PHOENIX -- When A's pitchers and catchers officially begin workouts today, myriad expectations will begin battle with realistic counterparts.
Talent will try to reign over health and youth as Spring Training kicks off for a revamped Oakland team, which is trying to overcome a 75-87 record and last-place division finish in 2009.
Based on the unusually high number of early arrivals in camp this year, a figure that ranged between 40 and 50 players Friday, it's fair to say the A's are ready to put their growing pains behind them. "It's going to be fun," Brett Anderson said Saturday, when Oakland pitchers and catchers officially reported. "We have a lot of new acquisitions, so it should be exciting. We finished last season on a high note." The fourth year of manager Bob Geren's tenure takes off today at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where workouts begin for 29 pitchers and six catchers. There are seven non-roster pitchers and four non-roster catchers among the early participants, including two who did not report to camp Saturday -- catcher Joel Galarraga, who is waiting on a visa in Mexico, and pitcher Henry Rodriguez, who is expected to make it in from Venezuela late Tuesday. "It's good to see all the guys," said Andrew Bailey, who is looking to avoid the sophomore jinx after an All-Star season that earned him American League Rookie of the Year honors. "Everyone is excited about this year, and when you start seeing all the faces you get that adrenaline going." When the regular position players work out for the first time Friday, a total of 62 players -- including 22 non-roster invitees -- will be found in uniform. Among them will be players that came out of the numerous moves general manager Billy Beane made since the start of the offseason -- including right-hander Ben Sheets, who addressed the media after his physical Saturday. "Speaking as a baseball player, I'm very excited for the season to start," he said. "I think everyone here feels the same way." Sheets missed all of last season because of elbow surgery but was immediately deemed the A's Opening Day starter upon arrival, so questions about his health should presumably be ever-present throughout the duration of camp. However, the 31-year-old Sheets, who threw his first bullpen session Friday, insists he will face no restrictions today. "I think the normal progression for anybody in spring is to ease into it," he said. "Whether you're 22 and healthy or you're 31 and coming off surgery, I think you're going to start slow and build yourself up." The arrival of big-name acquisitions, including Sheets and Kevin Kouzmanoff, have left A's fans slightly more hopeful and the baseball community slightly more intrigued. Still, Beane is careful not to overhype what's yet to be seen. "It's really hard to judge anything at this point because everything we've done is really on paper," he said. "We'll get a better idea when everyone is in camp and everyone is healthy. "As for the offseason, I think we addressed a lot of the things we wanted to address without really jeopardizing our future. Ultimately what we've been trying to do is bring some of the young players along and hope that they develop over the course of the next couple of years. For the time being, there were areas and holes in the club we felt we didn't have any long-term answers to, i.e. third base. We addressed that need and still sort of stayed on plan." The hot-corner move came in the form of Kouzmanoff, dealt with Minor Leaguer Eric Sogard in a trade with San Diego for outfielders Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham. The 26-year-old third baseman is no Eric Chavez, but he's an above-average defensive player and a solid lineup presence just entering his prime. The transaction came shortly after Beane and Co. were unable to entice Adrian Beltre for more years and more money than the third baseman was eventually given by Boston. Same for Marco Scutaro, who joined the Red Sox. "We went after a number of players that we didn't get, but we were still able to fill the holes we wanted to going into the offseason," Beane said. "All in all, we were able to address most of the glaring needs we saw at the beginning of the offseason. I think this is the hardest we've ever worked during an offseason." At the same time, Beane is well aware of the talent surrounding his improved ballclub -- so much so that he doesn't even bother with questions related to how the A's will match up against division foes Los Angeles, Seattle and Texas. "I have no idea yet," he admitted. "We've got a long way to go, and it's a long climb to go from worst to first. So for now, there's no sense in trying to predict that. What you hope for is that the players you've acquired have an impact and the younger players develop at an even quicker rate than you hope for. "The fact of the matter is we've got a lot less to work with and a lot farther to go than everybody else." Much of that mindset relates to the well-being of his players. After all, the training room has been a little too busy for Beane's liking in recent years. "The biggest improvement we can make is our health and the reliability of our players," he said. "That's been our biggest issue. I think one of the things we tried to do this winter was try to acquire players to give us a very deep roster not just for the Major Leagues but also in a way that allows us to dip down into our Minor League system in case of injuries. Hopefully we can rest players more often than we've been able to in the past. "So I think health is going to be the most important thing for our roster. I think we've got a talented group of guys, but it doesn't mean anything if they can't stay on the field." Six players on the A's current 40-man roster -- Justin Duchscherer, Sheets, Josh Outman, Joey Devine, Chavez and Coco Crisp -- are coming back from surgery. Aside from Outman, who is scheduled to return to the field midseason, all are expected to be injury-free and contribute by season's start. Ditto Dallas Braden, whose season was cut short after 22 starts due to a foot rash but, based on recent medical reports, should be good to go, according to Beane. "We may go easy on some of the guys like Coco Crisp just to be cautious," he said, "but I don't think there will be many restrictions." As of Saturday afternoon, the only recent red flag came in the form of lower back stiffness. The victim: Duchscherer, who will be re-evaluated Sunday morning before stretching begins at 9:45 a.m. Geren, however, doesn't expect the news to be a serious issue or put a damper on any of the work Beane did to bolster the team's rotation. "The workload we put in went way later into the offseason," Beane said. "But given the circumstances, I think we're pretty happy with what we were able to accomplish."
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.