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COHN: A's have power in numbers

The Athletics, shown warming up before the Bay Bridge Series, will win with any number of players rotating through 25-man roster spots.

KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat
Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 8:42 a.m.

For a long time, people associated the Oakland A's with Moneyball, a concept now outdated — it may, in fact, be discredited. So what name do we use for A's baseball at the start of this season?

That's easy. Call it “Multi-Ball.”

Say what?

Yes, Multi-Ball. All other teams have rosters of 25. That's the standard number. Not in Oakland because the A's are different from all other teams. Sure, the A's are allowed only 25 on the big-league roster. But that's only a small inconvenience to Billy Beane and his oversized bean.

There's Sacramento just up Highway 80 with its roster of 25. Call it the supplemental A's roster. Beane — God love him — is always telling Sacramento players to make the hour-and-a-half drive and join the A's. Or he's telling A's players to make the hour-and-a-half drive and join the River Cats.

There's lots of activity on that freeway and you hope the cost-conscious/cheap A's — Lew Wolff in particular — tell the players to drive Priuses to cut down on gas wastage. Or — and this is a friendly suggestion — Wolff might institute a daily shuttle between Oakland and the state capital to accommodate the constant movement of players back and forth.

If you're keeping count, that brings the A's roster to 50. And that gives Beane mondo options.

That's not all.

There are probably another 15 to 25 players out there on other teams or in the minor-league systems of other teams who will become A's this season or may become A's even though they don't know it yet. And Beane may not even know it yet. Beane is an old-style wheeler-dealer like, say, Bill Veeck. He's compulsive about remaking his team, and he sees the entire world as his roster. In realistic terms, the A's roster is up to 75 able-bodied young men.

Multi-Ball at its best.

If a pitcher strains his arm, no big deal. Put in a call to Sacramento. Get the next guy. If an infielder pulls his hammy, just call the 916. Someone is waiting by the phone. Car engines are revving.

You probably want specific examples of Multi-Ball. Here goes.

The A's rarely have just one player per position. That would be so boring and predictable. Brandon Moss and Josh Donaldson are set at first and third, but that's entirely fluid and could change in the blink of an eyelash.

Catcher is more typical. It's either Derek Norris or John Jaso, depending on the day.

Second base until recently was a gang war pitting Scott Sizemore, Jed Lowrie (more on him shortly), Eric Sogard, Adam Rosales and Jemile Weeks against each other. That's a Battle Royale. But the A's sent Weeks to the River Cats. (Don't rent long-term in Sacramento, Jemile. You could be back in a few weeks.) And Rosales is on the disabled list. So, it's down to Sizemore and Sogard. And of course, that could, and will, change.

Shortstop was supposed to be a competition between Lowrie and Hiroyuki Nakajima, that's if Lowrie wasn't chosen to play second. Hey, with the A's the possibilities are endless and just thinking about them causes headaches like when you took the SATs and one answer was “all of the above.” With the A's it's all of the above all the time.

But Lowrie seems like the putative shortstop because Nakajima is hurt and his spring-training batting average was so invisible you needed an electron microscope to see it. Which means Nakajima could be the starter in a matter of days. No one can say for sure.

And that brings us to outfield/DH, the quintessential A's conundrum in complexity and beauty.

If you consider outfield and DH as one position — come on, play along — the A's have five players for four positions. Call it a rotation. Call it a dance. Call it whatever you want. The five players are: Yoenis Cespedes, probably the left fielder; Coco Crisp, probably the center fielder; and Josh Reddick, probably the right fielder.

It's not as simple as that. It's never simple with the A's.

In the offseason, the A's got power-hitting Chris Young who is in the outfield mix. And they have Seth Smith in the outfield and DH mix. Consider the five of them candidates for the outfield or designated hitter on any given day, guys floating from position to position, into the lineup and out of the lineup.

The A's pitching is fairly standard, kind of a mind-boggling concept for them. They have exceptional starters — and they are young: Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Tommy Milone and Dan Straily. Bartolo Colon will contribute after he gets off double-secret probation. And Beane might convince Vida Blue to make a comeback — you never know. The A's have a lights-out closer in Grant Balfour, and the best bullpen in the AL.

And, get this, the A's should repeat as champions of the American League West. Yes, they should.

The Angels have all those sluggers — Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout. But the Angels cannot pitch. Joe Blanton is one of their starters. No way he could start for the A's. And manager Mike Scioscia seems terminally grumpy and may be losing his touch.

And although the Rangers are dangerous, they lost Hamilton and don't pitch like the A's.

And, to their mutual misfortune, the Angels and Rangers use run-of-the-mill rosters of 25. Seventy-five beats 25 any day of the week.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.

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