A's spring training Day 42: Roster longshot Decker could claim outfield spot

A's spring training Day 42: Roster longshot Decker could claim outfield spot

MESA, Ariz. — As the pieces are beginning to fit for the A’s 25-man roster, Jaff Decker may be an unlikely feel-good story come Opening Night.

A non-roster invitee this spring, the journeyman has impressed with his all-around game to the point that he might make Oakland’s club as a fifth outfielder.

There’s other factors that play into it — how many relievers the A’s carry will determine whether they keep five outfielders — but things are breaking right for the 27-year-old Decker, who’s with his fourth organization and has never made an Opening Night roster.

When Jake Smolinski went down with a shoulder injury that required surgery, it thrust Decker into the competition. Then Monday, the A’s released veteran Alejandro De Aza, who had impressed this spring but had an opt-out clause in his minor league deal. The A’s think enough of Decker that they cut De Aza loose. On Monday, Decker returned from a minor oblique issue and started in left field, going 1-for-3 in a 10-3 loss to Kansas City.

“I’m super excited,” Decker said. “I feel like I fit in well here, and I get along with the guys really well. It’s a good group of baseball minds, baseball guys. I hope I have done enough and shown I’m healthy enough to land that spot.”

De Aza hit .300 in 19 games and displayed the veteran savvy that seemed to make him a possible fit on the A’s bench. Manager Bob Melvin expressed hope that De Aza might re-sign with the A’s if he doesn’t find a big league opportunity elsewhere.

But Decker, who bats left-handed as does De Aza, is hitting .308 and has his own attributes, including a strong arm and the ability to play all three outfield spots. It’s a nice package of skills for a player who, at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, doesn’t appear the prototypical big league outfielder at first glance.

If the A’s keep seven relievers, they will take five outfielders into the regular season. The decision on a seventh reliever appears to be between lefty Daniel Coulombe and right-hander Frankie Montas. But the A’s could hang on to both and only keep four outfielders, with Mark Canha being the fourth.

Decker fun fact: His first name is pronounced “Jeff.” He’s named after his uncle, whose first name was misspelled on his birth certificate. Decker’s uncle kept the spelling.

MELVIN ON RAIDERS: Melvin, a Bay Area native who is quite tuned in to the history of local teams, weighed in on the Raiders announcing a move to Las Vegas. That news has a direct impact on the A’s, obviously, as a co-tenant of the Coliseum with the Raiders.

“It’s too bad,” Melvin said. “Like us, they have a rich tradition and unbelievable fan base. They’re well supported in the Bay Area. It’s tough to have to deal with it.”

NOTEWORTHY: In his first start since being named part of the rotation, Andrew Triggs struggled mightily against the Royals, getting tagged for eight runs and three homers in 3 2/3 innings. While stressing that now is no time for complacency in his position, Triggs also said he was approaching the game differently than if it were the regular season. He kept throwing his changeup, his fourth best pitch, in an effort to get more comfortable with it.

“If this were (the regular season), we probably would have said in the first or second inning, this wasn’t so great, and gone out there and started back-dooring cutters and working off the sinker,” he said. “But we made a concerted effort to work on a pitch, it wasn’t very good, and the results showed that.”

FAMILIAR FACE: One of the homers off Triggs came from former Athletic Brandon Moss, who connected for a two-run shot in the fourth. The outfielder signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Royals in the offseason.

ODDS AND ENDS: Coulombe had a great day, tossing three scoreless innings. That’s three outings in a row without allowing a run for the lefty after a rough patch before that. Melvin pointed out that the ability to throw multiple innings will be important if Coulombe makes the team. … Matt Chapman homered in the fifth, his third long ball of the spring. He’s hitting .261 and playing stellar defense. “He’s got a lot of enthusiasm and it rubs off on guys,” Melvin said.

 

A's statement on Raiders: 'We would be sorry to see them leave'

A's statement on Raiders: 'We would be sorry to see them leave'

MESA, Ariz. — The Raiders’ approval to leave Oakland and relocate to Las Vegas comes as the A’s are contemplating where to build their own ballpark in Oakland, with the Coliseum site one of the options.

