Closer: RHP Huston Street
, 37 saves, 3.31 ERA in 2006
RH setup man: Justin Duchscherer
, 9 saves, 2.91 ERA in 2006
LH setup man: Alan Embree
, 3.27 ERA in 2006
The new guys
A likely Hall of Famer regarded as the best offensive catcher in history, Piazza, 38, was signed to a one-year deal on Dec. 8 and will be Oakland's primary designated hitter in his first season in the AL after 15 years in the National League. He'll be Oakland's third catcher and might play some at first base during Interleague Play.
A 13-year veteran who signed a two-year deal the same day Piazza signed, Embree, 37, appeared in a career-high 73 games in 2006, helping the Padres to the NL West title. Embree, now with his ninth big-league team, will take over the bullpen role vacated by Kennedy, who is returning to his roots as a starter.
OF Ryan Goleski:
The No. 1 pick in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft in December, Goleski was a 24th-round pick of the Indians in 2003 and finished 2006 at Double-A Akron, hitting .296 with a .370 on-base percentage and 17 homers and 63 RBIs. But after the draft, the A's were stunned when it was revealed that Goleski had undergone wrist surgery in November. Acquiring him cost Oakland $150,000 -- $100,000 in a trade with the Devils Rays, who picked Goleski in the Rule 5 Draft, and $50,000 to the Indians per Rule 5 procedure -- and he'll have to stay with the big-league club (or be on the disabled list) all season or be offered back to the Tribe. If he makes the club, it'll be as the fifth outfielder.
1B Erubiel Durazo:
Signed to a Minor League deal after splitting the 2006 season at Triple-A with three organizations, Durazo tore up the Mexican Winter League. But with Piazza entrenched as the DH, Durazo will have to prove himself a competent first baseman to win a job. He was Oakland's DH from 2002-2005, his final season cut short by an elbow injury, and was awful in very limited defensive action. If he hits and sheds the butcher tag, though, Johnson will have some serious competition.
OF Ricky Ledee:
Signed to a Minor League deal to compete for the fifth outfielder spot, Ledee, 33, has played for six big-league teams and split last season with the Dodgers and Mets, batting .188 with two homers and nine RBIs in 70 games.
Prospects to watch
1B Daric Barton:
Barton, 21, is considered the best offensive prospect in Oakland's system, and he put up great numbers in the Dominican Winter League, but he's yet to play a full year at Triple-A -- his 2006 season was cut short by an elbow injury -- and likely will start the 2007 season in Sacramento. If Johnson (or Durazo) gets off to a slow start, however, the A's won't hesitate to turn to the youngster.
OF Travis Buck:
Rated Oakland's No. 1 prospect by Baseball America, Buck, 23, has batted .328 with a 3.99 on-base percentage in 497 pro at-bats. He was leading Minor League baseball with 39 doubles last season when an abdominal injury ended his season, and he had to bail out of the Arizona Fall League with a sports hernia. He's a long shot to win the fifth outfield spot, but if he performs well in his first taste of Triple-A, he'll likely make his big-league debut at some point this season.
RHP Marcus McBeth: A converted outfielder who ranked fifth in the Minors with a combined 32 saves at three levels in 2006, McBeth, 26, has the best changeup in the A's system and has a fastball that sits in the 93-96 mph range. He'll get a chance to win a bullpen job this spring; if he doesn't make the team, he'll open the year at Triple-A.
Returning from injury
Tabbed by some as a dark-horse MVP candidate coming out of Spring Training last year, Crosby instead struggled through a second consecutive season marred by two stints on the DL. He was out for most of the season's final two months and the playoffs with a back injury that was first listed as a strain and later said to be a fractured vertebra. Crosby's first swings since the injury will come at Spring Training, where the A's plan to limit his playing time, but the 2004 AL Rookie of the Year expects to be ready for Opening Day.
Though he never went on the DL, Chavez struggled at the plate for most of the year while playing through a variety of injuries that included tendinitis in both forearms and hamstring issues. He won his sixth Gold Glove, but he was so ineffective at the plate that he offered to bat ninth. The A's expect him to be healthy when camp opens, and they're hoping he can return to the form that helped him average nearly 30 homers and 100 RBIs from 2001-2005.
Ellis: After setting a big-league record for fielding percentage by a second baseman with a mark of .997 during the regular season, Ellis suffered a broken right index finger when he was hit by a pitch while swinging during Game 2 of Oakland's sweep of the Twins in the AL Division Series. He'll be 100 percent when camp opens.
