As Spring Training continues to wind down, we decided to take this opportunity to answer some questions from fans in an A's Opening Day inbox.How do you envision the Opening Night batting order?
--Richard D., Tucson, Ariz. Matt Joyce, RFJed Lowrie, 2BRyon Healy, DHKhris Davis, LFStephen Vogt, CTrevor Plouffe, 3BMarcus
As Spring Training continues to wind down, we decided to take this opportunity to answer some questions from fans in an A's Opening Day inbox.
How do you envision the Opening Night batting order?
--Richard D., Tucson, Ariz.
Matt Joyce, RF
Jed Lowrie, 2B
Ryon Healy, DH
Khris Davis, LF
Stephen Vogt, C
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Marcus Semien, SS
Yonder Alonso, 1B
Rajai Davis, CF
Who's the front-runner to be the closer this season?
--Michael C., Castro Valley, Calif.
A's manager Bob Melvin continually suggests he may open the season with more than one closer, and it's easy to see why. He essentially has four at his disposal, and having more than one option on any given night allows for more flexibility in the way they are used.
That being said, I foresee Santiago Casilla getting the majority of save opportunities in this veteran-laden bullpen, with Ryan Madson getting his fair share as well. April performances could very well dictate how this shapes up, since you can only glean so much from exhibition outings.
Can you please explain the pros and cons of having an eight-man bullpen?
--David R., Pleasant Hill, Calif.
The makeup of the A's expected Opening Day roster is an important factor when considering this question. Their rotation is young, inexperienced -- their No. 3-5 starters have a combined 16 big league starts between them -- and unproven, which heightens the importance of who is in the bullpen behind them.
An eighth reliever provides additional insurance for the A's, who seem inclined to carry lefty Daniel Coulombe and hard-throwing right-hander Frankie Montas if they go this route. Both are able to pitch multiple innings, which could be crucial should starters stumble their way through the first week of the season. I can't, however, see the A's keeping an eighth reliever much longer than this, which brings me to the opposing point.
By keeping eight relievers, the A's would obviously sacrifice a position player, leaving Melvin shorthanded with a three-man bench. Notably, he would have just one extra outfielder on hand -- Mark Canha, whose defense is questionable. This is clearly not ideal, which is why the eight-man bullpen is rarely employed by teams.
When can we realistically expect Sonny Gray back in the rotation? Who gets bumped out when he returns?
--Michael B., Santa Clara, Calif.
The A's have identified late April as the best-case scenario, which seems reasonable. Gray has been playing catch, most recently throwing to a distance of 105 feet, and he'll soon be getting back on the mound for bullpen sessions. I'd imagine the A's would like to see him pitch on a Minor League rehab assignment, especially considering he had only two exhibition starts before suffering his lat injury.
Between now and then, the A's will be closely examining right-handers Andrew Triggs and Raul Alcantara, who were recently identified as the final two rotation members. Their performance in the early going of the season will go a long way in their ability to remain on the staff. Alcantara, however, could potentially be given a longer leash, being out of options.
How many games does Franklin Barreto have to play in Triple-A before the A's call him up to replace Jed Lowrie?
--Vince L., Sacramento
There is no magic number involved. Performance will be everything for Barreto, who not only has to prove he's ready to handle Major League pitching on an everyday basis, but show he's capable of handling second base as well. He's spent the majority of his Minor League career at shortstop, and the A's would like to see him clock more time at second base before bringing him aboard, having vowed not to rush him.
The A's performance, too, will factor into the equation. Should it be obvious by midseason that contending is out of the cards this year, they'd be inclined to deal Lowrie ahead of the Trade Deadline, which would clear an opening for Barreto.
Jane Lee has covered the A's for MLB.com since 2010.