What are the A's long-term plans for third base, and do we have any internal Minor League candidates who could take over the hot corner in the next few years? Is it possible that Adrian Cardenas gets moved to third? The A's have made repeated unsuccessful attempts at moving on from Kevin Kouzmanoff, which clearly shows he is not the answer.
-- Scott P., Springfield, Ore.
The A's are hoping Stephen Parker can ultimately provide some stability at the hot corner. The race for that spot has been wide open since the slow but sure departure of Eric Chavez, but Parker is quietly turning into a legitimate candidate. Taken by Oakland in the fifth round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Parker struggled that year but bounced back with quite the successful 2010 campaign, turning in a .296/.392/.508 line along with 21 home runs and 98 RBIs while with Class A Stockton.
He'll likely start the season with Double-A Midland, where he'll especially look to improve on defense -- a facet of Chavez's game that wasn't always so Gold Glove-worthy in his younger days either, if you recall. Parker's known to have good hands but could stand to improve his range, which he can easily extend with the help of continual long-toss activities. Offensively, I've heard from several in the organization that his swing is rather effortless and compact, giving him the ability to drive the ball in the gaps and possibly duplicate his Minor League home run numbers at the higher levels.
That said, keep a close but patient eye on him as he climbs the ranks. He likely won't be fitted for a big league uniform until the latter part of the 2012 season, when he could very well be joined in the infield by Cardenas, whom the A's would rather see stay at second base. That duo, along with top prospect Grant Green at shortstop, could make for an interesting infield scene in Oakland in the near future.
Mark Ellis is a very fine second baseman who has put up some very fine numbers for that position. Why are the A's not rewarding him with a multiple-year contract and let him retire in an A's uniform?
-- Bill B., Saco, Maine
From a personal standpoint, I'd love to see Ellis retire as an Athletic. His standing in the organization, for which he's been an excellent ambassador, is unmatched, and what's he's represented -- a class act both on and off the field -- for the A's over the last eight years is what's made him a fan favorite.
But Ellis will be 34 in June, and he's struggled to put together a completely healthy season since 2007. The A's, no doubt, recognize this and would likely rather keep the door open for Cardenas or Jemile Weeks. That's not to say, though, that they don't value Ellis. They could have easily declined his 2011 contract option in favor of letting Eric Sogard or Steve Tolleson try to win a job until Cardenas and Weeks are ready, but they see an unparalleled defensive presence in their seasoned second baseman.
Offensively, Ellis finished the 2010 season with a .291 average thanks to a ridiculously good September -- his best mark since 2005 when he hit a career-high .316. The A's are hoping those numbers carry over into this year, which could potentially be his last in Oakland depending on his production. The club, meanwhile, is expected to focus on locking up its young talent, particularly that found in the pitching department.
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From my count, it appears there are several A's players who are here for only one year. So do you expect a majority of them to be traded in the middle of the season for even more prospects?
-- Ryan T., Newark, Calif.
Not necessarily, Ryan. Billy Beane's front office didn't spend endless hours compiling the likes of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham and Brian Fuentes this winter -- the busiest, Beane said, since he's been at the helm -- just to pass them off midseason. That sure may have been the case two or three years ago, but this 2011 A's team is intent on contending. And if they're doing just that come July, expect them to play on with what they've got while keeping an eye on the present rather than the future.
The No. 1 priority heading into this offseason was to improve the offense in an effort to truly aid an exceptional pitching staff. They've seemingly done just that with the resources available, focusing on spending as opposed to rebuilding.
Who are the projected leaders in the A's clubhouse for 2011? Does this leadership play a role in contract negotiations and ultimate salary determinations?
-- Larry S., Georgetwon, S.C.
Players don't get paid for weekly pep talks or one-on-one sit-downs with the rookies, but leadership mentality definitely doesn't go unnoticed, even if it's not expressed in the most vocal way. Veterans like Ellis and Matsui are the lead-by-example types, and Dallas Braden -- though still youthful himself -- will likely again be a sounding board for the club's young pitching staff. I'd also suspect Willingham to boast a leading presence in the outfield, and same for guys like Fuentes and Grant Balfour in the bullpen. None of those names is Ben Sheets, whose Southern drawl was playful and loud in the clubhouse last year, but they've rightfully earned just as much respect around the league.
Are the A's going to bring back FanFest this year?
-- Michael B., Sunnyvale, Calif.
No Fanfest, but they will host a Fan Appreciation Tailgate event again prior to their final home exhibition game against the Giants on March 29 at the Coliseum. Yes, that is a weekday because the baseball schedule begins early this year, but it's worth an early departure from work if you enjoy autograph sessions, question-and-answer forums with players and photo opportunities with the A's four World Series trophies. Free parking will be offered and discounted tickets to the game will be available for $5. Check back at www.oaklandathletics.com for more information as the event nears.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, and follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.