It was not a happy Pi Day in Oakland this year. Susan Slusser reported that the Athletics lost two members of their starting rotation on the same day, as Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin are both headed to doctors to check out arm problems and are doubtful for the beginning of the regular season. SB Nation has the full roundup of what's up with them, and Nico wonders if we should have seen it coming. The next question is how this affects the rest of the roster.
The word from Slusser is that Tommy Milone and Jesse Chavez are going to replace Parker and Griffin in the rotation to start the year. She didn't suggest it, or say that it was likely. She said it as if it were already fact. It makes sense, too; not only is Chavez killing it in spring training, he's also already on the roster. Using him frees up a spot in the bullpen, possibly allowing the team to keep an extra out-of-options reliever. Here is how the rotation should look on March 31:
1. Sonny Gray
2. Scott Kazmir
3. Dan Straily
4. Tommy Milone
5. Jesse Chavez
(Note: Gray on Opening Day is not my conjecture; Slusser calls him the "best bet.")
The change from Griffin to Milone isn't really that big of a deal. Griffin was solid last year and reached 200 innings, but his 97 ERA+ suggests that he was barely average. Milone has posted an identical 97 ERA+ in his two years with the A's, representing 57 starts and nearly 350 innings. The ZiPS projections actually think that Milone will be better than Griffin in 2014, such that this would have been a smart move even if the Lionheart was healthy. It's certainly nice to have a sixth option of Milone's quality ready for an emergency like this.
As for Chavez, here is what I had to say about him on SB Nation:
(Chavez) entered the year with a 5.99 ERA in 156 major league games, but he posted a 3.92 mark in 57⅓ innings last season with solid peripheral stats to back it up. He's been even better this spring, having tossed 12⅔ shutout innings with 12 strikeouts and only two walks. His career resurgence is most commonly attributed to the addition of a cut fastball that he began throwing in 2012; Chavez threw the pitch 41.6 percent of the time last year, and Fangraphs rated it as his most valuable offering overall.
Chavez was our whipping boy in 2012, and I was one of his harshest critics. I get it now. He was learning a new pitch (the cutter), and it clearly worked. I started coming around on him last year, especially after his 17-out performance in the 18-inning marathon against the Yankees. I even lobbied for him to get a spot start as far back as last May. So, when I say that Chavez can hold his own in the rotation, know that I'm not just reacting optimistically to an emergency through a green-and-gold bias. I've been ready to see what this guy's got for awhile now, and I think the only reason that he didn't get a shot last year was that Melvin wanted to keep him consistent in his role as the long-man rather than blackley him back and forth.
Yes, Chavez will be a downgrade from Parker. That can't be denied. Despite Parker's troubles at the beginning of 2013, he's a guy who can put up an above-average season. But this isn't a season-ruiner if Chavez can at least keep the team in games. I don't expect that he'll eat a lot of innings, and I think that we'll see a lot of four-to-six-inning starts from him, but I base that on nothing but his relative inexperience as a starter -- two major league starts, 54 minor league starts, career-high around 130 innings.
Of course, using some of your depth means that you now have less of it. The next in line to start is now either Drew Pomeranz or Josh Lindblom. I've been hoping that Pomeranz could get at least a month or two in Triple-A to get comfortable and show what he can do at normal elevation, so I'll bet that Lindblom will get the call if someone else goes down. Arnold Leon has been stretched out to start and is looking good this spring, but if it comes to him then it means that Oakland has lost an entire rotation's worth of starters. Anything's possible, but let's not think about that scenario during what should be one of the happiest and most hopeful times of the year.
With Chavez being promoted from the bullpen, a spot has opened up for another reliever. Ryan Cook may be ready for Opening Day after all, according to Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News, so this extra spot could prove quite valuable. With Cook in the mix, six spots are taken:
The first four are locks, Otero is a virtual lock, and Abad is out of options. With Chavez in the rotation, that means that there is space for Evan Scribner on the Opening Day roster. This is important, because Scribner is out of options as well and I don't believe that he would pass through waivers if he were sent down. His ERA jumped a bit last year, but his peripherals remained strong and he dominated in Triple-A. He can also throw multiple innings, which means that he can slide right into Chavez's role as the long-man in the pen. Keeping Scribner in the organization could be a small silver lining in what is otherwise a very stormy situation. (For what it's worth, he's thrown 5⅓ shutout innings this spring as well.)
If Cook does end up starting the campaign on the disabled list, then it's tough to say who may replace him. The obvious choice is Joe Savery, but the fact that he can be stashed in Triple-A is crucial. The need for depth is as apparent now as ever, and there may be other worthwhile pitchers in camp who won't stick around if they are cut. Perhaps someone like Fernando Nieve or Philip Humber could earn a role in the back of the pen as a long-relief option; I don't know the contract status of either player, so if they can be kept in the minors then I'd just soon go with Savery, who I believe is the best of the three by far.
Today was not a great day for the A's, but the world did not end. They almost certainly got worse for 2014, but Billy Beane built enough depth into the roster that the team should be able to withstand the blow. They replaced the things they lost with MLB-caliber talent, and there is still more high-upside help available in the form of Pomeranz. And while I fear the worst with Parker -- I'd rather be pessimistic and wrong than optimistic and disappointed -- it's still possible that Griffin's injury could be short-term. Take a deep breath, believe in Billy, and enjoy your Friday night. Eat some walk-off pie for Pi Day and continue preparing for a winning season of A's baseball.