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February 18, 2010

Camp Battles

AL West

by Christina Kahrl

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In a wee bit of roster oddity, the AL West has both some of the most and least compelling job fights going for it. Whereas every other team in the junior circuit has a meaningful battle for a frontline job-as opposed to the inevitable, smaller combats for back-end bullpen assignments, bench roles, backup catchery, or the like, TA's bread and butter for 15 years-the short stack has one club that has no meaningful job fights, the Angels.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Zip.

It's not the fault of the Anaheimians of Planet Earth. If anything, it makes for a tidy camp. Sure, Fernando Rodney might cadge save opportunities from Brian Fuentes, but that's probably not going to be a product of spring performance as opposed to in-season doings or misdeeds. Similarly, third base belongs to Brandon Wood until he gives them a reason to believe otherwise. Whatever their frustrations with Ervin Santana, it isn't like Sean O'Sullivan or Trevor Bell or Matt Palmer's going to win a job-it'll take an injury, and that's definitively not a battle that forces a decision upon a skipper, but a simple mishap. Maicer Izturis will play, who winds up as the club's most-used fourth outfielder will be interesting, but the Angels' camp is going to be more about gearing up for an active title defense and keeping their ducks in a row.

Oakland Athletics: Who gets the at-bats at first base and DH? Is the outfield really set? Who's the fifth starter?

First base is perhaps the interesting position of the three up-for-grabs full-time jobs, because with the trade from a month ago for Kevin Kouzmanoff, it lumps the leftovers who might have contended for the hot corner playing time into an already desperate bit of short-time battling at first base and DH. Sure, Eric Chavez or Jake Fox might still get a few reps at third base, but Fox's willingness is handicapped by his immobility, while Chavez has to prove he can remain healthy enough to contribute anywhere for any length of time. If Chavez avoids injury, things get interesting, because of the question of whether the A's would really leave him on the bench as a literal white elephant from the franchise that once stood that label on its head. So, let's say we go to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and pretend that Chavez shows up more often than Grandpere, what's the field of options?

Chavez, of course, gets cast as the former famous person gunning for a last chance. But then there's also Daric Barton-as perpetually stalled between promise and full development as Tiny Yokum; Barton may be only heading into his age-24 season, but first base is the bopper's spot, and he has yet to Grace us with matching even that possible best-case development; at least he has the benefit of only now being as old as the unsluggy Cub was in his rookie campaign. Speaking of Cubs, early-winter acquisition Fox is out of options, so whatever corner he's asked to play in the outfield or infield, he's not someone they can demote and expect to keep. And naturally, everyone's just playing for time, not just playing time, because top prospect Chris Carter is already coming over the horizon.

As for what to expect from this lot, quoth PECOTA:


Dude      AVG/ OBP/ SLG   EqA   WARP
Barton   .264/.359/.421  .269    1.5
Carter   .246/.335/.462  .269    0.9
Chavez   .234/.298/.413  .240    0.3
Cust     .237/.370/.455  .283    2.1
Fox      .252/.318/.447  .258    0.3
Kouzm'ff .261/.320/.439  .277    3.1

I've thrown in Cust and Kouzmanoff because DH and third base are positions where Fox or Chavez might get some playing time. Looking at this lot of projections, it would seem reasonable to expect that Kouzmanoff and Cust retain their starting roles, leaving first base as the only truly open job for the remaining quartet to contend for. Carter might have an incredible camp and make a case to get the job outright, but Barton seems likely to get a last spin, with Fox and Chavez hoping they can both contribute as part-time players.

