Sunday, April 03, 2005

What I learned in Camp - A Spring Training Summary

The starting nine was pretty much set going into camp. Lopez did not really have a shot at the SS job, they really want him in Tacoma learning to play second. Reed never had any competition for the CF job, the only question was whether he would bat second, and he will. 4/5 of the rotation was set as well, so the only real battles in camp were on the bench, the bullpen and the 5th starter job.

For the out of touch, the lineup is:

Ichiro – RF
Reed – CF
Beltre – 3B
Sexson – 1B
Ibanez – DH
Boone – 2B
Winn – LF
Olivo – C
Reese – SS

And the settled part of the rotation is Moyer, Pineiro (opens on the DL) , Madritsch and Meche.

On to the battles then!

Bench - Wilson, Spiezio, and Bloomquist all had the club made before Spring Training started. Speez is untradeable, unless the M's want to pick up a huge chunk of his salary. He's especially untradeable after undergoing the Jason Giambi diet plan in the offseason! I'll say it for the hundredth time, as a 25th man, Wee Willie's got some value. But since Hargrove is carrying 12 pitchers (including two long men!!!), despite 3 off days in April, Willie B ends up as your only backup in the middle infield. That's a problem, especially when your starting shortstop is injury prone and will have to be pinch hit for late in games.

Last bench spot - This comes down to Dobbs and Santiago. Since Santiago can play short better than Willie and with the late spring health problems of Pokey, I would have gone with him, but Dobbs had a good spring and the club loves him. Of course that went out the window when the M's plucked Abraham Nunez off waivers from KC. Nunez can handle all 3 outfield positions, so if the M’s keep him he becomes the in-game sub over Bloomquist, with Raul being the backup when someone needs a day off. Nunez has had some good seasons in the minors, but he's an “Age-gate” guy who picked up three extra years on the old birth certificate. Now those good seasons start to look like a guy that was old for his level. In ay event, in 302 big league At-bats he's hit .209, with a .288 OBP and a .308 Slugging Percentage so he’s not helping us with the bat.

Actually with Nunez, Bloomquist and Wilson, that’s 3/4 of the bench that cannot hit. If its Santiago or Dobbs instead, that’s still a terrible bench. If Speez doesn't bounce back, this is an absolutely brutal bench. Just terrible.

Bullpen - Guardado, Hasegawa, Villone, and Putz were all locks in the pen. Franklin will be here too after losing the 5th starter job. That left Sherill, Mateo, Thornton and Jeff Nelson fighting for 2 spots. This became 3 spots when Joel needed to open the season on the DL. The odd man out here looks to be Sherrill for no good reason that I can see. Sherrill had a nice audition last year, putting up a 3.80 ERA, striking out 6 batters per nine with a K to BB ratio of 1.78. He has had a tough spring, striking out only 8, while walking 6, but its surprising that he lost out to Thornton, who had a higher ERA last year (4.13) and while striking out 8 per nine also managed to walk 25 hitters for an abysmal 1.20 K/BB ratio. His ratio in the minors last year was even worse at 1.17. Thornton is classic wild hard-thrower and hoping that he can find control at the big-league level is just wishful thinking on the M’s part. He was out of options, so the M’s risked losing him on waivers if they tried to send him down. I assume he’ll be waived when Joel comes off the DL in mid-April, so he’s got two weeks to prove himself.

Overall this is not a great pen. Guardado will be good if healthy and Putz should be effective. Hasegawa, Mateo and Nelson need bounce back seasons big-time and the odds are they won’t all have one. I’m betting Mateo’s solid peripheral numbers will lower his ERA back to acceptable levels, Nellie gets hurt again and Hasegawa is done. Franklin and Villone are innings eaters as long men, miscast as something else, and Thornton will be out of the pen by May. Not exactly the A’s stable of power arms is it?

Finally we had the 5th starter job. There were a bunch of guys with a shot here, Franklin, Sele, Reichert, Baek and Nageotte to name a few. Mexican league signee Jorge Campillo probably had an outside shot as did uber-prospect Felix Hernandez. Sele won the job with a good ERA (4.57 after getting bombed in his last start), but unspectacular peripherals. He only struck out 11 guys in 20 some innings, so I wouldn’t count on the Aaron Sele Experience lasting too long. In reality, the M’s hope that this spot ends up in the hands of Hernandez, perhaps as early as midseason.

Putting it all together, I think the M’s have done what they needed to do this year. They should get within a few games of .500 and have a few things to build on for next season. That bench, though, eewwww.