Optimism abounds for revitalized A’s 

Spring training is still two months away, but there was much talk of the playoffs as the A’s held a media day Thursday.

“After four years in Florida and two in Washington, where there was never any serious thought about contending, it’s nice to come to a team that has a chance to win something,” said outfielder Josh Willingham, who signed as a free agent in the offseason.

New reliever Grant Belfour pointed to the pitching depth, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen.

“That’s one of the things I looked at,” he said. “If you’ve got a team with starters that can go 6-7 innings, then you can set up the bullpen the way you should and put relievers in a position to do what they do best.”

One of those relievers could be Rich Harden.

“I’d rather start, but if they want me to come out of the ’pen, I’ll do that,” said Harden, who added that he was happy to be back with the A’s. “When I was here last year, it reminded me of the good times at the Coliseum.”

A’s manager Bob Geren also likes the team’s depth for another reason.

“Last year, we had what looked like a contending team in spring training, and then we had all those injuries,” Geren said. “This year, we’ve got enough depth that, if we have injuries, we should be able to plug in players who are just as good.”

For that reason, among others, Geren sidestepped a request to name his starting lineup.

“I haven’t even begun to get to that point,” he said. “When we go to spring training, I’ll try some different lineups to see how they work before I settle on one.”

The obvious need for the A’s last year was power; they didn’t have one hitter who reached 20 homers.

One possibility for improved power is Chris Carter, who was up a couple of times in September last year, going hitless in his first 33 at-bats.

Carter’s reputation is for starting slow on every level, then figuring out the pitchers and finishing strong. He did the same at Sacramento (Triple A) last year.

I asked him what he learned in his brief trip to the majors in September. “In the majors, they have better control of all their pitches,” he said.

Though they got him out at the start, Carter realized what they were trying to do.

“They’d throw me a fastball inside and I’d foul it off,” he said. “The next fastball would be a little further inside, the next one even further and then they’d throw me a slider on the outside corner.”

I was at the Coliseum when Carter hit his first major league home run, a no-doubter, deep into the left-field seats. That kind of power is the reason the A’s will give him a good shot this spring.

Willingham will also get a good shot because he’s got right-handed power.

“I see him in the middle of the lineup, breaking up the left-handed hitters,” Geren said.

Nobody knows quite how it will all shake out, but it’s nice to hear the A’s talk of contending again.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

 

In with the new

A look at some of the additions the A’s have made to the team heading into spring training:

LHP Brian Fuentes

RHP Grant Balfour

RHP Brandon McCarthy

RHP Rich Harden

OF David DeJesus

OF Josh Willingham

DH Hideki Matsui

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