Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Oakland Athletics Versatility Paying Dividends Early

By now, everyone in Oakland knows the name: Sam Fuld. When Fuld was picked up in the offseason, it appeared as though his was just an addition to the roster with some major-league experience, and sub-par career offensive numbers. In the A’s first week, Fuld has impressed. Some fans are even discussing the idea of sending Josh Reddick to Triple-A Sacramento when Craig “Kitten Face” Gentry joins the team in a couple of days. This is Josh Reddick, the player that had 32 HRs and 85 RBIs in 2012 and finished 16th in the MVP voting that year. Gold Glover Josh Reddick. Now he is closer to being a River Cat than to gaining any prestigious accolades. The reason this is even possible is that the A’s have depth at every position, are eager to win and will roll out with whomever will get them a W, regardless of past statistics.

Reddick has his share of critics after an unimpressive 2013 campaign. His slow start to this season, highlighted by his .125 average and 1 RBI have put him in a tough position. Reddick has an option left, meaning the Athletics can send him to Triple-A, and be assured of keeping him. They do not have this luxury with Fuld. The more likely move will be to place Daric Barton on waivers, a place he has been before, and keeping 5 outfielders on the big-league squad. Fuld hasn’t played himself off of the roster, and is more likely to be snatched up by another team (I’m looking at you, Texas) than Barton.

Before we go on, waivers are complicated, but here is my understanding. A player has 3 options. Options can be thought of as round-trip train tickets to the minor leagues, and back to the majors (when they get called back to the majors is up to the team, however). Once a player is out of options, they must first clear waivers, before getting another train ticket.

The waiver wire is where all of the players from every MLB team who is out of options sits. Think of it as a train station. If the A’s send Sam Fuld to the train station without a ticket to Sacramento, other teams (kidnappers) can take him and put him on their train instead. If nobody wants to kidnap a certain player, then they are allowed to stay with their original team. Daric Barton has been to the train station a couple of times, and has yet to be kidnapped. Therefore, in the argument above, he is the safer bet to stick with the team. If the A’s do not wish to send Barton, Reddick still has one round-trip train ticket left.

Moving on. The Athletics pitching has been outstanding thus far. Sonny Gray has a 0.75 ERA in 12 IP in his first full season in the bigs. Heck, the entire staff has been fantastic, compiling a cumulative 2.32 ERA, and that counts the closing woes from the first few games. According to ESPN, the A’s also lead MLB in Quality Starts (At least 6 IP and 3 Runs or less allowed) with 6. They’ve played 7 games.

The one game that wasn’t considered a quality start according to this statistic was made by Josh Lindblom, in a spot start, in the second game of the double-header against the Indians. He went 4.2 IP and only gave up 2 runs. He was on loan from Sacramento, and the A’s just wanted someone to eat a few innings to save their bullpen, and keep their rotation in order.

Why focus on pitching stats? A lot of experts took a step back from the A’s when the injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin were announced. The players that were next in line have responded in a big way with their opportunities.

Jesse Chavez has looked dominant at times, both in Spring Training and in his first start of the season. He could end up being a solid addition to the rotation, and he wouldn’t be there without the injuries suffered by Parker and Griffin. Throw in Drew Pomeranz, who has looked solid out of the bullpen, and the Oakland Athletics have a wealth of starting pitching options if faced with another injury.

That brings us to Derek Norris, the heavily bearded, and overall awesome platoon catcher. Last season, he batted .320 against left-handed pitchers, and just .149 against righties. Through 7 games, Norris is 5/9 against RHP for an average of .556. If he can continue this early success against righties, and hit say, .280 on the season, he will find himself platooning much less and in more of an everyday role.

This would be a boost to the club, because he is a much better defensive catcher than John Jaso. Both in blocking balls in the dirt, and also has in keeping potential base stealers at bay with his strong arm. In 2013, Jaso threw out 13% of the runners attempting to steal, Norris threw out 26%, or league average. Alright, “keeping base stealers at bay” may be a little strongly worded, but in a game where statistics are everything, this one cannot be discounted.

The Oakland Athletics platoon each position better than any team in the majors. The Rangers are also dealing with numerous injuries to start the season, but are relying on bludgeoning their opponents with offense to gain victories.

The Athletics are staying within themselves and continuing to do what they have for the more than a decade: pitch, defend, and score. With the cast of players in Oakland and in Sacramento all fighting for playing time, and wanting to make their opportunity count, the A’s can plug different players into each position and find that winning formula. This may not be the team that management, or the fans envisioned, but it could be the team that takes them for a ride come October.

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