I love the idea of Spring Training. I went to Arizona twice as a kid and loved it. Every Spring I the clips of sunny fields and guys with numbers nearing triple digits make me wish I were there. Spring Training is great for fans, both to attend and as something to whet our appetites for the real baseball that is now only a few weeks away. As great as it is for fans, its a trap for anyone attempting to do analysis. I remember getting very excited about Patrick Lennon's Spring Training performance one year (1997, I think). As I recall he was an ex-con that swung a sledgehammer around in the on-deck circle - and he led the Cactus League in home runs for a while (it's very possible that any or all of these things are false). I was sure that the A's had found a new superstar, but he obviously didn't turn out to be that.
Spring Training is obviously primarily for the players; even if it is a vestige of days when players had real jobs in the offseason, they do need to work themselves into game shape and get mentally and physically prepared to see live game action. Despite the potential to be sucked in by gaudy, or nauseatingly bad, numbers, there is still some decision making based on Spring performances and a lot of it is justifiable. Most of these decisions are at the edges of the big league roster (at least for a good team). Who is the 5th starter? Who's the second lefty out of the pen? Who's the fifth outfielder and backup catcher?
With that being said, here are the two main things I'm looking for out of the A's this Spring: health and roster battles.
Lets start with with the first, as it impacts the second. The A's, as always, have a number of health issues. First, they have a solid chunk of players who are healthy now, but we can all but expect to get hurt sometime this season. Here I'm talking about Mark Ellis and Eric Chavez. For now I'll pencil them into the opening day roster as there's no reason not to do so.
There are also a number of players coming off of major injuries who may or may not have to start the year on the DL. These players are: Coco Crisp, Justin Duchscherer, Joey Devine, and Ben Sheets. I'm assuming, for now at least, that Andrew Bailey's arm problems are as minor as the reports indicate them to be.
Crisp did not play after June 12 last season and is coming off of surgery to both shoulders. He's also now dealing with hamstring issues that will sideline him for a few days. I'll pencil them into the opening day roster, though I'll be monitoring Crisp's health.
Sheets missed all of 2009 with a torn flexor tendon (elbow). All indications are that he's ready to start the season, despite his terrible outings so far. There's every indication that he won't be on the DL to start the year and a decent chance he'll be the A's Opening Day starter.
Duchscherer also missed all of last season struggling with elbow issues (and depression). He hasn't yet pitched this Spring, and although he has indicated that he'll be ready for Opening Day, the odds are that he'll start the year on the DL.
Devine is yet another pitcher the who missed all of 2009. He's coming off of Tommy John surgery and earlier this month battled tendinitis. He was supposed to play catch yesterday, but that session got pushed back. I expect that he'll also start the year on the DL, but it's possible he'll be ready for Opening Day.
Part 2 of the Spring Training Preview will deal with the position battles and I'll make a guess at the A's Opening Day roster and lineup.