The A’s issued this statement Monday after the Raiders got the green light from NFL owners to bolt for Vegas:

“We understand the Raiders’ need for a new stadium. Oakland is an incredible sports town and we would be sorry to see them leave. We commend the city’s and county’s efforts to keep the Raiders in Oakland. The Mayor and her team have worked incredibly hard to save the franchise. We are focused on, and excited about, our efforts to build a new ballpark in Oakland and look forward to announcing a location this year.”

The Raiders have one-year options to continue playing at the Coliseum for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and they plan to do so.

The A’s, meanwhile, are choosing between four different locations in Oakland to build a new venue — the Coliseum, Howard Terminal, a site near Laney College and one near Brooklyn Basin.

The Raiders’ decision to leave doesn’t necessarily mean the Coliseum moves into the lead for possible options for the A’s to build. The site is viable, and there’s great BART and freeway access. The Coliseum could be considered the safest option, perhaps, because it’s a tried-and-true site that has hosted three professional sports teams for decades. The A’s know what they’re dealing with there.

But the A’s also want a thriving entertainment area around their new ballpark, wherever that might be. That sort of “neighborhood” would have to be built from scratch at the current Coliseum site, which is isolated from the multitude of restaurants and bars that exist around AT&T Park, for example.

Dallas Braden joins NBC Sports California's A's TV coverage

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AP

Dallas Braden joins NBC Sports California's A's TV coverage

MESA, Ariz. — Watching A’s games on television was part of Dallas Braden’s earliest introduction to baseball.

Years later, he would get drafted by Oakland and pitch one of the greatest games in franchise history. It seemed inevitable he would eventually find his way back to the only major league franchise he ever played for.

Braden will join Jose Canseco and Dave Stewart as newcomers to NBC Sports California’s lineup of studio analysts for A’s Pregame and Postgame Live. Bip Roberts and Shooty Babitt also will return as part of the rotation to join host Brodie Brazil.

[RELATED: Jose Canseco joins NBC Sports California's A's TV coverage]

Braden will continue in his role as a national analyst for ESPN. But the opportunity to return to the Bay Area and share his thoughts on all things green and gold is special to him.

“It might sound kind of cheesy, but it was a little emotional,” Braden said. “How I’m looking at it, it’s the first steps of getting back to being a part of the organization on more than just a surface level as a national guy. Now I’ll have the opportunity to dive in. It means a lot to me because I really do feel connected to the fan base as well. And I think it’s clear the organization has started a phase of transition. They have some new energy and new ideas from what I understand.”

Braden’s career stats — a 26-36 record and 4.16 ERA over five seasons — don’t tell his whole story. The left-hander was one of the A’s most unique and colorful personalities of the past decade.

Fans will remember him yelling at the baseball as he walked back to the mound after a pitch that missed the strike zone. He gushed with pride over his hometown of Stockton, to the point of getting “209” tattooed across his midsection.

But the afternoon that defined his career — and etched his name in A’s history — came on Mother’s Day, 2010, when Braden threw the 19th perfect game in major league history. Who could forget the snapshots of Braden embracing his grandmother, Peggy Lindsey? Or Lindsey’s memorable quote — “Stick It A-Rod!” — in reference to the run-in between Braden and Alex Rodriguez that took place weeks before when Rodriguez trotted over the mound while Braden was pitching?

The perfecto thrust Braden into the national spotlight. But aside from that magical day in front of the Coliseum crowd, his pitching career played out in unspectacular fashion. From that standpoint, it’s no surprise to hear Braden explain the lens through which he sees the game as a broadcaster.

[RELATED: Dave Stewart joins NBC Sports California's A's TV coverage]

“(Superstars) drive the industry,” Braden said. “But I think the personal challenge I’ve taken on myself is to try and get folks to appreciate some of the things that superstars don’t do. Some of the things that the Adam Rosales’s of the game do, and why it’s important to do those things.

“Running out a grounder … there are still some guys that don’t (crave) the spotlight but get the dirt underneath their fingernails, and I appreciate that. I want (fans) to appreciate a guy that goes first to third on a single. That is my challenge.”

Braden pitched his final game for the A’s in 2011. He tried to make his way back until shoulder injuries finally forced him to retire in 2014. He got into broadcasting shortly after, and his outgoing personality and sense of humor are a natural fit for the camera.

“It’s really come full circle,” he said of being an A’s analyst. “I grew up watching the broadcasts, watching the games. I got to play in those games. And now here on the back end I’m getting to call those games.”