As the A's have been wheeling-and-dealing throughout the offseason, I've been closely tracking how it affects both the 25- and 40-man rosters. By my count, there could be as many as eight new Athletics on the Opening Day roster.
The additions of Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui have just about set the position player side of the equation, but the 12-man pitching staff is still up-in-the-air (for those not as familiar with the A's, it's a lock that they break camp with 12 pitchers; Bob Geren would have it no other way).
Assuming that Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden all take rotation spots, there are as many as 13 candidates for the remaining eight spots. At minimum, the A's have the following pitchers available for bullpen spots: Andrew Bailey, Grant Balfour, Jerry Blevins, Craig Breslow, Joey Devine, Brian Fuentes, Michael Wuertz, and Brad Ziegler.
There are injury questions with many of these guys, including Bailey, a shutdown closer through two seasons with a 1.70 ERA (and just-as-spiffy 2.70 FIP) in 132 major-league innings, Devine, coming off Tommy John surgery that cost him the last two seasons, and the perennially injured Harden, whose role still has yet to be determined.
The A's are sitting on at least eight average major-league relief pitchers right now, possibly more. "Average major-league relief pitchers" might not sound that great, but this bullpen stacks up with any in baseball, in terms of both peak talent and depth.
While teams might not have wanted to pay for Balfour or Fuentes during the offseason, some of them (all of them?) will need relief help come July. As we've seen recently, teams will do silly things in the thick of a playoff race when time is running out.
The A's, with extra money to spend after failing to come up with Adrian Beltre or Hisashi Iwakuma, smartly added assets at close to their market value. The contracts for Balfour and Fuentes could allow them to be moved for decent young talent, given their salaries. While not quite as talented, pitchers like Wuertz or Ziegler could be moved for the same talent given their short (one-year) contracts and lower salaries.
This all assumes that everything goes according to plan. Which, for the A's, it almost always does. Even if it doesn't, the A's depth will be a major strength in 2011.