Going into the 2016 season, the A’s pitching depth was an abject disaster. Jesse Hahn, a bright spot in a tough 2015 campaign was horrendous in Spring Training, and was optioned to AAA Nashville. That opened a spot for Felix Doubront, decent swing man but poor starting pitcher, who immediately went down with a torn UCL. He’d miss the season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery, giving a rotation spot to the ever frustrating Eric Surkamp, and the A’s season went as expected with him in the rotation.
We’re heading into 2017 knowing the rotation is deep. But that sets up new problems. They’re good problems, but they’re still problems. Namely, where will some of these pitchers go?
As the lede will suggest, there are two particular pitchers with awkward positioning in terms of where they will go: Jesse Hahn and Raul Alcantara.
Hahn is a bit of an easier guess, as he’s still got an option left. The A’s can send him back and forth between AAA and the bigs for one more season, effectively delaying when they need to make a decision on what to do with his enormous talent and equal sized inconsistency.
It’s likely Hahn starts the year at AAA, awaiting an injury to make a trip back to Oakland. He’ll need to prove his worth in order to be promoted, and probably slots behind Daniel Mengden as the A’s sixth starter.
That depth leaves another option, and with the A’s two slots over the allotted 40 man limit, there’s a chance Hahn could be on the move. He could be an intriguing option for a team in more need of pitching depth, though moving him now would surely be selling low. The return for Hahn would inevitably be a similar sort of lottery ticket, and it would be a sad end to a stay that started in such a promising manner.
Then there’s Raul Alcantara who poses a bigger question. Alcantara is out of options, meaning the A’s can’t send him down to the minor leagues, this season or any other. That poses two problems: finding a place to put him while he’s not obviously ready for the big show, and also continuing his development while there aren’t obvious innings to throw.
The most obvious role for Alcantara is that of the long man, the guy who mops up those boring innings in blowouts to save higher leverage relievers from wasting bullets in inconsequential games. As we saw countless times last season, it’s an important role that needs filling. But Alcantara there isn’t that simple.
Slated to open the season in the rotation is Andrew Triggs, the submarine sensation who became one of the A’s brighter spots last year. Unfortunately, the A’s probably can’t count on him for a full season of work. He’ll most likely fill a Jesse Chavez sort of role, pitching as a starter until he loses effectiveness. At 74 and change innings last season, Triggs hit his career high. That number isn’t conducive to lasting all year as a starter, and the most obvious spot for Triggs once he starts to wear is as a sort of long-man. With limited spots in the bullpen, he could slot in and theoretically take both higher leverage innings and longer appearances as needed.
That would put Alcantara out of a job, and with the signing of Santiago Casilla fills the pen. Combine that with Alcantara’s lack of experience and pedigree, it’s not exactly clear where his role will lie. Like Hahn, he’s a trade candidate, a guy who probably wouldn’t fetch a huge return but could slot in nicely on a team in need of starting pitching and capable of giving innings to unproven bets. I’m looking at you, San Diego. In return, the A's would look for something they could stash in AAA, and any return for Alcantara would be underwhelming. His value is low, even though he's a guy the A's will want to keep.
Weirdly, Triggs is also an argument for finding a spot for Alcantara. In early 2016, Triggs was the sacrificial lamb asked to eat up garbage innings during the A’s historically brutal run where they inexplicably went without a true long man. Triggs was shuttled back and forth between Nashville and Oakland for the vast majority of that ugly first half. Fast forward a miserable few months, and Triggs is a legitimately good starter, a reason we’re left wondering if Alcantara has a spot.
Triggs is not alone in being a slop looking reliever turned promising starter. Dallas Braden was the mop-up guy in 2007, a non-prospect who’d go on to pitch a perfect game in the midst of a legitimate career as a mid-rotation level starter. He was followed by Jesse Chavez, a journeyman reliever turned long-man for the A’s turned legitimately good starting pitcher.
Point is, Alcantara hasn’t been a perfect prospect, and he failed the eye test in 2016. But we’ve seen similar players transition to legitimate assets, and Alcantara has the ability to be a real player.
Ultimately, this isn’t a team in a position to lose an Alcantara-type. There’s no reason to forfeit a guy with upside over older, short term players. But there’s a decision to be made, and Raul Alcantara, Oakland Athletic, might not be a thing for long.
I seriously just wrote an article about Jesse Hahn and Raul Alcantara, and you just read it. Offseason, be done.