In a few hours, we will say goodbye to 2014 and welcome in a new year. The last season was not kind to the Oakland Athletics when all was said and done, and the offseason has been no less painful. A lot of old favorites and All-Star performers are gone, but a lot of talent remains on the roster. The winter isn't over, with more than two months remaining until anyone starts reporting to spring training, but the A's searing-hot stove has cooled down a bit lately and so this seems like a good time to see where things stand.
Here's a look at the current 40-man roster, as well as the non-roster invitees to major league camp at spring training. There are other players in the organization, of course, but this should give us a good look at who the realistic options are for Opening Day and the first few months of the season. Any of this can change at any time with another big trade, or with a free agent signing, but we might as well get ourselves oriented after a dizzying month of transactions.
The A's rotation likely won't be decided until late in March, but at the moment you have to figure it shakes out like this:
Sonny Gray (R)
Scott Kazmir (L)
Drew Pomeranz (L)
Jesse Chavez (R)
... and one of:
Jesse Hahn (R)
Sean Nolin (L)
Kendall Graveman (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
A.J. Griffin (R)
There are four holdovers from last year, so the rotation won't be wholly unfamiliar as things currently stand. Sonny and Kazmir are locks if they're on the roster, and I'm guessing Pomeranz is as well after his strong showing last year. Chavez seems likely to be in the rotation out of the gate, as much for his strong performance last year as for the fact that he's out of options and can't be sent down to Triple-A; it's not impossible that he could end up back in the bullpen, but it sure seems like he's earned another chance to start and there's not any good reason to rush any of the guys who are below him on the depth chart.
As for that No. 5 spot, there is a lot of competition -- but that means there's also a lot of depth. Griffin won't be ready for the start of the season, so one of the new youngsters will have to carry the mantle in the early going. Hahn figures to be the favorite, as he's the most talented of the four and has the most MLB experience (and success). Nolin and Graveman have both had cups of coffee at the MLB level, but one of them would have to have an amazing spring to force his way into the April rotation. For some reason I have it in my head that Bassitt will be a reliever, but that's just my guess more than anything and I'd imagine he'll be in the thick of the competition as well. And who knows -- if two of those four guys set themselves apart in March, perhaps Pomeranz heads to Triple-A Nashville for a month or so, which conveniently would add an extra year of team control to his resume.
And of course, all of this could change if either Kazmir or Pomeranz is dealt in the next couple months, or if a free agent starter is signed. But as things stand, Sonny and Kazmir are definitely at the top of the rotation. After them will be three of the remaining options; in no particular order, Chavez seems like a certainty to be one of them due to his out-of-options status, Pomeranz seems the most likely to be another, and Hahn is my early guess for the third. June 1 will be only the fourth day off of the season for the A's, so unlike in recent years they won't be able to skip their No. 5 starter a bunch of times in the opening weeks.
- Jarrod Parker (R) is coming off of his second Tommy John surgery. While nothing is impossible, it is almost unprecedented for a pitcher to return to starting after two such operations (Chris Capuano is the only successful example). I'm including him in the relievers section, since even if he does manage to work his way back to starting his path will surely begin in the bullpen.
- Arnold Leon (R) is on the 40-man roster but doesn't seem likely to challenge for a starting job out of spring training.
- Raul Alcantara (R) is on the 40-man, but only for protection reasons; he's recovering from Tommy John surgery and has barely touched Double-A.
- Brad Mills (L) is also in the organization but isn't on the 40-man roster.
The current bullpen locks:
Sean Doolittle (L) (closer)
Ryan Cook (R)
Dan Otero (R)
Fernando Abad (L)
Eric O'Flaherty (L)
Those guys are in. Doo is an All-Star closer, Cook and Otero are familiar holdovers, Abad was a stud last year, and O'Flaherty is an expensive win-now player. You're familiar with all five of these guys, and you are probably happy to have all of them. That leaves two spots to split among the following:
R.J. Alvarez (R)
Evan Scribner (R)
Taylor Thompson (R)
Eury De La Rosa (L)
Jarrod Parker (R)
... Pomeranz, Chavez, Hahn, Nolin, Graveman, Bassitt, Griffin
With three lefties in the pen already, De La Rosa seems likely to open in Triple-A. Alvarez is easily the best of the other three, but he's also the only one who can be optioned back to Triple-A safely. However, the A's have never had a problem DFA'ing Scribner in the past, and I don't have any reason to believe they'll go out of their way to accommodate Thompson, so who knows.
