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Crowded A's roster raises expectations

Depth, flexibility could be key to Oakland's chances in AL West
MLB.com @RichardJustice

MESA, Ariz.-- Chris Coghlan makes the Oakland Athletics better. That's the easy part of this thing. As for where he's going to play and how much he's going to play, we'll have to get back to you on that one. Let's just say the A's are going to have an interesting Spring Training.

"If you were to come up with 25 right now, you'd have some difficult decisions to make," A's manager Bob Melvin said.

MESA, Ariz.-- Chris Coghlan makes the Oakland Athletics better. That's the easy part of this thing. As for where he's going to play and how much he's going to play, we'll have to get back to you on that one. Let's just say the A's are going to have an interesting Spring Training.

"If you were to come up with 25 right now, you'd have some difficult decisions to make," A's manager Bob Melvin said.

Melvin is referring to the 25-man Opening Day roster and how all the pieces will fit. Good for him that he has some time. Has Billy Beane again worked his magic? After three straight playoff appearances, the A's went 68-94 last season amid a slew of injuries and disappointing performances.

Spring: Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs

Those A's are not these A's. Beane, the president of baseball operations, changed every area of the team. He added Ryan Madson and three other veteran relievers to a bullpen that was the American League's worst in 2015. (Also significant is that Oakland will be getting closer Sean Doolittle back after being limited to 12 games last season.)

The Athletics lost 23 games when leading after the fifth inning in 2015, and they were 19-35 in one-run games. If Beane hadn't done one other thing, the A's would have had a chance to improve significantly in '16.

The A's also added Rich Hill to the rotation, Jed Lowrie and Yonder Alonso to the right side of the infield and Khris Davis to the outfield. And on Thursday, they completed a deal to bring Coghlan over from the Cubs. His role?

For now, Coghlan is Oakland's new version of Ben Zobrist -- a super-utility specialist.

"My job is to come prepared to play and compete every single day and to help the team win," Coghlan said. "However they fit me in doesn't matter."

Video: Lee on A's addition of Coghlan in trade with Cubs

What the additions have done is create competition in every area of the club. The A's have seven starting pitchers with Major League experience competing for five spots. They have a similar crowded situation in the outfield.

The A's may have some difficult situations getting the roster down to 25 players, but they could also have enough flexibility and depth to keep them competitive in the American League West.

"Typically, the competition brings the best out of each other," outfielder Sam Fuld said. "We wouldn't be here if we weren't competitive people. None of us will back down from competition."

If there was a silver lining in the 94-loss season, it was seeing the emergence of a solid rotation behind ace Sonny Gray. Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt seem penciled in for the three spots behind Gray and Hill. But right-hander Jarrod Parker, who missed the past two seasons with injuries, could compete for a spot.

Last season got away from the A's. They don't believe that'll happen in 2016, and the added depth all over the roster is one reason.

"We've got a lot of people who can impact the big league team," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "I'm glad I'm not the one having to make decisions. Hopefully, there's a good healthy competition during camp, and I think it's going to bring the best out of all of us. I think going into it we're deep, and that's a good problem to have."

One of the things Coghlan heard from player after player is that he's going to love playing for Melvin. The newcomer has heard as well that the atmosphere around the A's is as good as any in baseball.

"I love the culture that this organization has created," Coghlan said.

Now, about playing meaningful games in September. Will the additions and the good health be enough?

"Very optimistic," Melvin said. "If you can turn those one-run games in half, all of a sudden we're playing some meaningful games in September. It's a whole different year for us. We were just a little short later in games. I'm glad we addressed that. The good part of that is maybe we weren't too far off. Personally, I think that's the case."

When Melvin spoke to his full squad for the first time Friday morning, he mentioned the franchise's history -- the 18 postseason appearances and four World Series championships since 1971.

Melvin spoke mainly for the new guys, telling them the pride Oakland players take in being part of the organization, and how there's a commitment to turn the page on a 94-loss season.

"The biggest lesson we learned is that it stinks to finish that poorly," Vogt said. "It hurts to lose games the way we lost games. It's not fun to be walking into the clubhouse after a one-run loss or having lost five of seven. We're used to winning here. We're positive we're going to get back in a winning direction. We like the personnel we have in here to do it."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U.

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