Expectations remain high for retooled A's

Expectations remain high for retooled A's

Expectations remain high for retooled A's
OAKLAND -- A's manager Bob Melvin has never been a fan of the word "rebuilding."

"You retool, you restructure a little bit, but this is the big leagues, and here you're expected to win," he said.

The A's, then, aren't about to begin Spring Training with subdued expectations. Melvin, for one, won't allow it.

Nevermind that the A's endured significant roster turnover this winter, losing a trio of All-Star pitchers and then some as they look toward the future in a potential new stadium. Nor that they're relying on young, inexperienced talent to battle it out with the likes of division powerhouses Texas and Los Angeles.

"You never know," Melvin said. "Every year, you see teams come out of the pack even though expectations are low. There are always teams that come out and play as a group, and I know it's cliche, but it's all about the name on the front, and if everybody buys into that, you get going in the right direction, you create some momentum, then anything's possible.

"I've never suited up for a Major League game where I've felt we're going to go out there and lose, and this year we're going to go out there every day expecting to win."

It's a similar scene for Melvin, who in 2007 steered the underdog D-backs to a National League West title and NL Championship Series appearance. He'll look to create a similar winning environment with a revamped A's team that faces more than a few questions heading into camp.

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 18.

Full squad reports

Feb. 24.

First Spring Training game

Home vs. Seattle Mariners, March 2, 12:05 p.m.

Opening Day

Home (in Tokyo) vs. Seattle Mariners, March 28, 3:10 a.m.

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who will win the fourth and fifth spots in the starting rotation?
Plenty of names abound in this race, some old and some new. Right-handers Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey, who combined for 10 starts in Oakland last year, are both vying for a rotation spot but will face some hefty competition against a handful of newcomers.

Righty Jarrod Parker, they key piece in the Trevor Cahill trade, headlines this list and figures to eventually transform into a frontline starter someday. In the meantime, it's likely he and fellow right-hander Brad Peacock -- acquired from Washington in the Gio Gonzalez deal -- are the favorites to land a job in the rotation behind southpaw Tom Milone, considered slightly ahead of the aforementioned names.

2. Who will play first base?
Daric Barton enters camp with perhaps more motivation than any other contender at the position, the same one he claimed his own at the start of last year before losing it as a result of continual struggles at the plate. But in trying to win the job back, he'll have to do so while still rehabbing a surgically repaired right shoulder that's expected to limit him to DH duties until mid-March.

All the while, Brandon Allen, Kila Ka'aihue and Chris Carter will all be looking to make a mark of their own at first base. Of these three, Allen seems most apt to potentially outplay Barton if he can put together a consistent string of at-bats -- something he wasn't able to do during his time in the big leagues last year. Still, Barton represents the best defensive option.

3. Who will handle designated-hitter duties?
The A's are hoping Carter can finally grab the reins here, but they have plenty of other options in the event his struggles against big league pitching continue. Allen is also an option if the A's choose to keep both him and Barton on the 25-man roster. Count Ka'aihue in this mix, too, as well as Jonny Gomes.

It's also not out of the question for the A's to bring in another candidate before camp begins, considering they've already been linked to aging sluggers Manny Ramirez and Magglio Ordonez.

2011 record
74-88, third in the AL West

Projected batting order
1. 2B Jemile Weeks:
  .303 BA, .340 OBP, .421 SLG, 2 HR, 36 RBI in 2011
2. 3B Scott Sizemore:
  .245 BA, .342 OBP, .399 SLG, 11 HR, 56 RBI in 2011
3. CF Coco Crisp:
  .264 BA, .314 OBP, .379 SLG, 8 HR, 54 RBI in 2011
4. LF Seth Smith:
  .284 BA, .374 OBP, .483 SLG, 15 HR, 59 RBI in 2011
5. DH Chris Carter:
  .274 BA, .366 OBP, .530 SLG, 18 HR, 72 RBI in 2011 at Triple-A Sacramento
6. C Kurt Suzuki:
  .237 BA, .301 OBP, .385 SLG, 14 HR, 44 RBI in 2011
7. RF Josh Reddick:
  .280 BA, .327 OBP, .457 SLG, 7 HR, 28 RBI in 2011
8. 1B Daric Barton:
  .212 BA, .325 OBP, .267 SLG, 0 HR, 21 RBI in 2011
9. SS Cliff Pennington:
  .264 BA, .319 OBP, .369 SLG, 8 HR, 58 RBI in 2011

