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March 26, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Platoon Havens

by Daniel Rathman

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Could a player who was unable to stick with last year’s cellar dwellers find a home with a team that won 94 games and captured its division title? Apparently, the answer to that question is affirmative—or, at least, the A’s are trying to make it so.

Athletics could send Hiroyuki Nakajima to Triple-A Sacramento
Late last week, Oakland claimed Nate Freiman off waivers from the Astros, who had plucked the first baseman from the Padres in the Rule Five draft earlier this offseason. Houston turned out to be a poor landing spot for Freiman, especially after general manager Jeff Luhnow obtained Chris Carter from the A’s, further fortifying a first-base mix that already included Carlos Pena and Brett Wallace. But Freiman’s trip back to San Diego, which nabbed him out of Duke University in the eighth round of the 2009 draft, was interrupted by Billy Beane’s waiver claim.

Beane’s roster currently has a plethora of moving parts, with multiple platoon arrangements and a few versatile players still lacking clear homes. The situation became even more fluid on Tuesday, when John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle reported from the team’s spring training facility that Nakajima, who was signed to a two-year, $6.5 million deal this winter, might start the season in the minors after failing to impress the team in camp. The 30-year-old has gone just 6-for-40 in Cactus League action with one extra-base hit and 11 strikeouts, a performance so disappointing that it has led manager Bob Melvin to renege on his six-week-old promise that Nakajima would be the “primary shortstop.”

If Nakajima does cede the job, it most likely would go to former Astro Jed Lowrie, for whom Beane traded Carter. That, in turn, would open up playing time at the hot corner, where Jason Martinez projected Lowrie to split time with Josh Donaldson. Further down the chain, it could mean more action for Scott Sizemore, who missed the 2012 season with a knee injury, or utility men Adam Rosales and Eric Sogard. Finally: It could give the A’s an opportunity to retain Freiman, who otherwise would have faced long odds of wading through another roster crunch.

The 26-year-old Freiman is a pedestrian 10-for-40 this spring, but he has performed well at every minor-league stop, amassing a .294/.364/.482 triple-slash line over three-plus professional seasons. The A’s, as Shea pointed out, would view Freiman as a righty-swinging complement to Brandon Moss, whose surprising breakout—highlighted by 21 homers in 296 plate appearances—was crucial to Oakland’s Cinderella run last year, but portends at least some regression in 2013. Beane could try to mitigate the effects of Moss’ likely backslide by offering Melvin the option to spell him with Freiman, who would essentially assume the role vacated by Carter. Freiman lacks the light-tower power and outstanding discipline that enabled Carter to log a .241/404/.494 triple-slash line versus southpaws last year, but he offers more pop than most of Oakland’s other roster candidates.

With much of the infield still up in the air and Opening Day now less than a week away, the A’s will be an intriguing team to follow over the coming days. If Melvin sticks to the plan Shea discussed in his blog post, Lowrie will get the start at shortstop in this afternoon’s road matchup with the Indians, bringing Nakajima one step closer to a ticket to Sacramento.

Wilson Betemit’s injury throws wrinkle into Orioles' plans
The Orioles, too, are staring at a last-minute conundrum, but unlike Oakland’s, which was spawned by the addition of Freiman, Baltimore’s is the result of an unfortunate subtraction. Betemit, who was expected to begin the year as manager Buck Showalter’s regular designated hitter, suffered a serious knee injury while running the bases in Monday afternoon’s contest. The 31-year-old’s knee buckled about a third of the way between first and second, and he fell to the ground writhing in pain from what was later diagnosed as a grade-two or –three PCL tear. We should find out more about Betemit’s recovery timetable today, but a disabled-list stint is inevitable and surgery might be on the horizon.

Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun tweeted in the wake of Betemit’s injury that Ryan Flaherty, who was previously on the roster bubble, is now virtually guaranteed an Opening Day role. Dan Duquette, the team’s executive vice president of baseball operations, told the media that Flaherty’s left-handed bat qualifies him to supplant Betemit, though a timeshare involving up to three or four players is possible. Jason Martinez’s updated depth chart has Nolan Reimold sliding into the designated-hitter slot, with Nate McLouth and Steve Pearce platooning in left field. Russ Canzler, who was recently optioned to Triple-A, could find his way back to Baltimore sooner than expected, but he appears to be trailing Pearce—who is 14-for-37 with six homers this spring—on the organizational pecking order. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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