However, there's a problem with that. Adam Rosales will probably be the utility infielder who can back up Mark Ellis and Cliff Pennington, which brings up the body-count issue: keeping Fox and Chavez already puts them at 13 total position players. That's a problem when we turn to the other potention job fight, in the outfield, where Eric Patterson is also out of options, and not guaranteed a job despite his offensive credentials. Coco Crisp and Ryan Sweeney seem set, for better or worse, which leaves left field. Rajai Davis might be able to hold onto the job, and/or he might rotate over into center to spot for Crisp quite a bit. Patterson's reputation as a hitter after a seemingly endless apprenticeship, however, doesn't quite measure up to the projected performance of the expected starters:


Dude       AVG/ OBP/ SLG   EqA   WARP
Crisp     .264/.342/.402  .259    1.7
Davis     .280/.348/.401  .264    2.1
Sweeney   .277/.351/.404  .261    2.0
Patterson .253/.317/.382  .243    0.5

What gets sort of lost in that comparison of projections is Patterson's big platoon split; last year in Sacramento, he hit .336/.410/.555 vs. right-handers, and .241/.298/.359 against PCL lefties. In contrast, Davis' splits suggest this could make a useful, if somewhat loose platoon, one where all four outfielders might get mixed in with some regularity, with Fox getting spotted in the outfield corners now and again as well.

Which leaves you with a problem or a more minor sort: You can't keep Chavez, Patterson, Fox, and a 12th pitcher. One of them's going to have to go. Obviously, Chavez might break, or the A's could put Patterson on waivers and ditch another element from the Harden trade from a year and a half ago that didn't look good then, and looks less so now.

There is at least one more happy contest, picking between Vin Mazzaro, Trevor Cahill, and Gio Gonzalez for the fifth slot in the rotation. Nobody's out of options, so this can wind up being a simple matter of letting camp performance influence past experience and evaluations and letting the best man du jour win. Later, if the winner struggles, or Ben Sheets or Justin Duchscherer break down, there's going to be further opportunities for the temporary losers.

Seattle Mariners: Left field and DH and Celebrity Cheerleader, and maybe picking from among their catchers.

It's been building for months, since the initial, seemingly odd decision to re-sign Ken Griffey Jr., followed by the inspired acquisition of the always exciting Milton Bradley, with the late decisions to also sign Eric Byrnes and Ryan Garko. Since they also have prospect Michael Saunders on hand, retained Ryan Langerhans, and gave Mike Sweeney a pity invitation to camp, they have plenty of bodies, but not necessarily all that much quality to sort through. To lean on another chart, the seven contestants don't really add up to a great group:


Dude        AVG/ OBP/ SLG   EqA   WARP
Bradley    .277/.395/.467  .297    3.2
Byrnes     .255/.328/.409  .251    0.6
Saunders   .249/.325/.400  .250    1.0
Griffey    .248/.349/.428  .267    0.8
Garko      .274/.356/.448  .278    1.6
Kotchman   .284/.363/.444  .277    2.1
Langerhans .233/.334/.375  .247    0.5
Sweeney    .262/.326/.405  .250    0.0

Surprising nobody, if Bradley's healthy and not suspended, banned, or defenestrated by an angry mob, he's going to be worth playing virtually every day, so there's really only one job we should be talking about: wherever Bradley isn't, between left field or DH. However good-tempered a teammate Sweeney might be, he's not to be taken seriously, not least because of his positionlessness. Langerhans has value as a defensive replacement as spare part, nothing more. Garko's defensive utility in the outfield is limited at best, so the question is more a matter of how much his playing time spills over into sharing time at first base with Kotchman, or claiming the DH role that Griffey might man infrequently at best. (There's always pinch-hitting for the catchers, but we'll get to them.)

Which goes to say that, however many bodies seem to crowd the field, the fight for staying and playing is really a contest between Saunders and Byrnes. They might make a nice platoon if Byrnes proves to be healthy enough to still handle left field, but it's hard to say whether the Mariners have the roster room for platoons or job-sharing arrangements at first base and left field plus a "fading famous guy" roster spot for Griffey while Bradley gets most of the DH at-bats. They could, but it would mean not keeping Langerhans as well as not keeping a 12th reliever. To my eyes, that's an extremely affordable and worthwhile proposition-Langerhans is basically waiver bait anyway, while Tacoma's proximity should suggest some relative ease in terms of the logistics of swapping out bodies in the last slot in the pen.