Projected rotation
1. Brandon McCarthy, 9-9, 3.32 ERA in 2011
2. Bartolo Colon, 8-10, 4.00 ERA in 2011
3. Dallas Braden, 1-1, 3.00 ERA in 2011
4. Tom Milone, 1-0, 3.81 ERA in 2011
5. Jarrod Parker, 11-8, 3.79 ERA at Double-A Midland in 2011

Projected bullpen
Closer: Grant Balfour, 2/7 saves, 2.47 ERA in 2011
RH setup man: Joey Devine, 3.52 ERA in 2011
LH setup man: Brian Fuentes, 3.70 ERA in 2011

The new guys
Yoenis Cespedes: The 26-year-old Cuban defector agreed on Monday to a four-year, $36 million contract. By snagging Cespedes, the A's landed a power-hitting center fielder who will perfectly slot into the middle of what was previously a lackluster lineup. He can play all outfield positions but is best suited for center, meaning that Coco Crisp is likely to move to one of the corners.

OF Jonny Gomes: Gomes signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the A's in January, giving the club added veteran presence in a young outfield. His skill set should nicely complement the left-handed-hitting duo of projected starting outfielders Seth Smith and Josh Reddick, and he'll likely see plenty of time at DH when not filling in for them.

OF Seth Smith: The 29-year-old Smith, acquired from the Rockies in a trade that shipped starters Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso to Colorado, immediately slots into left field. That could become a platoon position, though, considering Smith's splits against righties and lefties are drastic. In his career, he's hit .290 against right-handers but just .202 when facing southpaws.

OF Josh Reddick: Reddick, the only player brought over in the Andrew Bailey trade with Major League experience, is expected to start in right field. That's where the 24-year-old spent most of his time with the Red Sox, for whom he hit .280 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs in 87 games over two stints last year.

OF Collin Cowgill: Long linked to Cowgill, the A's finally landed the 25-year-old outfielder in November's Cahill trade. Known for an all-out style of play and overall skill set comparable to Eric Byrnes, Cowgill will use such facets to potentially make a competition out of the corner-outfield spots this spring, though it's likely he'll enter the season as a fourth outfielder.

RHP Bartolo Colon: The 38-year-old Colon, a veteran of 14 Major League seasons, fills a rotation spot for an A's team that traded away top starters Gonzalez and Cahill this winter. Colon, signed to a one-year deal worth $2 million plus incentives, most recently went 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 29 games (26 starts) for the Yankees last year and is in line to slot behind Opening Day starter Brandon McCarthy.

LHP Tom Milone: A former teammate of A's prospects Grant Green and Ryan Cook at the University of Southern California, Milone again joins them in the same organization after being dealt from Washington in the Gonzalez deal. Less known for his fastball velocity and more so for his impeccable control and ability to mix pitches, Milone enters camp as a favorite to win a coveted rotation job.

RHP Jarrod Parker: Also heavily in the rotation mix following his move from Arizona to Oakland in the Cahill deal, Parker is owner of a power fastball and effective slider, along with a decent curveball and changeup. How he uses them this spring will determine where he lands come Opening Day, but even if he starts the season at Triple-A, it's likely his stay there won't be too long.

RHP Brad Peacock: The right-handed Peacock was a solid pickup for the A's in the Gonzalez deal. Should he throw strikes consistently and produce an effective changeup this spring, his name could be found in the rotation come Opening Day. He went a combined 15-3 with a 2.39 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last year before being promoted to Washington, where he allowed just one run in 12 innings down the stretch.

Prospects to watch
SS Grant Green: This 2009 first-round Draft pick is entering his third big league camp but first as an outfielder following his move from shortstop last year. Although he's still a work in progress in center field, Green held his own at the position in the Arizona Fall League and figures to be part of the outfield discussion in 2013.

RHP Sonny Gray: Gray, Oakland's most recent first-round Draft pick, figures to be on the fast track to the big leagues. The 5-foot-11 righty made five starts for Double-A Midland at the end of last season and only allowed one run in 20 innings of work while fanning 18 next to just six walks. It's believed that once Gray, who has a three-pitch mix, masters his changeup, he'll be ready for The Show.

