If there's one constant in the A's organization it's that rarely is there a lack of starting pitching depth at the big league level. Ideally this trickles down to AAA, which is what made last season such an aberration: little pitching depth existed once you got past the Oakland roster.
Things are back to being blissfully abnormal, as the A's could wind up not only featuring a solid big league rotation but could also have a full rotation of perfectly good candidates in tow. What follows is not the pitching staff as I predict it will be constituted, but rather a reasonable way the A's could do it if they wanted based on the following premises...
Though he is considered to be a candidate -- and reading between the lines perhaps a very strong one -- to break camp in Oakland's rotation, there are great arguments to be made for starting Graveman at AAA. For one, his rise through the minors has been meteoric and even a "AAA/Oakland" split to his season would cap a plenty precocious 2 years for a guy who started the 2014 season in A-ball.
Also, Graveman is among several A's whose service time clock will be affected by whether he does, or does not, spend a couple months in the minors. It's hard for me to imagine that Graveman will look so good in spring training that Oakland will be forced to conclude that Graveman was significantly likely to be better in April and May than Jesse Chavez, who has proven himself as a big league SP and was not toiling in A-ball just a year ago.
Of course you always want to take your best team north, but no matter how Graveman looks in spring training, it seems like the extra year of service time is well worth going with Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz to begin the season since Chavez and Pomeranz are perfectly good options.
Chris Bassitt, Sean Nolin
Both Bassitt and Nolin would benefit from pitching every 5 days as a starting pitcher rather than serving as a long reliever. In Bassitt's case, starting in AAA would give him the chance to work on, and prove himself at, getting lefties out. In Nolin's case, his groin injury has put him out of the running to start the season in Oakland's rotation anyway.
Furthermore, Bassitt and Nolin are service time issues and as a result would be wasted in long relief out of the A's bullpen. So largely for service time considerations, but also partly because they have something to work on and prove, it seems like Bassitt and Nolin should be confined to the minor leagues to start the season.
An intriguing story as the "eyeball radar guns" have him throwing in the high '80s, Zito is nonetheless probably best suited to being the "6th starter" who can slot in if one of the front 5 is unable to take the ball in April, but who otherwise begins the season at AAA.
Putting Zito in long relief would cost the A's slightly ($1M instead of league minimum) but mostly would deprive Zito of the chance to get regular work in. The A's didn't sign Zito to mop up for $1M when they have plenty of guys -- Brad Mills, Pat Venditte, Arnold Leon -- who can do it for league minimum. He should be starting every 5th day and because he is on a minor league deal, he can do so at AAA.
What does this all mean? It means that if they wanted, Oakland could break camp with a big league rotation of
a bullpen of
Brad Mills/Arnold Leon/Pat Venditte (take your pick -- it's mostly someone to combine with Otero to eat 5 IP in a pinch)
and that would leave them with a rather gaudy AAA rotation to start the season of
Brad Mills/Arnold Leon
Now much of this may not come to pass. The A's might push Graveman into the rotation and slide Chavez into the long relief role. Obviously injuries may crop up between now and April 6th, turning the best laid plans into plan Q. But if Oakland were to stick to this blueprint -- and if they do, they make out like bandits in regards to the service clock -- they not only look to have a solid rotation and strong bullpen at the big league level, but that AAA rotation?
How many big league teams wouldn't mind swapping their AAA rotation for that one? Heck, a few teams might be willing to swap their big league rotation for this set.
It's how I'd draw things up, anyway.