As for the catching situation, while Rob Johnson and Adam Moore have the advantage of being on the 40-man roster already, neither is especially young or has all that much upside, and there's not a lot about their receiving or their hitting that should automatically rule out challenges from Josh Bard, Guillermo Quiroz, or Eliezer Alfonzo. This is less a job battle than an opportunity for an otherwise ghastly candidate to get taken seriously, sort of like the 1920 Presidential election.

Texas Rangers: Picking the last three rotation starters from an exciting field of alternatives.

It might only be two slots, depending on how seriously you want to take the recently re-emigrated Colby Lewis; back from Japan, he's out of options, and given that the Rangers paid $5 million to see if his exceptional command translates to state-side success, it seems clear they do. But if he proves (again) to be a Quad-A phenomenon, then the contestants for the last two slots can cast a hungry eye at that other job in the rotation.

It's an exciting list beyond Scott Feldman, Rich Harden, and Lewis. Top prospects Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz are still in the picture, Tommy Hunter and Matt Harrison deserve to be taken seriously, and Brandon McCarthy's comeback would provide any team with a decent fourth starter. But then there's also the experiment with letting bullpen stalwart C.J. Wilson return to starting to consider, since that's still a popular idea among the club brass. If Wilson earns that trust, then we're really down to talking about one job, with Feliz almost certainly in the pen, and McCarthy, Holland, Hunter, and Harrison all optionable back down to Triple-A. From that crew, I'd anticipate McCarthy's getting the first shot, but there's obviously the possibility that one of the younger pitchers will make enough of a case to force the front office to consider making a deal.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Eric Chavez,  Ryan Sweeney,  The Who,  Quad-a

25 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Yarky1

Dumb question and not really related to the article, but if anyone will indulge me, I'll be very grateful. PECOTA has Carter with a better OBP and SLG than Kouz, but a lower EQA. How does that work? I understand that EQA takes many more things into account so I don't doubt there's a good reason, but I'm curious about what it is.

Feb 18, 2010 19:03 PM
rating: 0
 
FoggyMoccasins

It's just a mistake. PECOTA actually has a .266 EQA for Kouz.

Feb 18, 2010 21:32 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Yep, my bad. The projection for Kouzmanoff's from the older iteration of the PECOTA spread sheet I had on my desktop; it's for his work in San Diego (and in the weaker league).

Feb 18, 2010 21:59 PM
 
Mike Cuccaro

Grandpere's Eiffel Tower is literally 90 feet away from my desk. Nice shout out!

Feb 19, 2010 07:08 AM
rating: 0
 
quietstorm

"as a literal white elephant"

You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Feb 19, 2010 08:03 AM
rating: 3
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Well, between the historical reference to Muggsy's usage of the term more than a century ago (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oakland_Athletics#Elephant_Mascot), and the generally accepted use of the term (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_elephant), I'd suggest that I know exactly what I meant to say when I said it. With Chavez still employed for one more year (at $12 million), the cost of employing him far outstrips the value he may still have. That, or you think I'm talking about praying to him as a sacred pachyderm from a Southeast Asian kingdom TBD, and a symbol that Billy Beane reigns "with justice and power." Given that a lot of A's fans' hopes and dreams were pinned to Chavez living up to the expectation that he'd be "Barry Bonds with a glove," that's an understandable mistake.

Feb 19, 2010 09:19 AM
 
quietstorm

LOL, Christina, I meant "literal." :)

Feb 19, 2010 09:20 AM
rating: 4
 
jlefty

+1 for the princess bride reference

Feb 19, 2010 13:21 PM
rating: 0
 
MFBabyFeets

I love this series of articles. Do you think Outman has a decent chance of reclaiming his rotation spot when he returns?

Feb 19, 2010 08:49 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Absolutely, but the nice thing about possession of this kind of depth is that you can take things slowly, let Outman rehab fully, and perhaps coinciding with the need to reload after trading Sheets and/or Duke in July, you'll have space.

