probably the most hyped draft pick ever. AFL games typically don’t draw much of a crowd, but I’m guessing more fans will show up to see Strasburg.

–A brief update that didn’t make my A’s season wrap-up story: Pitching prospect Michael Ynoa has been doing well in throwing sessions during instructional league in Phoenix, but he won’t throw in any games there. Another right-hander, Fautino De Los Santos, has had complications in his comeback from ligament replacement surgery on his elbow. The A’s were having him undergo more tests this week …

–I’ll be updating the blog throughout the winter, so check back often!!