Earlier I did my best to predict which of the A's current injury risks will start the year on the DL. This was in preparation for this: deciding who should make the Opening Day roster and what to watch for in Spring Training.
I'm going to assume a breakdown of 13 position players and 12 pitchers. As much as I'd like to see a 14/11 split, the A's don't have enough early season off-days to be able to skip their 5th starter much and the 13/12 split seems to be the way almost all teams are going these days. I'll start off with position players, which appears for the most part to be settled.
Behind the plate it's going to be Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell. Suzuki's the starter and Powell is the backup. Simple as that. Joel Galarraga is an interesting player, but he'll only break camp in Oakland in the case of injury or the A's doing something crazy like carrying three catchers (there's no good reason for that). This fills 2 of the 13 available position player spots.
Daric Barton, Mark Ellis, Cliff Pennington, and Kevin Kouzmanoff are all locks to make the major league roster and are likely the Opening Day starters from 1st to 3rd. Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp, and Ryan Sweeney will likely be the Opening Day outfield. We have now filled 9 of the 13 available position player roster spots.
Eric Chavez will make the team unless the A's release him, and while that's an interesting thought, I just don't see that one happening. Jack Cust is also a virtual lock to make the club, probably as the Opening Day DH. We now have 11 of 13 position player spots filled.
The players to watch this Spring are Jake Fox, Eric Patterson, Adam Rosales, Gabe Gross, and Travis Buck as they are battling it out for the other two roster spots. The main things to consider when deciding who should fill out the back of the A's bench are what qualities best complement the other players on the roster and the players' option statuses. Fox, Patterson, and I believe Gross are out of options, meaning the A's would have to expose them to waivers before sending anyof them down to Sacramento. We don't really need to be concerned about stunting the development of any of these players by not playing everyday as their are all 26 or older and none truly project to be everyday players.
Might any of these players get occasional starts? Cust could probably use some days off against tough lefties. He has much less power against lefties and last year hit a horrendous .221/.321/.300 against southpaws. This gives an advantage to Jake Fox who could spell both Cust and Barton against some lefties. I wouldn't say this guarantees Fox a roster spot, though, as he brings few other assets.
So then, what types of players do the A's need off their bench? Handedness isn't much of an issue. The 11 players who are likely to get regular PAs are pretty evenly split among lefties (4), righties (4), and switch hitters (3). Position is an important factor. Only three of the 11 players definitely on the roster can play the outfield, but all can play center (and both Davis and Crisp play it extremely well). The A's need at least one of the remaining two spots to go to an outfielder, but it doesn't really need to be a center fielder.
The A's should probably also carry someone who could play either middle infield position as only Ellis and Pennington can. Rosales and Patterson are the candidates here with Rosales being able to play short.
For good measure, here is what the CHONE projection system expects from these five offensively. Buck, Gross, and Patterson bat lefty, while Fox and Rosales are righties.
The numbers on Rosales and Patterson look a bit low to me based on their minor league track records. Patterson hit .307/.376/.494 in Sacramento last year and played OK in Oakland last year, managing to put up an OBP of .373. Rosales split last season between raking in AAA (.349/.408/.596) and sucking in Cincinnati (.213/.303/.317). In previous years he put up pretty decent minor league numbers, but has always been a bit old for his league.
There are no perfect solutions if the A's decide to head north with only 13 position players. They could get creative and let Fox be the backup catcher or release Eric Chavez, but I highly doubt the A's will do either and I'm not convinced that either would be a good move anyways. In the end, I think Fox and Patterson should make the team. Perhaps I'm overly concerned that the A's would lose either one trying to sneak them through waivers, but they each have shown a lot of promise in the minors and do have roles to play with the big league club. Patterson can backup both 2B and OF (and probably serve as the emergency SS), while Fox can get some ABs against lefties at DH and 1B and maybe play some OF as well. I guess he could also play some 3B in a pinch, but with Kouz and Chavez on board there's no reason to subject us to that sort of abuse.
I'd like to see Rosales make the club, and given how much the A's paid to acquire him, I'm sure they would too. That being said, if Pennington gets hurt the A's could use Patterson at short for a game while they recall Rosales from Sacramento.
A breakdown of the pitching staff will come next.