Sonny Gray has never pitched a full major league season. He's never even been to an Opening Day major league game, even as a fan. If you met him at the stadium, you'd probably think he was a batboy, or maybe the guy who sells chocolate malts in the stands. But none of that matters. Sonny Gray is officially the Oakland Athletics' 2014 Opening Day starter. (Apologies to D.L. Nelson, who hopefully is not reading this lest he switch his sporting allegiances to lacrosse.)
Sonny Gray is the Opening Day starter.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) March 23, 2014
And the rest of Oakland's rotation to start the season:
The #Athletics rotation, as expected: Gray, Kazmir, Chavez, Straily, Milone.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) March 23, 2014
There are no surprises there, which is itself kind of a surprise. How often do we think we know something about Billy Beane's Opening Day roster on March 17 and then turn out to be correct? No, Billy is supposed to go out and sign this year's Nate Freiman three days before the season, or make some zany pick like Arnold Leon unexpectedly joining the rotation at the last second after a strong spring.
That's just how Billy rolls; zig when everyone thinks you'll zag. I guess he got that out of the way early by more or less naming Jesse Chavez to the rotation before we all had time to speculate that Josh Lindblom would get that role as a "safe" bet of some kind. That Chavez is listed as the No. 3 starter is the most surprising thing in Slusser's tweet, though that may just be because he's taking Griffin's exact spot in the order to keep Straily in the same place he would have been sans teammate injury.
Gray on Opening Day makes sense, though. Scott Kazmir isn't reliable enough (yet) to be the obvious veteran option, and Gray proved his mettle by out-dueling Justin Verlander in the playoffs last year. The kid has the best chance to be Oakland's top starter in 2014, so why not just concede that point now?
To refresh your memory, here is a recent history of Athletics Opening Day starters:
2013: Brett Anderson
2012: Brandon McCarthy
2011: Trevor Cahill
2010: Ben Sheets
2009: Dallas Braden
2008: Joe Blanton
2007: Dan Haren
2006: Barry Zito
2005: Barry Zito
2004: Tim Hudson
2003: Tim Hudson
2002: Mark Mulder
2001: Tim Hudson
2000: Kevin Appier
1999: Gil Heredia
This more or less represents the Billy Beane Era, and it's a very fun list. Well, "fun" may not be the right word -- Anderson ended up missing most of '13, McCarthy suffered his brain injury in '12, Sheets didn't pan out in '10 and Blanton was once Oakland's best starter. But Kevin Appier and Gil Heredia! If those names don't bring a smile to your face then I just don't know what to tell you. As a child of the 90s (born 1985), I am eternally grateful to Billy for letting me watch Appier in green and gold, because he was an (inexplicably) huge favorite of mine growing up.
In other news, the team has chosen (wisely, I believe) not to rush Ryan Cook or Craig Gentry:
Gentry and Cook will start season on DL, also as expected. Eligible to return on April 5. #Athletics— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) March 23, 2014
This will not have a large effect on the A's season, which is exactly the point. Sam Fuld will replace Gentry on the roster, and Joe Savery will most likely take Cook's spot for now. Gentry is better than Fuld, but they come from the same mold (speedy, versatile defensive replacement with no power) and we're talking about a week or two of the fourth outfielder job. Cook is better than Savery, but the bullpen is deep and, again, we're talking about a week or two out of six months. It's possible that Savery may not even appear in a game before Cook returns.
Indeed, this is a wise move. I'd rather have Cook be 110% (creative license trumps mathematical possibility) to start the season, and I don't mind him starting his year a bit late if it means that he remains effective a couple of weeks longer into October. Whether either player actually returns on April 5 isn't important; the point is just that these are short-term losses and that the team has adequate short-term replacements. In the meantime, two key role players can start the season healthy instead of risking longer-term injuries by playing through pain from Day 1.
Check out SuSlu's Drumbeat for some quotes by Gray regarding his Opening Day selection, and head over to Jane Lee's column on MLB.com to see who she thinks will be on the 25-man roster on March 31 -- is Stephen Vogt on her list?