There is no shortage of questions the A’s need to answer this spring given all of their roster changes.
Here’s five key ones that must be addressed during their six-week stay in Arizona, as pitchers and catchers prepare to report Thursday to the team’s new training facilities in Mesa:
WHO ROUNDS OUT THE ROTATION?
The A’s have a large pool of candidates – at least six legitimate ones – to fight for three available starting rotation spots. Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir are locked in, but after that it’s a wide-open competition to fill out the five-man staff. Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz are the perceived front runners for two of those spots, which makes sense given each spent time in the rotation in 2014. But four pitchers acquired in trades – Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, Jesse Hahn and Sean Nolin – all will get their chance in Cactus League games to state their case. It’s worth noting the lack of starting experience of these six rotation hopefuls. Pomeranz has made 40 career major league starts and Chavez 23. The other four have combined for just 18.
WHO ‘DOO’ A’S USE AT CLOSER?
All-Star Sean Doolittle isn’t expected to be ready by Opening Night because of a shoulder injury, which means Oakland needs to identify the man to protect a ninth-inning lead. Recently acquired Tyler Clippard enters camp as the favorite given that he notched 32 saves in 2012 for Washington. But Ryan Cook also has closer experience, and lefty Eric O’Flaherty should be stronger in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Dan Otero and Fernando Abad are options too. This call won’t be based solely on who’s good enough to get outs in the ninth. The A’s place equal importance on the guys working the seventh and eighth innings, so the exhibitions will be used to figure out what late-inning combination works best.
IS MARCUS SEMIEN THE ANSWER AT SHORTSTOP?
OK, so maybe this answer won’t come until well into the regular season. But Semien, the leading candidate to replace Jed Lowrie at short, can shore up his status as the everyday guy going into the season with a strong spring camp. The East Bay product has spent most of his big league time at second or third, with just six games played at short.
WHAT HAPPENS IN LEFT FIELD?
The simple answer is that the left-handed hitting Sam Fuld and right-handed hitting Craig Gentry platoon here. But it won’t be so cut-and-dried given the nature of the A’s roster. If the A’s were to add a second baseman from outside the organization, for example, Ben Zobrist could spend a lot of his time in left field. Or if Rule 5 draft pick Mark Canha, usually a first baseman, hits well enough to warrant consistent playing time, he could perhaps get time in left against left-handed starters. “We’re going to have a lot of moving parts,” manager Bob Melvin said at FanFest.
DOES THE CHEMISTRY STILL EXIST?
A common element of the A’s postseason teams the past three years was their strong clubhouse camaraderie. This is a group that has enjoyed playing together and has played hard, and that’s been reflected in the number of late-inning comeback victories they’ve pulled off. But with so many new faces this season – 16 players on the 40-man roster weren’t here last year – this group will need time to get to know one another. Six weeks spent together in Arizona will take care of that. But will this team develop the bond that’s existed in past years, and will it pay off in the standings?