Oakland comes into the spring as the surprise defending AL West champs -- but with fewer splashy offseason moves than some division rivals, especially the Los Angeles Angels.
Instead, the A's, lacking the big budgets of the Angels and Texas Rangers, went for depth and versatility for 2013. They have all sorts of lineup options available on a given day -- especially with the acquisition of infielder Jed Lowrie one week before pitchers and catchers report to spring training.
The A's traded their top young slugger, Chris Carter, along with right-hander Brad Peacock and catcher Max Stassi, both high-profile minor-leaguers, to the Houston Astros for Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez, a right-handed reliever who will provide depth in Oakland's bullpen.
At first glimpse, dealing a promising power hitter such as Carter, who hit 16 homers in 218 at-bats in 2012, seems risky, but consider the A's lack of experience in the infield before Lowrie's acquisition: Carter was slated to platoon with Brandon Moss at first base, and neither had been big-league regulars until last June; second base is unsettled; shortstop Hiro Nakajima never has played in the U.S.; and third baseman Josh Donaldson is a converted catcher who did not really get it going until his third and final call-up last August.
The A's said Nakajima will be the starter at shortstop and that Lowrie, usually a shortstop, will play all over the infield, including at first base. Presumably, should anyone stumble at any of the infield spots or get injured, Lowrie could step into one role and stay there.
Second base is a toss-up between Scott Sizemore, who missed all of last year with a knee injury, and Jemile Weeks, whose sophomore season was so poor he was demoted in August. Lowrie could wind up playing a factor in that competition, without a doubt.
The A's other main question heading into the spring will be: How do they handle all of those everyday outfielders? They have four starters: Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Chris Young. Young, acquired right after the season from Arizona, has been a center fielder, but he will rotate all around the outfield, much like Lowrie in the infield. Seth Smith, last year's DH/outfielder, could lose some at-bats with all four of the main outfielders shuffling through the DH spot in order to keep everyone fresh and injury-free.
The good news for Oakland is that the pitching staff also is set and deep; most of the unknowns going into the spring center around the lineup juggling that manager Bob Melvin will have to do, but considering he employed as many as five platoons at any given time last season and his team won the West, the unsettled roster isn't causing any real headaches.