The Conundrum Known as the Starting Rotation

When I wrote about the A's conundrum at first base 2 months ago, it was because the A's had no viable options at the position. Both Daric Barton and Kila Ka'aihue were underperforming and hurting the ballclub. The A's had to find a solution by either promoting from within (Carter/Moss) or by searching the waiver wire trade market (at the time I suggested Adam Lind). The A's have another conundrum with their starting rotation, but it is the complete opposite situation as what it was earlier in the year with first base.

They are really close to facing this problem....and it comes from having too much pitching.

Wait....Is that even possible?

The A's current rotation looks like such:

  1. RHP Bartolo Colon (7-8, 3.78 era)
  2. LHP Travis Blackley (3-3, 3.54 era)
  3. RHP Jarrod Parker (7-4, 3.38 era)
  4. LHP Tommy Milone (9-7, 3.51 era)
  5. RHP A.J. Griffin (3-0, 2.25 era)
So when Brandon McCarthy (6-3, 2.54 era) comes off the DL, what do you do? As the staff ace, McCarthy clearly has to rejoin the rotation and a case could be made to move out any of these pitchers. Colon's era and win-loss record (though not terrible) is the worst on the team. Blackley has spent time as both a reliever and a starter this season and could shift back to the pen. Milone has been horrible on the road, but has been lights out at home. Griffin, despite amazing numbers, only has 6 major league starts under his belt.

However, the situation becomes a lot more complicated.

Brett Anderson (career 3.66 era) is currently on the disabled list, but is already making rehab starts in AAA-Sacramento.Dallas Braden (3.63 era over past 3 seasons) is set to return in September as well. Since both players are on the 60-day disabled list, a roster spot will need to be cleared in order for them to come back....

Then there is the wild card. The unknown phenom that has quickly risen through the A's system and has become the teams #1 prospect. Of course I'm talking about Daniel Straily.

So far this season, Straily has struck out 175 batters in 138.1 IP between AA and AAA. The former 24th round pick in 2009 has been unstoppable and should be a mainstay in the Oakland rotation for years to come. Should the A's call him up this season? It's not as if AAA is presenting him with much of a challenge. So far in 8 starts for the Rivercats, Straily is 5-2 with a 1.36 era, 0.77 WHIP and has struck out 67 batters in 53 IP.

The A's are going to have 9 viable options for 5 spots. And that's with me ignoring both Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey who have both made spot starts for the team this season.

With the trade deadline a day away, many have suggested the A's trade this surplus of pitching for a bat. But that begs to question, who do they deal away? Veterans Colon and Blackley don't figure to bring back much and certainly not the type of impact player the A's would need for a postseason run. Trading McCarthy might be an option, but his trade value is at an all-time low due to frequent trips to the disabled list. Braden's injury and contract means he's staying put.

So that leaves the three roookies, Straily, and Anderson. Anderson might be a good bet to bring in a player like Yunel Escobar, but the A's could very well be selling low on Anderson if they do trade him. Before the injury, many peopole projected Anderson as a future #2 pitcher and the A's had so much confidence in him, they already locked him up through his arbitration years.

With the way Straily is performing, he shouldn't be traded for anyone unless their name is Starlin Castro. Meanwhile, I personally consider Parker untouchable. Milone hasn't been all that special on the road, but again, would the A's be getting fair market value if they traded him? He's also been the A's most durable pitcher this season having started in the rotation from the first week of the season and never missing a start.

As for Griffin, his value is at an all-time high, but should the A's sell a hot player that is performing well for them? The reason I love Griffin in the rotation is because of the way he changes speed. While his fastball reaches the low 90's, he has a curveball that clocks in at 67 mph (roughly a 20 mph difference). If hitters sit on that, he has another curveball that clocks in the mid 70's which has completely confused hitters so far. And it's not as if Griffin came out of nowhere and is unlikely to keep it up. He didn't climb 4 levels of the A's farm system in 2011 (A, A+, AA, and AAA) for no reason.

There is really no simple solution for the A's. However, this is how I would handle it:

  • When McCarthy comes off the DL, bump Blackley to the bullpen and option Miller or Scribner
  • When Anderson returns, I believe the A's have an extra roster spot already from cutting Brian Fuentes. Even though Kottaras joined the roster, I think he just vacated Fautino De Los Santos' old spot keeping the A's at 39. I would put Anderson on the active roster, but I think you have to option him to AAA until rosters expand in September (pretty sure he can be optioned down, but not 100% positive)
  • I would try to shut down Braden from returning in September as he wouldn't be needed and who knows how he'll perform. If that's not possible, a roster spot will need to be cleared. The team could DFA Graham Godfrey if need be.
  • As for Straily, if no one gets hurt, call him when rosters expand in September and option/DFA Miller or Scribner. Straily could then pitch in a set-up type role the way David Price did for the Rays a few years back. However, only call up Straily if the team has a strong chance of going to the postseason.
I think this may be the best option. Even though players like McCarthy, Colon, and Blackley are unlikely to be around long term, it's not as simple as looking short and long term either. I think the A's have to do what gives them the best chance to win now without sacrificing the future. However, I also understand the view of some people that think we should trade our young guys. After all, until now, I didn't even mention that Sonny Gray, Brad Peacock, A.J. Cole and recently drafted Nolan Sanburn are in our minor leagues still developing (though Sanburn projects as more of a reliever).

Any other thoughts on this problem?
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