ORLANDO — Bob Melvin learned a valuable lesson in his first season managing the Seattle Mariners, when a locked-in starting lineup ran out of gas by September. Years later, Melvin's A's have embraced platoons, matchups and left-right splits, and the latest batch of flexible players has Melvin excited for the 2014 season.
At his Winter Meetings press conference Tuesday, Melvin went into detail about the plans for several new A's. Craig Gentry will play all three outfield spots and is expected to be more comfortable in a part-time role than Chris Young was. Both Nick Punto and Alberto Callaspo will be moved around, with the latter expected to see time at first base. Luke Gregerson gives the A's another shutdown reliever to help bridge the gap from the starters to closer Jim Johnson.
The flexible pieces add up to another solid contender.
"We're very pleased with how the club sets up right now," Melvin said. "I feel like we improved from the club that won the West. We feel like we're better, and that's the ultimate goal. That doesn't guarantee you anything, but it guarantees us a good feeling going into spring training."
--- Melvin said his young starters would benefit from a bullpen that sets up as one of the league's best, and not just because the A's should have an easier time holding onto leads.
"It gives us the ability to maybe give our young starters — who have pitched a lot of innings — a little bit of a break," Melvin said.
He mentioned A.J. Griffin (200 innings) and Jarrod Parker (197) as two pitchers who were on fumes near the end of last season, and said the starters could be pulled earlier to keep their workloads down.
--- Melvin smiled when asked about Robinson Cano's $240 million contract with the Seattle Mariners, pointing out that Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton have joined the division the past two winters on similar big-money deals.
"This is my third full year with Oakland and I've had that question three years in a row," Melvin said of the payroll disparities. "We feel like we're a good team regardless of payroll, and we don't talk about it, we don't address it. We don't feel like it holds us back."
--- Josh Reddick struck out 86 times in just 385 at-bats last season, but Melvin expects to see a more efficient Reddick next season. "He's going to make an effort to put the ball in play a little more," Melvin said. "He has the ability to do it."
--- The A's won't have a set designated hitter, instead rotating players in and out of the role to keep them fresh. Melvin mentioned Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and John Jaso as early candidates to get DH starts.