Feb 19, 2010 09:08 AM
 
chrisoraddi

Gabe Gross didn't get signed for nothing- he's another part of the crowding at the end of the A's bench. It really looks like Patterson, Fox and Chavez are all competing for 1 spot, not 2.

Feb 19, 2010 10:20 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Bringing up Gross is a valid point, but in practical terms, he was signed for almost nothing, so cutting him wouldn't be going very far out of pocket. Since Gross' performance record has been poor for a corner outfielder since his age-26 season in 2006, he may be an option, but he's not a good one.

Feb 21, 2010 10:45 AM
 
ashitaka

PECOTA has Lenny DiNardo as the A's second-best pitcher with a 3.0 WARP, which seems peculiar.

Feb 19, 2010 10:53 AM
rating: 0
 
Dan

Are you sure Jake Fox is out of options?

It looks like he was on optional assignment for fewer than 20 days in 2007 (July 27-August 14th), which would mean it doesn't count as an option year.

Feb 19, 2010 11:34 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

The info I was given from an industry source is that Fox is out of options.

Feb 19, 2010 13:14 PM
 
Dan

Thanks. Is there any way you can confirm this with another source?

The CBA says, "If a Player is optionally assigned for a total of less than 20 days in one championship season, such optional assignment(s) shall not count as an optional assignment in connection with the limitation upon optional assignments provided for in Major League Rule 11(c)."

It looks like Fox was only on optional assignment for 17 or 18 days in 2007.

Thanks, again.

Feb 19, 2010 14:08 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

To follow up, additional sources have confirmed that Fox has no further options remaining.

Feb 23, 2010 18:03 PM
 
Dan

Thanks, I appreciate the followup. I saw Susan Slusser reporting this today, as well.

Do you know how he ended up using an option in 2007? Is the "20 day rule" not applicable here?

Thanks, again.

Feb 24, 2010 11:35 AM
rating: 0
 
Dan

Nevermind, I figured it out.

He was optioned back to AAA at the end of August, though MLB strangely doesn't list it on their transactions page.

Sorry!

Feb 24, 2010 12:22 PM
rating: 0
 
Ira

BTW, it seems that there is also a very interesting battle of the midgets that has begun for the starting Catchers job for the Rangers between Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden, and Toby Hall. Teagarden is at least a great defender, but none of them really project to hit.

On the note about C J Wilson to the rotation, I've heard reports that Nolan Ryan loves the idea, but with a hugely crowded field of talent and the quality work he has done in the bullpen, I think that it will take a monumental spring and a breakdown elsewhere for anyone to take it seriously.

Feb 19, 2010 11:59 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

I can think of no worse indictment of Salty and Teagarden than that they might lose playing time to someone like Toby Hall. What, Geno Petralli wasn't available?

Feb 19, 2010 13:16 PM
 
Eric M. Van

Isn't there a massive free-for-all for Erik Bedard's eventual spot, between Doug Fister, Lucas French, Jason Vargas, Yusmeiro Petit and Garret Olson?

Feb 21, 2010 06:28 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Sure, as I noted two weeks ago, but Bedard's healthy at the moment, and we don't know who from among the maybe fill-ins will have had a good camp, a bum wing, and/or a good month or three at Tacoma. That fight's not just restricted to camp, it'll be going on for as long as it takes for Bedard to break down.

To put it another way: first alternate isn't exactly a classic position. With Bedard, it's an eventual necessity, but camp performance isn't going to define who gets that "role."

Feb 21, 2010 10:40 AM
 
Eric M. Van

According to mlb.com*, Bedard won't be ready until June at the earliest, so I think it is a camp battle, at least at the beginning.

*http://seattle.mariners.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100208&content_id=8040936&vkey=news_sea

Feb 22, 2010 02:54 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Quite right, and consider this my reminder to always ask Will about rehabs in progress before running with something. To some extent, I commented on the crowd notionally behind Snell a few weeks ago:

http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=10023#SEA

Feb 24, 2010 10:36 AM
 
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