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02/11/10 10:00 AM EST

A's camp has battles worth watching

Fifth-starter competition among Spring Training attractions

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who will win the A's fifth starting spot?
Ben Sheets, Justin Duchscherer, Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson are penciled in to take the first four spots, with young right-handers Trevor Cahill and Vin Mazzaro and lefty Gio Gonzalez expected to duke it out for the last opening.

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Cahill might have the upper hand, given the experience he gained last season, but he will need to develop his secondary stuff if he wants to be another constant in the rotation. Gonzalez doesn't plan to make the competition easy, though. If the 24-year-old can prove consistency and composure on the mound, he may very well land the gig. Meanwhile, Mazzaro needs to demonstrate both improved shoulder health and command and will probably start the year at Triple-A Sacramento.

2. Will Eric Chavez finally be healthy?
This is the million dollar question heading into camp -- actually, more than that. Chavez, who will make a team-high $11.5 million for the final season of a six-year contract, will enter Spring Training with hopes of landing a roster spot as a consistent utility man.

In order to do that, the six-time Gold Glove third baseman will have to leave camp with no lingering questions about his surgically repaired back and shoulder. Chavez, if healthy, is expected to contribute at first base, in the designated hitter's spot or possibly in the outfield.

3. Is Daric Barton in Oakland to stay?
The organization has had big dreams for the 24-year-old Barton ever since he came to the A's in the trade that sent Mark Mulder to the Cardinals in 2004. As the starter for most of 2008, he hit just .226 in 140 games. Jason Giambi then stole some playing time in 2009, as Barton was demoted to Triple-A on the eve of Opening Day before getting another turn in June. He got off to another shaky start, hitting .163 in his first 20 games, but he redeemed himself with a productive September and October.

Barton will have to show a consistent bat if he wants to remain at first base, where he is considered the front-runner for the job heading into camp. Waiting right behind him, though, is hotshot prospect Chris Carter. Newcomer Jake Fox, who provides some pop to the lineup, can also play first, as can backup catcher Landon Powell.

2009 record
75-87, fourth in the American League West

Projected batting order
1. LF Rajai Davis:
  .305 BA, .360 OBP, .423 SLG, 3 HR, 48 RBI in 2009
2. CF Coco Crisp:
  .228 BA, .336 OBP, .378 SLG, 3 HR, 14 RBI in 2009
3. C Kurt Suzuki:
  .274 BA, .313 OBP, .421 SLG, 15 HR, 88 RBI in 2009
4. DH Jack Cust:
  .240 BA, .356 OBP, .417 SLG, 25 HR, 70 RBI in 2009
5. 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff:
  .255 BA, .302 OBP, .420 SLG, 18 HR, 88 RBI in 2009
6. RF Ryan Sweeney:
  .293 BA, .348 OBP, .407 SLG, 6 HR, 53 RBI in 2009
7. 2B Mark Ellis:
  .263 BA, .305 OBP, .403 SLG, 10 HR, 61 RBI in 2009
8. 1B Daric Barton:
  .269 BA, .372 OBP, .413 SLG, 3 HR, 24 RBI in 2009
9. SS Cliff Pennington:
  .279 BA, .342 OBP, .418 SLG, 4 HR, 21 RBI in 2009

Projected rotation
1. Ben Sheets, Did not pitch in 2009
2. Justin Duchscherer, Did not pitch in 2009
3. Dallas Braden, 8-9, 3.89 ERA in 2009
4. Brett Anderson, 11-11, 4.06 ERA in 2009
5. Trevor Cahill, 10-13, 4.63 ERA in 2009

Projected bullpen
Closer: Andrew Bailey, 26/30 saves, 1.84 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Michael Wuertz, 2.63 ERA in 2009
LH setup man: Craig Breslow, 3.36 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Brad Ziegler, 3.07 ERA in 2009

The new guys
RHP Ben Sheets: Despite not having pitched an inning last year, Sheets was awarded a one-year, $10 million contract by the A's, who promptly deemed him their Opening Day starter. The four-time All-Star, who is coming off right elbow surgery, has no plans of slowing down a career that includes an 86-83 record and 3.72 ERA.

