To get Rich Hill to sign, the Oakland Athletics had to make the intriguing--shrewd, even-- assurance that Hill would have a spot in the rotation:
Rich Hill had a big market, and one team said it had a bigger-money offer on table than Oakland's. Hill liked A's guaranteed rotation spot.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 18, 2015
Jeff Passan later reported that Hill "impressed enough that a half-dozen teams made offers similar to Oakland's, which is pending a physical. Over 29 innings, Hill struck out 36, walked five, yielded 14 hits and posted a 1.55 ERA."
The A's therefore have Hill and Sonny Gray locked into rotation spots at the start of the year, with the rest depending on the quality and health of the remaining available starters. It would be a mistake to expect that Hill could pitch effectively for 200 innings, however. Jesse Chavez, Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, Sean Manaea, A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker, Aaron Brooks, and Felix Doubront are all starting pitching options under team control for next year.
Who will be gone from that list? Jesse Chavez is the subject of trade rumors ("Multiple teams have shown interest in Chavez," Passan writes), and Felix Doubront is a candidate to be non-tendered next month. Let's go ahead and assume those two won't be pitching for the A's in 2016.
So that leaves 10 pitchers to give X innings to, and the only one I'm comfortable putting down for 200 innings is Sonny Gray. What is X? The median American League team had their starters pitch a hair over 940 innings in 2015, with the Angels in 5th pitching 957 2/3. Let's distribute 950 innings to our starters, giving any starter at least 100 innings pitched and no more than 200, but otherwise not allowing more than a 25 percent increase in innings pitched from the previous year:
|Estimate for A's 2016 starter innings pitched|
2016 starter IP
2016 starter IP
|2||Chris Bassitt||193 2/3||155||193 2/3|
|3||Kendall Graveman||144 2/3||115 2/3||144 2/3|
|4||Sean Manaea||138||110 1/3||138|
|5||Rich Hill||117 2/3||94||117 2/3|
|6||Jesse Hahn||116||96 2/3||121|
|7||Sean Nolin||40||76 1/3||100|
|8||Jarrod Parker||18 2/3||100|
|9||A.J. Griffin||14 1/3||100|
That distribution is just an example of what's possible without Jesse Chavez so rearrange the innings however you like, but this table does a few things already. It assumes health will limit innings pitched to such an extent that the A's will need at least seven starting pitchers (10 A's pitched at least 29 innings as a starter in 2015, though losing Scott Kazmir was by trade rather than injury).
Sean Nolin is out of options, so I have him listed as the seventh pitcher, and Sean Manaea is generating enough buzz that he could start 2016 in the rotation much less by mid-season. A.J. Griffin has not pitched a full season since 2013, with A's paramount leader Billy Beane telling the Sacramento Bee on Oct. 5, "His future health is still something we're waiting on. Until he's (throwing) off the mound on a regular basis, we won't know." Griffin is actually considered a longer shot to return to the rotation than two-time Tommy John survivor Jarrod Parker.
This level of uncertainty at the back of the rotation makes me think the A's will be looking for a surer bet for the starting rotation. After the A's trade away Chavez ($4.7MM arbitration estimate) and assuming the club non-tenders Ike Davis ($3.8MM) and Felix Doubront ($2.5MM), payroll should stand around $61 million, room to add another starting pitcher and make other moves. Even an extra 150 innings from a quality starter will be enough to give the A's choices when an injury forces the A's to choose from the less sure bets in the A's organization.
Why not just keep Jesse Chavez, who pitched 150⅓ innings as a starting pitcher in 2015? Because another pitcher that can pitch as well as Chavez for 150 innings only costs money, and trading Chavez can net the A's players they otherwise could not acquire. Additionally, next year's free agent market in starting pitchers is extremely sparse when compared to the choices available this year.
Signing Rich Hill for $6 million is just the start of piecing together a rotation that can throw 950 quality innings in 2016. Trading Jesse Chavez will be the start of piecing together a club that can compete in 2016.