|New-look Oakland team has everybody playing meet and greet|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 14 February 2008 10:50|
Ace right-hander Dan Haren - gone. Popular outfielders Mark Kotsay and Nick Swisher and super-sub Marco Scutaro - gone, gone, gone.
It seems like the Athletics go through these transformations almost every year. There were plenty of handshakes and meet-and-greets when pitchers and catchers took the field for stretching on a cool Thursday morning in the desert.
``It's crazy, isn't it?'' returning first baseman Dan Johnson said. ``Good thing they have name plates on the lockers to keep everybody's name straight.''
In fact, there was one non-roster player nobody could identify on reporting day Wednesday. Some fans, quick to question general manager Billy Beane's sanity and unconventional tactics, have begun calling this bunch the Double-As because of all their young, little-known players.
ut it's really not much different from 2005, when Oakland watched as aces Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder were traded away in a three-day span during the winter.
``People were making the same jokes then,'' said right-hander Joe Blanton. ``There was that three-year span they lost a lot of guys. Until you see them play, you don't know. You can't assume we're going to be bad just because we have a lot of young guys.''
Yet the A's must replace their entire starting outfield. Second-year major leaguer Travis Buck will take up one of those spots after he played 82 games in 2007.
One familiar face is Kirk Saarloos, back with the A's after spending the 2007 season pitching for the Cincinnati Reds on the heels of three years in Oakland.
``I actually knew more guys than I thought I did,'' said Blanton, whose name has been part of many trade rumors in the past year.
First baseman and designated hitter Mike Sweeney, who signed a minor league deal with the team earlier this week after spending his first 13 seasons in Kansas City, turned up to meet his new teammates Thursday.
``I feel good in green,'' Sweeney said.
He has no guarantees of making an Oakland roster featuring rookie Daric Barton at first, and Johnson and Jack Cust competing for DH. For Sweeney, that's OK. He wants to walk away from baseball on his own terms and figured Oakland would be the best chance to play a little longer.
``I was holding out to see if there was a chance to go back and wear Royal blue, because that's the only uniform I've worn since I was 17 years old,'' Sweeney said. ``New number, new colors, new cleats. Nothing's going to be given to me.''
The 34-year-old Sweeney has been limited by injuries in recent seasons. He played in only 74 games in 2007 because of his right knee and 60 the previous year because of back trouble.
He said everything is ``perfect physically'' now. A .299 career hitter with 197 homers and a five-time All-Star, Sweeney is coming off a $55 million, five-year contract.
Beane decided to rebuild the organization's depleted farm system now, rather than wait any longer after the A's had their first losing season since 1998 and finished in third place in the AL West - topping the last-place Texas Rangers on the season's final day.
``We were a game out of last place,'' Beane said in explaining his philosophy.
Haren was dealt to the Diamondbacks in December. Already gone were Milton Bradley and Bobby Kielty, then Shannon Stewart, Kotsay and Swisher also departed. Kotsay was traded to the Braves and Swisher sent to the White Sox. Scutaro was traded to the Blue Jays.
In those deals, the A's acquired mostly minor leaguers.
There will be more evaluation of young players than in recent years and more competition for spots. Yet there also will be a more streamlined approach as the A's prepare to open the season earlier, March 25 in Tokyo against the World Series champion Red Sox.
For now, Sweeney will make himself available to any youngster who wants some guidance.
``They're greenhorns. They're young kids,'' he said. ``A lot of them haven't played in the big leagues and if they have it's just a cup of coffee. I just want to offer some leadership, whether it's me here for just spring training or for the next two or three years.''