My guess is that Alvarez gets one spot, and that the other spot is reserved for a long-man. If too many starting candidates have irresistible spring performances, then perhaps one of them (Hahn, Nolin, Graveman, Bassitt, or even Chavez or Pomeranz) is sent to the be the long-man, and if not then maybe Scribner or Thompson is thrust into the role. And sometime during the summer, when the inevitable attrition kicks in, Griffin and/or Parker could step in as reinforcements as they work their way back into MLB action.
- Fernando Rodriguez (R) cleared waivers and is still in Triple-A as depth, though he isn't on the 40-man.
- Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte (L/R) will be auditioning this spring. I don't know how realistic his chances are, but I'm still firmly rooting for him to get that long-man spot.
- Matt Buschmann (R) was decent as a starter in Triple-A last year, but he's the longest of long-shots.
- Other names with which I am unfamiliar, but who will be non-roster invitees to spring training: Angel Castro (R), Jim Fuller (L), Brock Huntzinger (R), Rudy Owens (L), Ryan Verdugo (L), and Kevin Whelan (R). I don't know anything about any of those guys, but who knows, one of them could be the next Jesse Chavez.
The 40-man depth:
John Jaso (L)
Stephen Vogt (L)
Josh Phegley (R)
I honestly have no idea what the A's are planning to do behind the plate this year. Will Jaso be the primary catcher? Will he DH to protect his repeatedly concussed brain and let Vogt do the heavy lifting? Will Phegley be around to hit lefties, or will Vogt just fake it on those days while Phegley starts at Triple-A? Will Vogt play more games at catcher, first base, or left field? All I can tell you is that these are the three names who are currently in the mix.
Bryan Anderson (L)
Carson Blair (R)
Bruce Maxwell (L)
Anderson was around last year and is likely the Triple-A starter. Maxwell was part of the promising Stockton lineup last year and is likely the Double-A starter; he played 25 games with Midland last year, in fact, though he was terrible in that first taste. Blair, a non-roster invitee, is organizational depth; he's spent his career in the Red Sox organization and made his Double-A debut last year at age 24, though at least he hit well all year.
There's a bit of a logjam here:
Billy Butler (R) (1B)
Ike Davis (L) (1B)
Mark Canha (R) (1B-3B)
Nate Freiman (R) (1B)
Eric Sogard (L) (2B)
Andy Parrino (S) (2B-SS)
Tyler Ladendorf (R) (2B-SS)
Marcus Semien (R) (2B-SS)
Brett Lawrie (R) (3B-2B)
There's a lot to chew on here. Butler, Lawrie, and Semien are locks. Davis is probably a lock, in a platoon role at first. Sogard and Parrino seem like a logical platoon at second base, with Parrino available to back up Semien at short (or create some kind of three-way platoon between them all at the two positions). Freiman and Ladendorf both have options and seem like good bets to start in Triple-A. Canha is the wild card here. His Rule 5 status means that he must stay on the 25-man roster all year, and the A's went way out of their way to get him, so I have to believe that they mean to at least break camp with him.
- Rangel Ravelo (R) (1B-3B) is on the 40-man, but he hasn't played at Triple-A yet and seems likely to start there.
- Renato Nunez (R) (3B) is on the 40-man, but only for Rule 5 protection. He'll likely start at Double-A.
- Among non-roster invitees, Alden Carrithers (S) (3B-2B) showed good plate disicpline in Triple-A last year and is a personal favorite of Jeremy Koo.
- Joe Wendle (L) (2B) will supposedly compete for a job in the spring, but will likely start at Triple-A.
- Other NRIs include: Max Muncy (L) (1B), who destroyed Single-A but struggled in Double-A; Daniel Robertson (R) (SS) is the A's top prospect and will likely start at Double-A; Niuman Romero (S) (SS-3B) is a minor league journeyman who will be 30 next season, and I don't expect to hear much from him.
