After puzzling decision after puzzling decision, the A's are finally putting together a smarter roster. Is it too late? Perhaps, but it's better than not at all.
First of all, no one should mistake me for "Billy Beane only smarter," as I am far closer to "Brad Pitt only I can act." If I were in charge, the right side of our infield right now would be Brandon Allen at 1B and Mark Ellis, still in the early stages of his 40-year deal, at 2B. However, the A's appear to have taken a one-year sabbatical from evaluating talent at their usual terrific level.
Even before spring training, I wrote about Jesse Chavez noting that there was every reason to believe he was a better bet in the starting rotation than Drew Pomeranz. During spring training, I put the Kendall Graveman lovefest on hold pointing out that Graveman was still fresh out of single-A ball and that there was no reason to start his service clock when a few starts at AAA would probably be to his benefit.
Not only did the A's endure 4 starts from Graveman of which 3 were awful, before assigning him to AAA to refine his game, they inexplicably (to me) put Chavez below Graveman and Pomeranz and then let him languish away in the mop-up closet of the bullpen throughout most of April. Chavez should have been #4 on the depth chart all along, with a spot in the rotation secured from the git-go.
Now the rotation, and the bullpen, are in far better shape as Chavez has a sterling 2.11 ERA following four consecutive "quality starts" and Pomeranz is where he belongs with his limited-but-nasty two pitch repertoire. Pomeranz might really help the beleaguered bullpen, while Chavez continues to be not a back-end SP but a solid middle-of-the-rotation gem.
Meanwhile, along with getting a potential boost from the healthy return of Eric O'Flaherty, Oakland finally gets the two shots in the arms we've been waiting for, and waiting for, and waiting for, with the arrival of Pat Venditte. Venditte should have gotten the call instead of Chad Smith, then should have gotten the call instead of Angel Castro. At least he's here now, where as a RHP he figures to be an upgrade over what Dan Otero has done in 2015, and as a LHP figures to be an upgrade over what Fernando Abad has done in 2015.
Is Venditte good? I don't know. Is he likely to be effective his first time through the league? Quite possibly. Does he offer the A's a ton of versatility? No question. Here's a bold prediction: I think the A's bullpen is going to be quite good for the next few weeks. Tyler Clippard and Evan Scribner are solid. O'Flaherty is a great reliever who has been trapped in someone else's body until now, and I think he will emerge as a solid reliever again. Pomeranz has a chance to be very effective coming out of the bullpen throwing 94MPH. Venditte will give the A's a true LOOGY as well as an Otero-like versatile RH reliever. Abad's worst days are probably behind him and he can used in lower leverage spots, and if your two "back end" relievers are Abad and Edward Mujica, or Abad and
Francisco Fernando Rodriguez, you're doing pretty well.
With a rotation that begins with Gray-Kazmir-Hahn-Chavez and the bullpen I just described, I can see some pretty good days ahead. If only some of these insights had been taken from the Cactus League, we might only be moaning about the A's defense.
And I'm not going to take any shots at the A's brass for the A's defense. Only Marcus Semien's failures might have been predictable and even those have gone "worst case scenario" on us. He was supposed to just be kinda bad. But how does an entire outfield of plus defenders forget how to play defense? You would not expect an outfield anchored by Josh Reddick, Sam Fuld, Craig Gentry, and Ben Zobrist to be riddled with errors and bad reads and yet ...
I think the A's are far more likely to sell soon than to buy soon, but if they're buying and trying to really get a winning roster they need to put their focus on a decent fielding, if weak (but not Parrino-weak) hitting shortstop. Zack Cosart intrigues me because he has two more years left on his contract after 2015. Put Semien in LF and Zobrist at 2B, with solid defense up the middle, and you might really have something.
The other way to go is to take advantage of the genuine sweepstakes that is already forming for Zobrist's services, and get enough back that you have a shot at the holy grail: getting better now and in the future. The right big league ready shortstop and young starting pitcher, for example, could get you there.
That's for later, though, and the roster miscalculations are for yesterday. Right now the A's have a smart roster and if they're ever going to make a run at the division and/or wild card -- or how about, for now, just a run at the .500 mark -- I think they finally have the roster with which to do it.