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02/17/10 5:20 PM EST

Inbox: Why pay Taveras to go?

Beat reporter Jane Lee answers A's fans' questions

This time next week, more than 60 players will sprinkle Phoenix's Papago Park with flashes of green and gold. Several question marks will begin to see answers as concerns surrounding health and youth unfold. For now, though, let's take a look at the queries we can put to rest for the time being.

Given the constant talk about the A's austere budget, how do you explain general manager Billy Beane trading for Adam Rosales and Willy Taveras, only to have to eat the latter's $4 million salary two weeks later?
-- Robert N., McMinnville, Ore.

You're not the only one still scratching your head at the A's trade with the Reds for Rosales and Taveras. At first glance, it appears Oakland is on the hook for all $4 million owed this year to Taveras, who signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals this week. However, any time the outfielder spends on Washington's big league roster equals less money Oakland has to pay him. Basically, the Reds are responsible for any pro-rated portion of the Major League minimum of $400,000 for days spent in the Majors.

Yes, you're right. That still means the A's owe a ton of money to a player who was immediately designated for assignment upon his arrival. But in reality, the A's and Reds -- who received Aaron Miles, owed $2.7 million -- swapped some big-buck salaries, and Oakland also got Rosales in the deal. So you have to look at it as getting a much-needed utility infielder for $1.3 million -- a number that could decrease. You also have to remember that the A's also got $1 million from the Cubs in the trade that brought in Miles and Jake Fox.

Still, I'll admit all this movement on the field and in the bank seems a little silly for a utility infielder. But Beane got what he wanted, and the money part doesn't seem too crazy if you break it all down.

If Joey Devine is healthy, who closes for the A's this year?
-- Andrew C., Pleasanton, Calif.

I'll give you one hint, Andrew. Your 2010 closer won a shiny piece of hardware this offseason after a surprisingly dominating 2009 campaign. Remember Andrew Bailey? It's hard to forget a guy who entered Spring Training as a long shot to make the roster and not only made the team but eventually took over the closer's role, was the only rookie in either league to earn a trip to the All-Star Game and set an Oakland rookie record with 26 saves to go along with a 1.84 ERA. Oh, and that shiny award? That came in the form of AL Rookie of the Year honors.

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So it's pretty safe to say the job is Bailey's to lose, yet it's going to take more than one or two blown saves to give the team any reason to look elsewhere for a closer. That said, Devine -- health being a key factor here -- is expected to be a regular right-handed contributor to the bullpen this year. And possibly more than any other team, the A's highly stress the notion that job titles are fairly overrated. All seven members of Oakland's relief corps know the team is more important than how or when they're being used.

What are the chances of Travis Buck and Eric Patterson beating out Gabe Gross for a reserve outfield spot? Both are more talented than Gross.
-- Shawn G., San Jose, Calif.

The chances are not as slim as some might assume. That's not saying Gross doesn't have the edge, though. He carries with him six years of big league experience and has dutifully filled the thankless role of extra outfielder during that time. In essence, he perfectly fits the club's need for a backup to presumable starters Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney.

At the same time, Gross is making $750,000, so it's not like the A's will look like broke fools if they think Buck or Patterson would make the team better. But neither Buck nor Patterson, both of whom own career Minor League batting averages over the .300 mark, have proven they can bring along that success to The Show. Plus, the A's didn't exactly help their situations by acquiring both Gross and highly anticipated prospect Michael Taylor this offseason. Still, I suspect Buck and Patterson to turn the fourth outfield spot into a competition this spring. Come April, though, I see Gross getting that invitation to Opening Day.

Are the A's going to continue to be a running team in 2010 and go for more of a small-ball approach again?
-- Franz S., Chicago

Without a doubt. I think that's their only option right now based on a projected lineup that boasts little power but speed at both the top and bottom. The speedy Davis and Crisp act as an interchangeable one-two punch with Cliff Pennington, Mark Ellis and Daric Barton -- not in that exact order, mind you -- most likely rounding out the lineup.

I don't think it's any secret that the A's changed their offensive style rather quickly last season after the departures of sluggers Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi. Rather than sit back and hope for that two- or three-run homer, the club successfully began taking extra bases, not to mention some stolen ones as well. Given the makeup of the current roster, I see this team being the perfect match for that approach again.

I never see Josh Outman's name mentioned as a possible starter. He was lights-out when healthy. Did I miss something? Is he still rehabbing? Is he not in the A's future?
-- Bil F., South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

Outman is definitely still in the mix -- but not until he is healthy. The 25-year-old lefty appeared to be on his way to a breakout year after posting a 4-1 record with a 3.48 ERA in 14 games -- 12 of them starts. If you recall, however, he succumbed to the contagious injury bug that's put a major damper on the organization over the past few years. Outman underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery in June, but he's very much expected to rejoin the A's midseason. In what role, though, is an entirely different question considering the team is well-stocked both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen. If Outman can prove he's still a hard thrower with pinpoint control and solid secondary stuff, the A's will be hard-pressed to ignore his presence.

Over the last decade or so, the A's have had a reputation of having a loose, player-friendly clubhouse. With a lot of new, younger players, who do you expect to be the clubhouse leaders this year? Who is the clubhouse prankster?
Jason W., Santa Rosa, Calif.

I see many of this year's clubhouse leaders -- think Ellis, Kurt Suzuki and Eric Chavez (if healthy) -- being the quieter lead-by-example types. Same for Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer, who are expected to tutor the younger players along in the rotation. All five guys mentioned may not be the loudest of the bunch but there's no denying the intelligent and consistent way in which they go about their work on a daily basis.

As for the pranksters, I can easily see Dallas Braden, Crisp and Gio Gonzalez teaming up to make some trouble around the clubhouse -- all in good nature, though. At the very least, they'll probably be the most candid and offer some pretty good costume ideas for the annual rookie hazing season.

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