This one is a bit simpler:
Coco Crisp (S) (CF)
Josh Reddick (L) (RF)
Craig Gentry (R) (CF)
Sam Fuld (L) (CF-LF)
... and Canha (R) (LF) and Vogt (L) (RF-LF)
Coco, Reddick, and Gentry are locks if they're healthy. The big question is whether there will be room for Fuld. If not, then he'll have to be waived and he'll surely be lost again, after the A's gave up Tommy Milone to get him back last summer. That's a sunk cost, of course, and shouldn't be factored into this equation, but it sure makes you want to try a bit harder to fit Fuld onto the roster. Of course, there's also the facts that he is so fun to watch and that he's just so darn useful, and it's tough to let him go. Any leftover at-bats -- not to mention a bit of power -- can be provided by some combination of Canha and Vogt as backups, increasing Canha's utility to the team and Phegley's chances of finding a job as an extra catcher.
- Billy Burns (L) (CF) is on the 40-man, but he still needs time in Triple-A. Besides, with Gentry and Fuld around, the A's already have two more experienced players with a similar skill set. He's available as depth as he continues to work on his hitting in Nashville.
- Herschel "Boog" Powell (L) (CF) is an NRI. He was hitting like crazy in Single-A last year before being suspended for amphetamines, so who knows what we'll see out of him in 2015. I don't know where he'll start, but it won't be in Oakland.
- The A's reportedly signed Jason Pridie (L) (CF), but I haven't seen any indication that he'll be in major league camp this spring. He's seen a bit of MLB time, but he's never really done anything and he's 31 now. He's also got a couple of drug suspensions behind him. But at least you know he exists now.
Here's one possible look for the 2015 Opening Day roster:
SP: Sonny, Kazmir, Pomeranz, Chavez, Hahn
RP: Doolittle, Cook, Otero, Abad, O'Flaherty, Alvarez, Scribner
C: Jaso, Vogt, Phegley
IF: Butler, Davis, Canha, Parrino, Semien, Lawrie
OF: Coco, Reddick, Gentry, Fuld
This is only one artist's conception. I have 12 pitchers and 13 position players, which I think is realistic. Scribner is a place-holder name for whoever wins the seventh bullpen spot, though I'm rooting for Venditte (that's rooting for, not predicting). I went with the third catcher, which I think will happen in real life because neither Jaso nor Vogt can hit lefties. Butler and Davis platoon at first, and Butler will play a lot of DH the rest of the time. Lawrie plays third, and Semien and Parrino play every day in the middle infield. The controversial decision here would be sending Sogard back to Triple-A. Here is my reasoning.
All things equal, Fuld would be the obvious guy to cut. Vogt and Canha could back up in left field as needed (or even platoon there as starters), and Coco, Gentry and Reddick could lock down center and right. Meanwhile, keeping Sogard gives the A's an extra middle infielder, allowing them to pinch-hit for Parrino as desired. However, Sogard has options and can be sent down to Triple-A; Fuld cannot, nor can Parrino, nor can Canha. This comes down to simple roster musical chairs, the kind that cost Vogt a spot last year while Daric Barton remained. It usually plays out with the A's keeping as many players as possible in the organization (rather than keeping the 25 best players on Opening Day), and Sogard could be right back up as soon as someone gets hurt (with Freiman, Ladendorf and Burns also imminently available in Triple-A).
This is almost certainly not a finished product. A pitcher could be added and/or subtracted, which would change the look of the staff. Jaso could be traded, which would make a more logical Vogt/Phegley catching platoon and open up another roster spot. A new middle infielder could be added, pushing Sogard and Parrino down the depth chart. If Jaso was traded for a middle infielder, then the roster with Fuld included would be properly balanced with Parrino as either a platoon-mate or a utilityman. A big bat could be added, most likely in left field (Bruce, Trumbo, Rasmus, etc.).
Overall? I think the rotation is good, with upside to be great but also risk of being below-average. The bullpen is good, with the worst offenders from 2014 gone and plenty of talent to fill all the roles. The catchers are a strength. The infield is full of risk, but full of upside. The outfield is aces on defense but has something to prove on offense, with upside to be above-average, but also the risk of being hurt all year. The lineup overall is lacking in power, but there are at least a lot of guys who look like good bets for double-digit homer totals. The defense should be average at least. And there's still a good chance that at least one more impact player is added to the mix. The roster isn't a sure contender, but it's not a sure doormat either. It's solid, with serious upside, serious youth, good pitching depth, spare payroll room, and a few intriguing prospects on the horizon.
That is the State of the Oakland A's entering New Years Day 2015.