Macha eyes bigger role for bench
Club sports depth after injuries stalled A's run last season
PHOENIX -- Having spent two stints on the disabled list last season, Bobby Crosby, without whom the A's went 33-45, is painfully aware of how an injury or two can derail a contender.
Righty ace Rich Harden was on the DL twice in 2005, too, and to a man, the A's think they'd have won the American League West with Crosby and Harden healthy all year.
"We could have gone a long way," said righty starter Dan Haren.
Thus, when asked to identify the most important key to Oakland's 2006 season, Crosby admits that his first instinct is to say, "Health." But then he realizes that he's left the glass half-empty.
"There's gotta be a better way of saying this, so I'm gonna change my answer," Crosby said. "It's not health. It's depth. We have so much depth at every position that even if we're not 100 percent healthy, we're built to handle it.
"That's a huge positive for this team."
Having depth is one thing, and the A's certainly have more of it than they've had in recent years. There is a quality backup at catcher (Adam Melhuse), third base (Antonio Perez), shortstop (Marco Scutaro) and second base (Perez, Scutaro); there are five outfielders who have been big-league starters; and Nick Swisher's ability to play first base means Dan Johnson won't be worn out late in the year the way Scott Hatteberg was two seasons ago.
Utilizing that depth, though, might prove a challenge for manager Ken Macha. The signing of slugger Frank Thomas to a one-year contract and the decision to retain free-agent-to-be lefty Barry Zito were clear indicators that the A's think they can win it all this year, and it will be Macha's job to balance that objective with the need to get his bench into the flow of the season.
"There has been a big focus put on winning this year -- and it'll be tempting, when a guy's hot, to keep him in there," Macha conceded. "But we have to look at the big picture, because while sitting that guy down might not be the best thing for that day, it's probably the best thing for the team in the long run. I expect that I'll be able to pull a guy like Mark Kotsay into my office and say, 'It's probably best for everyone for you to take a day off,' and have it not be a problem.
"Fortunately, I think we've got a lot of guys on this team who can see the big picture."
Crosby can, but he also knows that it won't be easy for Macha to resist the temptation to run the best nine players out onto the field day after day.
"I don't ever want to come out of the lineup, but I know, based on the last couple of years, that it's a good thing," Crosby said. "That one day off means a lot. It can feel like a week to your body. I hope [Macha] sees that. I'm sure he does, but I do feel for him. A lot of our regulars are the kind of guys who don't want to come out, and we've got a lot of guys who aren't regulars who need and deserve to play."
Catcher Jason Kendall is one of those regulars who detest days off, but he's on board with Macha's goal of "getting everyone involved and making everyone feel a part of it."
"Of course I want to play every day. Every player does -- or at least they should," Kendall said. "But I'm not stupid. I'm not going to [complain] and moan when we're trying to do something that helps us win. ... We do have depth, and good teams use their depth."
For Macha, using his depth means getting Melhuse more than the 97 at-bats he got in 2005. It means giving Kotsay's back, Thomas' foot, Eric Chavez's shoulder and Milton Bradley's knee occasional breaks. It means taking advantage of the fact that Swisher's versatility to make Jay Payton feel like more than a fourth outfielder.
In short, it means pushing the right buttons at the right time
"I don't think I can have anything set in stone," Macha said. "But I'm going to try to look as far ahead [on the schedule] in advance as I can so we can do a little planning."
With that, Macha smiles. He knows it's not going to be easy to keep everyone on the depth chart happy, but he also knows that his club's lack of depth last year was a killer.
"In the end," he said, "I hope everyone here gets 450 at-bats, makes millions and millions of dollars and we win the World Series. That's my utopia."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.