On to the pitchers and my final projected Opening Day roster and lineup.
Two things to note first.
1. In my first post in this series I forgot to mention that Michael Wuertz is dealing with some injury issues. He has yet to pitch in a major league spring training game, though he has pitched in minor league games. It looks like he won't have to start the season on the DL. Also, lefty reliever Craig Breslow is also dealing with some minor elbow issues and underwent an MRI a couple of days ago which revealed tendinitis. He'll be shut down for a few days but he's likely to be ready for Opening Day as well. These are a couple of situations to be monitoring this Spring.
2. For all my discussion of who will or who should break camp with the big club, the importance of who wins what role is a little overstated. Injuries will happen, forcing any number of roster moves and role changes. If performance dictates, even projected starters like Rajai Davis or Daric Barton could lose playing time to prospects like Chris Carter and Michael Taylor. This is especially true on the pitching side, where the A's are both very deep and quite injury prone and all of the young pitchers are optionable to AAA.
As I mentioned earlier, it is likely that the A's will carry 12 pitchers: 5 starters and 7 relievers.
Ben Sheets, Brett Anderson, and Dallas Braden are locks to make the rotation and Trevor Cahill is almost certainly going to make it as well. There's been some talk of having Cahill start the year in AAA. He was far from dominant last year and could work on both his command and his ability to strike guys out. The greatest benefit, however, would be lowering his service time and delaying his arbitration clock. I don't think I'd have Cahill start the year in AAA. First, I think the A's can compete this year and he is likely one of their 5 best starters (especially with Duchscherer on the DL). Second, if he struggles, he can be sent to AAA in the middle of the year (especially when Duke comes back or if Josh Outman makes it back this season as well).
So that leaves the fifth starter spot to resolve. Unlike some years, the A's will need to use a fifth starter right away, not having enough early-season off days to start the year with the fifth starter in AAA. The battle appears to be down to Gio Gonzalez and Vin Mazzaro after longshot Clayton Mortensen was sent to AAA. I'm a sucker for guys who put up big strikeout totals, and as such I'm backing Gio in this race. I know he's been terrible at times and is maddeningly inconsistent. He had a number of memorable starts, both good and bad. On August 4th against the Rangers he went 6.2 innings, giving up no runs, 3 walks and 7 Ks. On September 25th against the Angels he went 6.1 innings, again giving up no runs, walking only 1 and again striking out 7. He also had a few stinkers, notably his 2.2 inning 11 run, 4 homer, 3 walk, 1 K fiasco against the Twins on July 20th. This pattern mirrored much of his AAA career, where he'd be brilliant for two or three starts and get bombed every so often. I'd really like to see the A's give him about 10 starts in the majors to see if he can put it all together and iron out his control and consistency.
Mazzaro is a groundball specialist and on the strength of his sinker, CHONE projects a 4.47 ERA this season for Mazzaro (and a 4.35 ERA for Gio). While inducing grounders is a skill I certainly appreciate and understand the value of, I don't think he has the upside that Gonzelez offers. Plus, he's a year younger than Gonzalez and has only started 14 games in AAA (Gonzalez has over 30 AAA starts). I see value in a scenario where Mazzaro makes the club as a long man (which could very well be needed because of Gonzalez' inconsistency), but he'd probably be better suited for pitching every 5th day in Sacramento.
With a rotation of Sheets, Anderson, Braden, Cahill, and Gonzalez, let's see who makes up the seven man bullpen, starting with the back end. Andrew Bailey will be the closer (again assuming his tennis elbow is as minor of a problem as everyone is saying). Wuertz will be the primary setup guy (again assuming he's healthy enough to stay off the DL). Brad Ziegler is a lock for the big league 'pen and will also see action in high leverage situations. Jerry Blevins and Craig Breslow (again, assuming good health) will be the main lefty set up guys. This leaves two bullpen spots up for grabs, and assuming that Devine isn't ready to go, the arms filling out the back of the pen is far from ideal. Brad Kilby, Henry Rodriguez, and Jason Jennings look to be the main contenders for the last two spots. The A's could also turn to Marcus McBeth (former A's OFer) or Lenny Dinardo who are in camp as non-roster invitees. If Jennings, McBeth, or Dinardo make the Opening Day roster, the A's will have to add them to the 40-man roster. They currently have room for one to do so and could make additional space by transferring Outman to the 60 day DL.
I'd be fine with having Jennings around as a long-reliever mop-up guy. You don't really need to worry too much about keeping him healthy and there's no need for him to do anything other than soak up low-leverage innings. If he pitches too horribly or gets hurt he can easily be swapped out for, say, Brett Tomko who should be ready to pitch in May or June. It's unclear, what if anything Kilby or Rodriguez could bring to the big league club (such is the life when dealing with 12 man pitching staffs). Rodriguez does have talent; he reportedly touches 100 MPH on the radar gun. As you might expect with a young flamethrower, he has some problems with the strike zone, walking more than 7 batters per 9 innings in AAA last year. To say he needs more seasoning in the minors is an understatement. Kilby is interesting in that he does have interesting numbers and was impressive in his brief big league call up last year. He's struck out over a batter an inning at every level he's pitched (except for in Sacramento in 2008, where he struck out only 8.5 per 9). He's also got decent control and is not especially prone to the long ball. Kilby's problem is his handedness. While Breslow is more than a LOOGY and can get both lefties and righties out, it's not certain what a third lefty's value is to this team. That being said I'd rather have him pitching for the A's this season than Rodriguez.
To recap this three part series, I project the A's Opening Day roster and lineup as follows:
RHP Ben Sheets
LHP Brett Anderson
LHP Dallas Braden
RHP Trevor Cahill
LHP Gio Gonzalez
Bullpen (highest leverage to lowest)
RHP Andrew Bailey
RHP Michael Wuertz
RHP Brad Ziegler
LHP Craig Breslow
LHP Jerry Blevins
LHP Brad Kilby
RHP Jason Jennings
There's a lot of variability here based on injuries. Duchscherer and Devine could be ready to go, and Bailey, Wuertz, and Breslow may end up on the DL.
C - Kurt Suzuki - R
1B - Daric Barton - L
2B - Mark Ellis - R
3B - Kevin Kouzmanoff - R
SS - Cliff Pennington - S
LF - Rajai Davis - R
CF - Coco Crisp - S
RF - Ryan Sweeney - L
DH - Jack Cust - L
C/1B - Landon Powell - S
C?/1B?/3B?/OF? - Jake Fox - R
2B/OF - Eric Patterson - L
1B?/3B - Eric Chavez - L
I could see Chavez getting the Opening Day start at 3B or DH for symbolic reasons, but this is what the A's will likely look like in the field on Opening Day. I'll write about the batting order at a later date.