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A’s Off-Season Quest: DITR FOTR SP

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MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox
“...I barely knew her!” {STILL FUNNY}
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Anchored by the uncertainty that is Sean Manaea, Kendall Graveman, Daniel Mengden, and Paul Blackburn, the further uncertainty that is Jharel Cotton, Chris Bassitt, Daniel Gossett, Andrew Triggs, and Frankie Montas, and then that whole other category that is Jesse Hahn, the A’s are overtly in the market to add at least one SP to the 2018 mix.

Roll snake eyes and that addition could conceivably vault the A’s into the wild card picture, and Oakland has rolled it several times in just the past few seasons. Bartolo Colon was aging and declining, only as it turned out he really wasn’t yet. Brandon McCarthy was left for dead when it turned out he had front-of-the-rotation performance in him, Scott Kazmir went from the Sugar Land Skeeters to the #2 spot in a playoff rotation, the A’s paid Rich Hill just $6M -- $1.5M for each of the 4 starts he made for the Red Sox that convinced the A’s he was worth a flier – to pitch like an ace. Those guys are out there if you can just identify them.

Forget Yu Darvish, who will command both a contract length and an AAV that the A’s simply don’t offer pitchers. It’s not even a matter of whether the payroll could take it as it is an organizational philosophy that this is not money well spent. Don’t even wait up for the A’s to get into bidding wars for the second-tier free agents such as Alex Cobb, Jake Arrieta, and Lance Lynn, as the market will ultimately boost their price beyond what Oakland is comfortable committing to.

Forget the established pitchers who might be available for top prospects, as the A’s are committed to staying the course and not mortgaging their finest young talent in the quest to get a bit better now.

The A’s are looking for a diamond in the rough and likely it will not be a name we were focused on nor someone with whom fans are entirely comfortable counting on. After all, Colon, McCarthy, Kazmir, and Hill were far from the center of anybody’s radar as a “legitimate front of the rotation solution” at the time they were pursued.

Some possibilities of the types of names who could be more realistic targets, given the “A’s way”…

Doug Fister

Last seen getting knocked out of his ALDS start after getting only 4 outs, Fister has been discussed on AN, with King Richard leading the charge – which is fitting since Fister debuted back in the 12th century. Actually, Fister will be a spry 34 next season and he checks several important boxes: he knows how to pitch and has had big league success, he does not figure to land a contract with an unreasonable commitment in years or salary, and at 34 he is a decent candidate to bounce back to previous levels of performance.

Perhaps most importantly, while never a hard thrower Fister saw his fastball velocity dip to a career low 86.9 MPH in 2015 but has rebounded to average 89.7 MPH with the Red Sox this season (actually a tick above his career mark of 89.2 MPH). Also, Fister’s K-rate for Boston was a career best 8.27/9IP. Why did he have a disappointing 4.88 ERA? Fister’s 3.98 FIP/4.18xFIP suggests perhaps Fenway Park (though his home/road splits were negligible), Red Sox defense, or bad luck played parts that do not predict future performance.

On the minus side, Fister’s last season with an ERA under 4.00 was 2014 and that ERA has been on the rise every year since.

Anibal Sanchez

For a guy who posted a gawdawful 6.41 ERA in 28 appearances (17 starts), Sanchez actually also ticks several boxes as an under-the-radar bounce back candidate. Like Fister, Sanchez will turn 34 in February. At his best Sanchez was definitely a FOTR talent, although 2014 was his most recent excellent season. However, even in a putrid 2017 season he struck out 104 batters in 105.1 IP, and if you want to go the Rich Hill “last 4 starts” route here was Sanchez’ line in his final 4 starts: 23 IP, 23 hits, 7 BB, 31 K, 1 HR, and a 2.74 ERA.

On the minus side, unlike Fister, Sanchez has not had any upticks in velocity. In fact his last season averaging as high as 93.0 MPH was his last excellent season (2014) and in 2017 his fastball averaged just 91.1MPH.

A.J. Cole

Isn’t it about time for the A’s and Nationals to swap Cole again? Viewed as a potential FOTR arm out of college, Cole has never fully turned the corner but he did post a career low 3.81 ERA in 2017 (11 games, 8 starts), following 2 big league trials in which his ERA was north of 5.00. He also averaged a career high 93.2MPH on his fastball Still only 25 (a natural “breakout” age) and stuck behind a deep rotation, Cole could probably be had without dealing prime prospects and the A’s and Nats are frequent trade partners – heck they’re even frequent trade partners for Cole himself!

On the minus side, Cole’s FIP (5.20) and xFIP (5.21) suggested that perhaps his ERA was the fluke and that his 2015-16 performances are his true talent level, at least for now.

Zack Wheeler

Also once considered to be a FOTR prospect, Wheeler’s career has been derailed by injury and the lack of a breakout season. However, Wheeler is still only 27 and is throwing hard (95.3MPH in 2017), with results that suggest a breakout season could be in the cards. And like Cole, Wheeler finds himself buried on the SP depth chart for a team (the Mets) who bring a lot of established SPs to the table.

Wheeler’s 5.21 ERA in 2017 was not pretty, nor was his 5.03 FIP (4.36 xFIP). However, some of this came from an unsightly – and possibly fluky – 19.5% HR/FB rate. (For his career it is a more normal 12.5%.)

Wheeler’s 8.44/9IP K rate in 2017 (86 IP, 81 K) was also promising, as well as being in line with his career mark of 8.52.

On the minus side, Wheeler walks too many batters: 40 in 86.1 IP this past season and 165 in about 372 career IP.

Do any of these 4 strike you as the ideal SP to try to bring on board in the quest to steal a FOTR starting pitcher out of the recycling bin? Or is another you have your eye on who might be similarly cheap to acquire yet also possibly a difference maker? And don’t forget to vote in the poll before East Asia wakes up and steals it.

Poll

Which of these "diamond in the rough" candidates is the best shot at a front of the rotation steal?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Doug Fister
    (112 votes)
  • 8%
    Anibal Sanchez
    (53 votes)
  • 14%
    A.J. Cole
    (88 votes)
  • 31%
    Zack Wheeler
    (196 votes)
  • 27%
    Good grief, please stay away from all 4!
    (171 votes)
620 votes total Vote Now