Tell me if this sounds familiar: Oakland is set to go into the upcoming season with a starting position up for grabs, where the competition is between a group of oft-injured veterans and several little nuggets of waiver wire "treasure".
I've got a better feeling about it this year, because Billy Beane decided to use this strategy on the fifth starter's spot, instead of a position as important as the DH. Hopefully, unlike 2010's three-headed mess of Eric Chavez, Jake Fox, and Dallas McPherson, 2011's fifth starter spot will be above replacement level. Let's go through the candidates.
If Beane is serious about this "throw a hundred pieces at the wall and see what sticks" strategy, McCarthy is a good start. He was a former top prospect in the White Sox system, before being traded to Texas for John Danks and Nick Masset. In 2005, Baseball America picked him as the 49th best prospect in all of the minors, an accolade that was joined by a John Sickels A- grade. McCarthy's performance in the minors was pretty phenomenal, with a 10.3 K/9 and a 1.8 BB/9 through his four developmental years. Unfortunately, he's been injured or ineffective (or both) in his five major league seasons, with a career ERA of 4.56 and a FIP touching 5. His injury history in Corey Dawkins' excellent Baseball Injury Tool is almost impressively long, as he's logged almost a full calendar year's worth of days on the sideline, in only five major league seasons. McCarthy is a boom-or-bust guy, which fits this strategy perfectly—if he's good, he could be very good indeed. If he's bad, he won't win the job, and the team is no worse off.
Repertoire: 89-mph four-seam fastball with cutting action and rise, 79-mph changeup, big 77-mph curveball, throws an occasional slider.
After coming to Oakland as a part of the Joe Blanton trade, Josh Outman appeared to pitch fantastically out of nowhere for few months, until he was forced to get Tommy John surgery in July 2009. Unfortunately, while his ERA looked shiny, his pitching was fairly lackluster. Unlike his fantastic stance on stirrups, Outman's strikeout, walk, and groundball rates were very average. Since he's a lefty, he's worth a look as a fifth starter, but Outman likely doesn't have much more of an upside beyond that.
Repertoire: 93-mph four-seam fastball, 82-mph changeup, 82-mph slider, 77-mph curveball.
The hometown kid from Cal got a surprising shot out of the bullpen in 2010, but hopefully, he'll return to a starting role in the majors soon. It's not often that a pitcher can have an ERA above 5 and still show off potential, but Ross did exactly that in 2010. His consistency was lacking, but when he was on, his sinker was just as nasty and as biting as Trevor Cahill's, and he was able to induce the same amount of groundballs. After three months in the majors, Ross was sent down to AAA Sacramento to stretch out as a starter and work on developing his secondary offerings. Ross has the highest upside of any of the pitchers in the fifth starter race, but he may need some extra seasoning in the minors before he's truly ready. That said, don't be too surprised if he ends the year boasting an intriguingly solid season.
Repertoire: 95-mph four-seam fastball, diving 93-mph sinker, 85-mph slider. Has an infrequently-thrown mid-90s cutter, and was known to be experimenting with a changeup in AAA.
Cramer may have been a nice story at the tail end of last season, but don't expect much of a repeat performance. In his limited time in Oakland, he had an astonishing inability to miss bats, with a K/9 under 5. He was able to generate groundballs at a nice pace, but without elite control, it's not enough.
Repertoire: 88-mph fastball, 82-mph changeup, 87-mph cutter, big 75-mph curveball.
Now, granted, at this time last year, we were debating about whether to put Trevor Cahill or Gio Gonzalez in the fifth spot, so it's very likely that two or more of these guys will pitch a significant amount of innings in Oakland in 2011. But as far as opening the season, who would you give the position to?