IF Antonio Perez:
Perez, who posted the lowest batting average (.102) in Oakland history for a player with at least 100 at-bats, underwent surgery in October for a broken finger suffered in the final week of the season. He, too, will be 100 percent at the start of camp.
On the rebound
He returned from an elbow injury to pitch late in the regular season and made a start in the AL Championship Series, and he won't be restricted at camp, but his injury history -- he's never pitched a full season -- makes his health an issue. When he's right, he's a legitimate Cy Young candidate.
A Gold Glove-caliber center fielder and a clubhouse leader, Kotsay has been plagued by chronic back problems for the past two seasons, and his .275 batting average in 2006 was his lowest since joining the team in 2004, when he batted .314. The A's will try to rest him whenever possible this season in an effort to keep him fresh.
A unanimous selection among big-league managers as the first baseman on the 2005 Topps All-Rookie Team, Johnson went 1-for-37 to start the 2006 season and was sent to Triple-A after the All-Star break. He rediscovered his stroke in Sacramento and returned to Oakland in late August, but he batted .222 in the final month of the season and will have to prove himself in a hurry this spring to hold off Durazo and Barton.
After earning a two-year contract and a big raise by batting .316 with a .384 on-base percentage in 2005, Ellis lost his job as Oakland's leadoff man to Kendall last year and batted .249 with a .319 OBP. In his only other full season in the bigs, he batted .248 in 2003, and his performance this season will dictate whether the A's pick up their 2008 option on him.
The 2005 AL Rookie of the Year wasn't bad in 2006, but he blew 11 of 48 save opportunities and saw his ERA jump dramatically from the 1.72 he posted as a rookie. He spent time on the DL and pitched through other minor injuries, but the A's are hoping a full spring of preparation -- his routine was interrupted last year by the World Baseball Classic -- will have Street back among the elite in his third season.
LHP Barry Zito:
The unquestioned leader of the pitching staff in his final two seasons with Oakland, Zito tied for the team lead in regular-season victories with 16 and beat Twins ace Johan Santana in Game 1 of the ALDS before cashing in as a free agent by signing the richest contract in history for a starting pitcher -- $126 million over seven years -- to play for the Giants.
DH Frank Thomas:
The team's most valuable player in 2006, Thomas led the A's with 39 homers and 114 RBIs during the regular season and ripped two homers to back Zito in Game 1 of the ALDS. A free agent when the season ended, he turned down a reported two-year, $16 million offer from the A's to sign a two-year, $18.2 million deal with Toronto that includes a vested option for a third year that will pay him $10 million in 2009 if he reaches certain plate-appearance benchmarks.
OF Jay Payton:
One of Oakland's most consistent producers after shaking off a rough start, Payton led the 2006 A's in batting, hits and doubles while making $4 million in the final year of his contract. He signed a free-agent deal with the Orioles for two years and $9.5 million.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
2006 hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Payton, .296
OBP: Thomas, .381
SLG: Thomas, .545
Runs: Swisher, 106
RBIs: Thomas, 114
Hits: Payton, 165
2B: Payton, 32
3B: Marco Scutaro, 6
HR: Thomas, 39
SB: Kendall, 11
2006 pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Haren, 223
W: Zito/Blanton, 16
L: Haren, 13
Win %: Harden, 4-0, 1.000
S: Street, 37
ERA: Kennedy, 2.31
K: Haren, 176
K/9: RHP Kiko Calero, 10.4
WHIP: Street, 1.09
1. Is this finally Harden's year?
2. Will another DH gamble pay off?
Nobody disputes Harden's talent. Scouts and opponents rave over his powerful arsenal, and when he makes a start, the A's have a great chance of winning that day. Problem is, he's made only 28 starts in the past two years. If Harden stays off the DL, he'll make losing Zito a lot less painful. If he goes back on the shelf for an extended period, the A's rotation could be in big trouble because there isn't much quality pitching in the cupboard.
Oakland's offense was carried for long stretches by Thomas, who was signed last winter to a low-risk, one-year deal that paid him a base salary of $500,000 and stayed healthy enough to put together an MVP-type season. Piazza isn't as much of an injury risk as was Thomas, but the A's bet more than $8 million that another 38-year-old superstar can thrive as a first-time DH and help make up for the loss of the Big Hurt.
3. Is communication really the key?
After Ken Macha was fired following Oakland's ALCS sweep at the hands of the Tigers, many players said there were major communication issues in the clubhouse under Macha. New skipper Bob Geren, a longtime friend of general manager Billy Beane who spent last season as Macha's bench coach, cites communication as one of his strengths.
The bottom line
If the A's can stay healthy, they're contenders. But they're not as deep as they were last year, so if the injury bug hits them hard again it could be a very long season.