First off, I'm on record saying my ideal scenario is to see Tommy Milone make the rotation out of spring training, but to see Jarrod Parker, who is coming off of TJS, and Brad Peacock, who still has some refinement work to do on his changeup, start at AAA and delay their service clocks another year as a bonus.
That being said, my hope of an Opening Day rotation of Brandon McCarthy, Guillermo Moscoso, Josh Outman, Tommy Milone, Tyson Ross/Dallas Braden took a significant hit when it was established that Seth Smith cannot pitch left-handed one day and right-handed another. It's looking more and more like Parker and Peacock are going to have the same opportunity Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson had in 2009. Is this a big problem?
I think there's a tendency to forget that aiming to be competitive in 2015 does not mean "saving all your bullets for 2015" in a "don't unveil them until the grand opening" kind of way. Pitchers need time to go through rough patches, adjust, get adjusted to, and settle in before they are usually of the caliber and consistency you would associate with a "playoff contender".
At the same time, it's necessary to note that if you want 5 good starting pitchers you had better have 10 prospects. About half of them will either get injured or flame out. So the following list discusses each pitcher's projected standing if he stays healthy, and progresses right on schedule, from here on out. It will only actually happen some of the time. But here's how the A's could be lined up for 2015 if Parker, Peacock, and Milone all start burning their service clocks in April, 2012 -- and also start getting big league experience in April, 2012.
Your 2015 Oakland A's starting rotation, with "rotation slot" in parentheses:
Parker (#1 or #2), Peacock (#3), and Milone (#4) are established "young veteran" pitchers entering their 4th season in the big leagues. They still have three years of contract control left.
Sonny Gray (#2), perhaps making the rotation out of spring training in 2013, has two full seasons under his belt and is entering his 3rd season.
Brett Anderson (#1) is two years removed from Tommy John surgery, entering the final year of his contract.
A.J. Cole (#1), perhaps having gotten a taste of the big leagues in September, 2014, is fighting for a spot in the 2015 rotation.
Michael Ynoa, now 23, Raul Alcantara, now 22, perhaps Tyson Ross, A.J. Griffin, Daniel Straily, or a pitcher drafted in the upcoming 2012 draft, vie for available spots.
My point being, if you're serious about contending you need to have a core of good established pitchers and the A's are poised to have that in 2015 without the spectre of losing a bunch of them at the same time. Even if they don't extend any of them, all but Anderson are going to be under contract through 2017 even if their service clocks begin 2 months from now. Seems ok to me, and in some ways beneficial -- you don't want almost all your pitchers to have 2 years or less of major league experience as you rev up for your playoff run.
In other news, Susan Slusser reports that the A's are close to signing Jonny Gomes, who mashes LHPs, doesn't mash RHPs, and kind of mashes balls in the OF not in a good way. Based on their career splits, a Jonny Gomes/Seth Smith platoon could rake to the tune of about a .287/.367/.513 line while taking up two roster spots and combining to be a below-average LFer.