Spring training questions: Oakland Athletics

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Can Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer hold up at the top of the rotation?
Sheets would seem to have the better chance of the two. He hasn’t put in a full season since 2004, but he did make 31 starts in 2008 and he should be completely recovered from the torn flexor tendon in his elbow that cost him last season. It’s important to remember that he’s not coming off major shoulder surgery or Tommy John surgery — he’s a far better bet than most pitchers coming off a missed season. Duchscherer, on the other hand, has never put in a full season as a starter and he has significant back and hip issues to go along with history of arm problems. Also, he missed the end of last season with clinical depression.
If the two pitchers somehow combine to make 55-60 starts, the A’s would have a legitimate chance of reaching the postseason. But while I think Sheets is a reasonable bet to hold up his end of the bargain, I wouldn’t pencil in Duchscherer to make even 20 starts.
2. Will a Rajai Davis-Coco Crisp-Ryan Sweeney outfield hit enough to remain intact?
It should be baseball’s best outfield defensively, but the three players have combined for one 800 OPS season between them and that was Crisp’s 2005. Davis, a big surprise over the final four months of last year, is far from the prototypical left fielder, and Sweeney, while still possessing some upside, has hit 12 homers in 948 major league at-bats. I have the trio projected for 23 homers in 1,453 at-bats this season, and even that might be optimistic.
The A’s do have alternatives, but they traded the two best (Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham) to the Padres for Kevin Kouzmanoff. Jack Cust could log some outfield time if Eric Chavez forces his way into the lineup as a DH. Gabe Gross is an adequate fourth outfielder, and both Eric Patterson and Travis Buck are still in the organization, though perhaps not for much longer. Odds are that the A’s will go with the defense-first alignment to start and then adjust once they struggle to score runs.
3. Will Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez take necessary steps forward and provide the A’s with some much-needed rotation depth?
The Sheets signing would mean there’s only room for one in the rotation, but that depends on everyone getting through the spring healthy. Both should factor heavily into Oakland’s plans. Gonzalez, who has fanned 143 but walked 81 in 132 2/3 innings as a major leaguer, has nothing left to prove in the minors, while Cahill might yet benefit from some Triple-A time. I’m very interested in seeing how Cahill looks this spring after he went through his rookie season without ever showing a consistent breaking ball. He has the greater upside of the two. If both prove capable of holding their own at the bottom of the rotation, the A’s will be better able to withstand injuries. It’s doubtful that Sheets, Duchscherer, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden will all be healthy at the same time very frequently.

Homer Bailey will make his 2016 season debut on Sunday

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 7: Homer Bailey #34 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches in the third inning of the game against the Cleveland Indians at Great American Ball Park on August 7, 2014 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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The Reds announced that starter Homer Bailey has been activated from the 60-day disabled list and will make his 2016 season debut on Sunday against the Padres. To make room on the roster, the Reds optioned outfielder Kyle Waldrop to Triple-A Louisville and transferred pitcher Caleb Cotham to the 60-day disabled list.

Bailey, 30, underwent Tommy John surgery last year, taking about 14 months to recover. He made only two starts last season and 23 starts in 2014. The right-hander has three more guaranteed years and $63 million remaining on his contract as well as a $25 million mutual option for the 2020 season with a $5 million buyout.

In six rehab appearances with Louisville dating back to June 27, Bailey has a 5.75 ERA and a 13/7 K/BB ratio in 20 1/3 innings. The stats from rehab stints don’t mean too much as long as the Reds feel he’s healthy enough to pitch.

Play of the Day: Fan reaches over second deck railing, catches foul ball with her hat

MILWAUKEE, WI - JULY 28:  Paul Goldschmidt #44 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits a single in the sixth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on July 28, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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Today’s play of the day wasn’t made by a professional athlete. Rather, it was made by a fan in the second deck on the first base side at Miller Park during Thursday afternoon’s game between the Diamondbacks and Brewers.

Phil Gosselin fouled off a 1-1 fastball from Will Smith to the right side. A fan wearing purple — perhaps in support of the D-Backs? — leaned over the railing of the second deck and snagged the ball with her bucket hat.

The Brewers beat the Diamondbacks 6-4. They took three games out of the four-game series. Heading into the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline, they’ll host the Pirates for three games.