I mentioned during my Spring Training Preview that the A's would have to think outside of the box to avoid losing Jake Fox or Eric Patterson to waivers (both are out of options). According to this report from the Chronicle, the A's are doing just that. Whereas I guessed they would send Gabe Gross to Sacramento and field a roster with only Eric Patterson as a backup outfielder, it looks like the A's will send Adam Rosales AND Landon Powell to AAA.
What's surprising about this is that Fox will now become the backup catcher as well as designated lefty masher. I see a couple of problems with this. First, I had assumed that Fox was a horrible defender behind the plate (and everywhere else, for that matter). Fox has been playing a fair amount of catcher this Spring, so perhaps he's acceptable back there. He doesn't need to be a world beater, but hopefully he can start once a week back there without being a disaster.
The bigger problem with him being the backup catcher is that managers are often unwilling to have their backup catcher as the DH. Personally, I don't have a problem with it. The worry is, however, that if your starting catcher will gets hurt and the backup is DHing, you'd have to lose the DH for the rest of the game to move the original DH behind the plate. I think that the downside isn't all that bad. First, the likelihood of a mid-game injury is relatively low, even for a catcher. Secondly, the effects of not having a DH for a few innings is not the end of the world; you're probably just going to have to use a pinch hitter or two and an extra reliever or two.
There's another solution that should avoid this problem should Geren not like the idea of potentially having to lose the DH for part of a game. Fox can play first, while one of Barton or Cust DH's and the other sits. This removes the possibility of losing the DH, but also requires Fox to play first base, which he reportedly isn't any good at either. If Geren is fine with actually using Fox as something other than a traditional backup catcher, and if Fox isn't the butcher behind the plate I figured he was, this move could look pretty smart.
As for Rosales starting the season in AAA, I have no problem with. I know some people are worried that not having a backup SS is disastrous. But just because Rosales will be in Sacramento, doesn't mean he can't come back if Pennington gets hurt. Sure you might have to suffer a few innings with a bad shortstop in case of a mid-game injury. But again, those are pretty rare and you can survive a few innings with a subpar defender out there.
An interesting tidbit from the SFGate article is this: "the A's are trying to maximize their best '33-34 man' roster, according to one team source, rather than focusing solely on the 25-man roster." This makes a ton of sense in terms of the pitching staff where everyone has options remaining. I'm not sure exactly how the A's will manage their offensive players this way. If Pennington or Suzuki come down with a minor injury that necessitates them to sit for four of five games, what is the next move? I guess it'd be to send Gross down with either Rosales of Powell coming to Oakland. That, though is the limit of their flexibility.
This is a creative way to manage the roster and a good short term solution. It's very possible that performance or injuries will sort this all out in a couple months. But it probably isn't a long term solution. If a couple guys have nagging injuries, or prove ineffective, or look like they could use more playing time in AAA, then you're again faced with the same roster crunch (and the possibility of losing Patterson or Fox). Ideally, the A's would carry only 11 pitchers and/or think about releasing Eric Chavez (but that's the topic for another post).
While I'm talking about the A's Opening Day roster, I should mention that it looks like I was wrong about Duke. I had assumed he wouldn't be healthy to start the season, but he looks to be penciled into the rotation and might get the third start of the year (April 7 at home against the Mariners). Add in the acquisitions of Chad Gaudin and Edwar Ramirez and it looks like I need to rethink the A's pitching staff.
The rotation will be Sheets, Anderson, Braden, Duchscherer, and either Cahill or Gonzalez. The loser of the fifth starter battle has a chance to break camp with Oakland, but may also start the year in Sacramento, pitching regularly. The relievers who are definitely on the big club are Bailey, Ziegler, Gaudin, Breslow, Blevin, and Kilby. This leaves one spot which would go to Wuertz if he were healthy. Assuming he's not its a battle between the newly acquired Ramirez and the loser of the fifth starter battle for the last spot in Oakland (again, assuming a 12 man pitching staff). I'd prefer Cahill or Gonzalez getting regular rotation work in AAA than mop-up work in Oakland, and I'd imagine the A' s acquired Ramirez for a reason.
As to who wins the fifth starter battle, it looks like it'll come down to the wire, with both Cahill and Gio pitching Saturday against the Giants. As I've said before, it's not that big of a deal who starts the season as the fifth starter so I don't have much of a preference in this fight. I think Cahill's the better pitcher in the long run, and less likely to become a bust, but Gonzalez has shown flashes of brilliance before and should be further along developmentally. Also, the A's could play some service time games with Cahill, keeping him in the minors for a month would keep him from becoming a super-two and delay his arb clock by a year. I'd give a slight edge to Gio, mostly for this reason, but if he gets shelled in his first five or six starts, I'd be fine with swapping them back.