Up until a couple weeks ago, the Oakland Athletics were looking at a 2012 Spring Training schedule that inspired little excitement in the fans. After unloading Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey for prospects during the winter, the best hope was to see if a young star or two might start to develop in Arizona.
Fast forward a couple weeks and suddenly the A's might be the talk of the Cactus League. On Monday the A's swooped in and stunned the baseball world when they agreed to a four year, $36 million contract with Cuban star Yoenis Cespedes. The A's were an unlikely suitor as Cespedes was expected to command upwards of $60 million. However, when the Marlins and Tigers made it clear they were looking for a longer five or six year deal, the A's jumped in with a four year offer for the same dollar amount. It gets Cespedes to free agency sooner and gets the A's some potential middle-of-the-order punch.
The circus really could come to town if the reports on Manny Ramirez are accurate. There are reports the A's could sign the quirky slugger early in spring training to serve in a designated hitter role. Ramirez would have to serve a 50-game suspension to start the season, but that wouldn't make for any less insanity in Phoenix. Add in these two high profile signings and the A's would be looking at a boatload of story lines for the spring.
As they get ready for pitchers and catchers to report on Saturday, February 18, the A's have numerous question marks and position battles. They added a lot of young talent in the offseason and will look to give plenty of looks as they build toward the future.
Prior to the Cespedes signing, Coco Crisp was the only lock to secure a starting spot in the outfield. There are some reports Cespedes could start the season in the minor leagues, but at nine million per year, that seems unlikely for the A's. That leaves one spot available for a host of players including Seth Smith, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Jonny Gomes, Michael Taylor and Jermaine Mitchell.
The infield will feature some questions for the two corner positions. At first base, Daric Barton returns from injury but now faces Brandon Allen in a battle for playing time. Chris Carter, Kila Ka'aihue and some of the outfield options will also battle at first. At third base, Scott Sizemore got off to an unexpected blistering start before cooling off late. He will be the heavy front runner, but if he has a poor spring, Adam Rosales or Eric Sogard could work their way in to the position.
The pitching staff faces as many question marks as any with Cahill and Gonzalez gone and Brett Anderson out until later in the summer. Brandon McCarthy has emerged as the likely number one to start the season, but everything beyond that is up in the air. Dallas Braden thinks he will be back in early April and would settle in as the number two or number three. Veteran Bartolo Colon comes in with a chance to secure the number two spot early if Braden is out for any extended time. That leaves two rotation spots in battle between Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone and possible Brad Peacock.
The bullpen will also see turnover as the A's look for a new closer. Grant Balfour has the early edge there given his veteran experience, but he could be pushed by a handful of pitchers, including Joey Devine, Brian Fuentes and Fautino De Los Santos. Fuentes could get some time as the closer as the A's look to build his stock and trade him by the trade deadline.
All of this should make for an interesting spring training. The A's entered February with a lot of question marks and only young talent to get excited about. Now that pitchers and catchers are about to report, they have suddenly become one of the more interesting teams in the league.