OF Michael Choice: The A's 2010 first-round Draft pick enjoyed a memorable full-season debut in 2011, collecting 30 home runs and 82 RBIs to go along with a .918 OPS in 118 games with Class A Stockton. Choice not only offers power but excellent speed and the potential to develop into an above-average defender in center field. He could potentially see big league action by the end of the season.

C Derek Norris: Norris, acquired in the Gonzalez trade, figures to be one of the more intriguing new faces in camp, considering his potential to be the heir to Kurt Suzuki in the future. The 23-year-old boasts patience at the plate and a good dose of power, while his glove work -- though improved -- still needs to make strides before he's deemed Major League ready.

On the rebound
LHP Dallas Braden: The 25-year-old southpaw, who most recently took the mound for the first time since undergoing shoulder surgery in May, figures to be slightly behind the rest of the staff in camp but is expected back in the rotation by mid-April.

LHP Brett Anderson: Anderson's rehab from Tommy John surgery, which has allowed the lefty the time to shed more than 20 pounds, will keep him out of the rotation until the second half of the season.

INF Daric Barton: Barton, who underwent shoulder surgery in August, won't be at full strength by the start of camp and will likely be limited to the DH role when spring games begin. He's not expected to be throwing at 100 percent until at least mid-March.

OF Josh Reddick: Reddick underwent surgery in November to repair torn cartilage in his left wrist but is expected to be at 100 percent when camp begins.

Long gone
RHP Trevor Cahill: Cahill's departure to the D-backs represented the first of many trades made by the A's this offseason. Just 23 and owed $29 million over the next four years in a deal that also includes two club options, the right-hander will surely fortify a strong D-backs rotation that helped Arizona to an NL West title last year.

LHP Gio Gonzalez: Just two weeks after the A's moved Cahill, the club shipped Gonzalez to the Nationals in a deal that netted Oakland four prospects. The 26-year-old has yet to pitch a game for Washington but in January received a contract extension worth $42 million with team options for 2017 and 2018.

RHP Andrew Bailey: Bailey represented the third and final All-Star to be dealt by the A's this winter. Now with the Red Sox, who sent three players to Oakland in the trade, the righty is expected to fill Jonathan Papelbon's shoes.

LHP Craig Breslow: The left-handed Breslow, who enjoyed three successful years in Oakland's bullpen, departed for Arizona with Cahill in December's trade.

DH Hideki Matsui: Matsui's time with the A's wasn't as productive as anticipated, and while there was speculation that the Japanese veteran slugger could return to Oakland, it's likely the unsigned free agent will land elsewhere in the coming days.

OF Josh Willingham: Stuck in wait-and-see mode because of a stadium decision that's been looming for nearly three years, the A's were forced to let Willingham take advantage of his free-agent status without offering him a multiyear deal. Willingham found just that with the Twins, who awarded the outfielder a three-year, $21 million contract.

OF David DeJesus: DeJesus struggled with consistency at the plate during his one year in Oakland, and he'll look to rebound in the National League this season, having signed with the Cubs to a two-year, $10 million deal with an option for 2014.

OF Ryan Sweeney: Having been relegated to a bench role in Oakland, Sweeney now stands a better chance at landing a starting job in Boston following his move with Bailey.

LHP Josh Outman: Outman was something of a fan favorite in Oakland thanks to his old-school yellow socks and high green stirrups, but he'll have to look for some purple ones now that he's in Colorado with Guillermo Moscoso via a trade that brought Smith to Oakland.

RHP Guillermo Moscoso: Moscoso appeared primed to land a rotation job following a breakout 2011 season, but his services now belong to the Rockies, who took away two pieces of the A's pitching depth.

RHP Michael Wuertz: Plagued by thumb issues, the right-handed Wuertz made just 39 appearances in 2011, posting a 6.68 ERA and .280 opponents batting average -- numbers that led to the A's releasing him in October rather than picking up his $3.25 million option.

RHP Rich Harden: The injury-prone Harden, who produced a 4-4 record and 5.12 ERA in 15 starts during his second tour of duty with the A's, will miss the entirety of the 2012 season after undergoing shoulder surgery last week.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.