The Roster: A Thought Exercise
by Ken Arneson
2006-01-08 8:55

There are basically three names floating around the A’s rumor mill these days: Barry Zito, Justin Duchscherer, and Frank Thomas. Beane is still “monitoring the situation” with Thomas. Just as an exercise, I thought I’d try to see what signing Thomas would do to the roster.

Here’s what the roster looks like right now, with my 25-man projection:

Active Roster
1. Joe Blanton
2. Kiko Calero
3. Juan Cruz
4. Justin Duchscherer
5. Rich Harden
6. Dan Haren
7. Joe Kennedy
8. Esteban Loaiza
9. Kirk Saarloos
10. Huston Street
11. Jay Witasick
12. Barry Zito

13. Jason Kendall
14. Adam Melhuse

15. Eric Chavez
16. Bobby Crosby
17. Mark Ellis
18. Dan Johnson
19. Antonio Perez
20. Marco Scutaro

21. Milton Bradley
22. Bobby Kielty
23. Mark Kotsay
24. Jay Payton
25. Nick Swisher

Optioned to Minors
26. Ron Flores
27. Jairo Garcia
28. Chad Gaudin
29. Shane Komine
30. Chris Mabeus
31. Dan Meyer
32. John Rheinecker
33. Matt Roney

34. Jeremy Brown

35. Freddie Bynum
36. Mike Rouse

38 37. Javier Herrera
39 38. Charles Thomas
40 39. Matt Watson

The first question about signing Thomas would be who would Thomas replace on the 40-man roster? Easy: replace Thomas (Charles) with Thomas (Frank)! Unless, of course, you’re not ready to admit the mistake in the Tim Hudson trade. Otherwise, drop Watson. Watson’s better, but he’s also older. Update: Disregard this paragraph. I can’t count. There are only 39 players on the 40-man roster. It appears there exists a number called “37” of which I was previously unaware.

A more difficult question is who would Thomas replace on the 25-man roster. The first thing that jumps out is that there are 12 pitchers. The A’s probably don’t really need 12 pitchers with the strength of that starting rotation. An 11-man staff would probably do fine, especially with guys like Kennedy, Cruz, Duchscherer and Saarloos, all of whom can throw multiple innings.

But who would you send down to Sacramento? Cruz or Saarloos, I guess, since they each have one option remaining, if I read my MLB rules correctly. But neither one of them really has anything left to prove in AAA.

The alternative would be to send down either Perez or Scutaro. But that leaves the infield rather thin at 2B, SS, and 3B. The A’s played for awhile with just one IF backup last year, and Ken Macha didn’t like it.

The result is a roster crunch if everyone is healthy. There are worse problems to have, I suppose.

* * *

The alternative is to free up a roster spot with a trade. Even without signing Thomas, at least one of those pitchers is going to have more value for somebody else than for Oakland. Someone is going to be wasting away, either in the bullpen or in AAA.

I’m sure Beane would love to trade Saarloos, if he could get anything decent in return. But with more and more teams subscribed to Baseball Prospectus, I’m sure Saarloos didn’t become as overrated as the A’s might have hoped after 2005. Red skies at night, sailors delight; extremely low strikeout rate, GMs take warning.

But the big question is Barry Zito and his impeding 2006 free agency. How do the A’s replace him in 2007, without reducing their chances in 2006?

Beane appears to be working from this starting point: trade Duchscherer to Boston for David Wells. There would be a dropoff in the pen, certainly, because Duchscherer was one of the A’s best pitchers last year, and presumably would be this year, too. But it might not be a huge dropoff, because there’s a lot of depth.

If the A’s make that trade, it leaves the A’s with two options:

  1. Keep Wells for 2006, and trade Zito for prospects to help replace Wells in 2007, or
  2. Keep Zito for 2006, and trade Wells for a prospect or two to replace Zito in 2007.

The rumors around option #1 have involved the Cubs and the Mets. We’ve heard all about those. The benefit here is that Zito would bring in a top-tier prospect that the A’s could have for the next six years.

The rumors around option #2 have focused on the Dodgers. The A’s wouldn’t get a top-tier prospect like Chad Billingsley for Wells, but probably a second-tier pitching prospect or two, like Edwin Jackson or Justin Orenduff. An additional bonus to this scenario is that the A’s would end up with a couple of extra high draft picks when Zito leaves.

In either case, the A’s end up with a solid 11-man pitching staff for 2006, a spot on the roster for Frank Thomas, plus some candidates to take over in 2007 at a fraction of the cost.

* * *

Without knowing exactly which prospects would return in these scenarios, it’s hard to discern which is the best way to go. We just sit and wait, as we always do this time of year.

Comments: 4
1.   Eric Enders
2006-01-08 22:58

1.  FWIW, Antonio Perez cannot be sent down; he's out of options. This hampered the Dodgers when he was trying to learn to play 3B last year.

2.   Roman
2006-01-09 09:54

2.  If no other moves were made this off-season, I believe the A's would have Flores on the 25-man roster and Cruz down in Sacramento, starting. Whatever trade value Cruz has left would only take a hit if he were tucked away in Oakland's bullpen.

Now, if Billy were to sign Frank Thomas, I believe that either Payton or Kielty would be traded to make room for him on the 25 and 40-man rosters (I actually believe that the trade would come first). With the way the team struggled vs right-handed pitching last season, I can't imagine that Billy would take any ABs away from Dan Johnson for either of these two. And having them both on the bench doesn't make all that much sense to me either, as their pretty much the same player (by that I mean same OPS: Kielty with the higher OBP, Payton with the higher Slg%).

That might come back to haunt us if/when Thomas and Kotsay need some time off, but with Bradley more than capable in CF, I think it's worth the risk.

3.   For The Turnstiles
2006-01-09 12:11

3.  I believe there is already an open spot on the 40-man roster.

I noticed last week that the team depth chart on the A's official site had been updated, and includes only 24 players (the ones Ken listed above, minus Cruz). That could be meaningless, or it could indicate, along with the opening on the 40-man roster, that a spot is being kept open for Thomas. In any case, those 24 players are pretty much locks to make the team, barring a trade. If they don't sign Thomas and go with 12 pitchers, there are several candidates with at least a little major league experience (Cruz, Garcia, Flores, Gaudin and Roney) for that slot, and I think they would all have some shot of winning the job in spring training.

4.   Ken Arneson
2006-01-09 13:03

4.  Yeah, I suppose it would help if I could count from 36 to 38.

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