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A's camp report: Constant roster change never stops in Oakland

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Brandon McCarthy on continuous player movement: 'You know your time is limited here.' (Getty Images)  
Brandon McCarthy on continuous player movement: 'You know your time is limited here.' (Getty Images)  

PHOENIX -- The A's are different, and not just because there's a movie out about them.

The A's are different, and not because of market inefficiencies and on-base percentage.

Oakland Athletics
Danny Knobler
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The A's are different because when you play for them, you just figure that if you do well enough, you'll be playing for someone else before long.

"You do know your time is limited here," said opening day starter Brandon McCarthy, who figures this year is probably it for him in Oakland. "You're not looking to put down roots."

"Healthy with a heartbeat, there's a good chance I could have been out of here, too," said Dallas Braden, who (at least in his mind) was saved from an offseason trade because he's coming back from shoulder surgery.

That's not fair, of course. The A's don't trade away everyone.

They only traded away two-fifths of their starting rotation last winter. Well, only two-fifths of their starting rotation and their closer.

They seem to have done well in those trades, which shipped Trevor Cahill to the Diamondbacks, Gio Gonzalez to the Nationals and Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox. The buzz in A's camp this spring was about the great young arms, about Tommy Milone (acquired for Gonzalez), and Brad Peacock (also for Gonzalez), and Jarrod Parker (for Cahill).

"Seeing these guys, it's like, 'Oh, wow, we've got something to work with,'" catcher Kurt Suzuki said.

And something to eventually trade off for the next group of young arms?

Fantasy Writer
Bust ... Seth Smith, OF: Some Fantasy owners see Seth Smith's move to Oakland as a good thing, like he'll suddenly be the everyday player he could never be in Colorado's crowded outfield. First of all, it's not. Second of all, he won't. Oakland's outfield, while lacking the high-end talent of a Carlos Gonzalez, is perhaps even more crowded than Colorado's, and with lefty killers Jonny Gomes and Collin Cowgill both in the mix, you can be pretty sure that Smith and his career .202 batting average against left-handers will remain safely confined to a platoon role. Worse yet, the 29-year-old is leaving Coors Field, and while you could argue he was nearly as effective on the road as at home last year, he wasn't playing those games at spacious Oakland Coliseum -- or in a lineup full of Triple-A rejects. So no matter how much you believe Smith's power potential and batting eye could lead to a killer OPS in the right circumstances, rest assured these aren't those circumstances. He remains a player to avoid in mixed leagues.
Sleeper ... Brandon McCarthy, SP: Brandon McCarthy was supposed to be the next great thing in Fantasy a good six or seven years ago, when he was in the White Sox system. Perhaps, then, his ascension to mixed-league relevance last season shouldn't have surprised anyone. But after years of arm woes had stalled his development, most Fantasy owners had dismissed him as a lost cause. And he hasn't completely shed that reputation, not when you consider he missed six weeks last season with a shoulder issue. You can't discount the progress he made when healthy, though. His walk rate was the third-lowest in baseball, and he pitched beyond seven innings in 10 of his 25 starts. Strange as it sounds, McCarthy was actually a workhorse for the Athletics, which means he was feeling his best more often than not. And if his 2.39 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings over his final seven starts are any indication, he's on the verge of turning the corner in other areas as well. -- Scott White
Depth Chart | Athletics outlook | 2012 Draft Prep

Maybe it won't always be like this in Oakland. Or maybe the A's won't be in Oakland anymore. Maybe they'll finally find a way to move to San Jose, and all the churning will end.

That's the idea, they say. That's why they traded away Cahill and Gonzalez and Bailey, even though they were all young and not yet ridiculously expensive. The A's weren't going to keep them long enough for a new stadium deal to provide the revenue to pay them when they did get expensive.

The A's weren't going to be able to compete with the big-budget Angels and Rangers this year, so they swapped sort-of-young for very young, with hopes that they can compete a few years down the line.

They also re-signed Coco Crisp, signed Manny Ramirez and spent big for Yoenis Cespedes, capping off one of the busiest winters in baseball. But unless Cespedes becomes a star (and he could), the most significant moves they made were to trade away the three pitchers.

If you're trying to win now, you don't do that.

What's interesting is that the moves didn't seem to leave the remaining A's feeling like the front office doesn't care about them, or about winning. Perhaps because this is the way things have been done for quite a while in Oakland, there's acceptance without any hint of depression.

"This is the life I've lived since I've been here," said Braden, drafted by the A's in 2004 and with them in the big leagues since 2007. "Younger guys are somewhat taken aback. I liken it to growing up in the 'hood. A guy who grows up in the 'hood understands how to navigate through it.

"I've got a pretty good compass here."

Of course he does. After his first year with the A's, he saw them trade away Dan Haren. The next year, he saw Joe Blanton go.

He saw Brett Anderson come in the Haren trade. He saw Gonzalez come in the Nick Swisher trade.

McCarthy showed up last year, signed as a free agent. He's a free agent again after this year, and figures if he does well enough, he'll end up elsewhere -- and not because he wants to.

With the A's, it's just reality.

"I feel bad for fans of teams like this," McCarthy said. "You see the die-hard fans. Half the league is populated by guys they used to be fans of. It would be nice to see them win, even if I end up seeing it from the other side."

When McCarthy talks about the fans, it's not just hyperbole. He's thinking of himself, and of a guy named Fernando Torres.

If you don't follow soccer, you may never have heard of him. But McCarthy counts himself as a die-hard Liverpool supporter, and he can't forget Torres leaving Liverpool for Chelsea midway through the 2010-11 English Premier League season.

"It was the first time I was really affected by a player I liked leaving," he said. "I saw him play for Chelsea, and I was like, 'How can I cheer for you now?'"

He hopes A's fans will understand when he inevitably leaves Oakland. He figures they will, because by now they've got to be used to it.

He understands.

"At least there is a plan for success here," he said, pointing to the young pitchers acquired in this past winter's trades. "It might be after I'm gone, though."

Yeah, that's just the way it is, when you pitch for the A's.

"You know the realities," McCarthy said. "Some teams are feeder teams."

You think that's worth a movie?

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