3B Kevin Kouzmanoff: Kouzmanoff represents what was previously a void at third base, where the team can no longer rely on the injury-prone Chavez for full-time duties. Acquired in a trade with the Padres, Kouzmanoff and his bat should provide a steady presence around the middle of the lineup.

CF Coco Crisp: Coming off shoulder surgery, Crisp joins fellow outfielder Rajai Davis as a sure 1-2 punch at the top of the lineup. Signed as a free agent, Crisp gives the A's additional speed both on the field and bases.

OF Gabe Gross: Signed late in the offseason as a free agent, Gross gives the A's a legitimate fourth outfielder with six years of big league experience.

DH Jake Fox: Fox came as part of a package from the Cubs and could represent the team's sleeper if he finds a way to get consistent at-bats. The A's may alternate him at the DH spot with Cust and occasionally put him on the field to spell the corner infielders.

Prospects to watch
1B Chris Carter: Carter tore it up in Double-A Midland last year and heads to camps with a spot on the 40-man roster. The success he's already achieved has firmly placed him in Oakland's big league picture at first base in the not-too-distant future -- though it probably won't be Opening Day.

OF Michael Taylor: The club sees the versatile Taylor -- swapped for Brett Wallace this offseason -- taking a similar path as Carter. A little extra tutoring in the Minors wouldn't hurt either player, and the A's want to make sure both are in the big leagues to stay upon arrival. Taylor could eventually offer the team the type of power for which they've long been desiring.

INF Adrian Cardenas: Acquired from Philadelphia in the July 2008 Joe Blanton trade, Cardenas joins fellow prospect Jemile Weeks as the up-and-coming second basemen. He hit .251 with 24 RBIs in Sacramento last season and will surely be a staple in the A's infield -- just not this year.

SS Grant Green: Oakland's first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Green is the shortstop of the future. He'll be in big league camp as part of his contract, but with only five Minor League games under his belt, he's not going to be in Oakland any time soon.

C Max Stassi: The loss of a second-round pick was certainly made less painful by the first-round selection of Stassi, one of the premier two-way catching prospects in last year's Draft. In his brief pro debut, the A's third-overall pick hit .280 in 14 games at short-season Class A Vancouver.

On the rebound
Duchscherer, Sheets, Crisp, Chavez and Devine: All five are recovering from major surgeries, but each could be ready by Opening Day. Chavez represents the biggest question mark, and Devine may not be up to full speed until the end of camp.

OF Travis Buck: He has quickly fallen out of favor with the A's and enters camp down on the outfield depth chart behind Gross and Eric Patterson. His batting average and on-base percentage have gradually dipped during stints in his last three years in the big leagues, yet he's a career .312 hitter in the Minors.

LHP Dallas Braden: The team's 2009 Opening Day starter's season ended after 22 starts because of a foot rash that developed into a medical nightmare and left him with nerve damage. Braden will be counted on in the middle of the rotation this year.

RHP Vin Mazzaro: Frequently mentioned in the same breath as Anderson and Cahill in terms of talent, Mazzaro posted a 0.00 while winning his first two big league starts but quickly phased out after eight consecutive losses and a shoulder injury in August.

Long gone
SS Bobby Crosby: The former AL Rookie of the Year lost his job to Orlando Cabrera, didn't get it back when Cabrera was traded and hit .223 while learning three new positions. He has since signed a $1 million, one-year contract with the Pirates.

INF Nomar Garciaparra: Never healthy enough to make much of an impact for the A's last year, Garciaparra is expected to retire from the game.

INF Adam Kennedy: He was one of the biggest surprises of the season, providing steady production after being picked up in a Minor League trade in May. Kennedy finished third on the team with 63 RBIs before entering the free-agent market and recently signing with the Nationals.

OF Scott Hairston: Sent along with outfielder Aaron Cunningham to San Diego in the January trade that brought Kouzmanoff to the A's, Hairston said he played hurt for most of his time in Oakland and walked away with a .236 batting average.

LHP Dana Eveland: A struggling southpaw who could never quite hold on to a rotation spot, Eveland was traded to Toronto on Saturday after being designated for assignment five days earlier.

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.