The A’s have always gotten bullpen production from unexpected places. Dan Otero was a waiver wire pickup turned late inning stud on a playoff team, turned waiver wire pickup turned late inning stud on the World Series runner up. Fernando Abad was a nobody before he was one of the better LOOGYs in baseball. Sean Doolittle was an injury prone first baseman and totally awesome nerd who found his niche as a dominant late inning pitcher and totally awesome nerd.
Relievers have always been a bit of an afterthought for fans of the A’s and for a long while, for baseball as a whole. Things have changed rapidly though. This offseason, three relievers blew past the previous high free agent salary for players of their position. Before that, some of those relief studs were traded for huge prospect packages just to pitch a few dozen high leverage innings. The teams that paid the price for those relievers ended up battling for the World Series, thanks in large part to late inning dominance.
The argument for Montas to come out of the pen
Baseball teams aren’t always smart but they’re sometimes smart, and some of the smarter and better teams have spent small fortunes to find late inning studs. What does that mean? For one, Montas as a reliever could have extreme trade value in the near future. That’s not the main concern as the A’s need value now, but it’s a thing. Secondly, and far more importantly, is the fact that Montas as a reliever could be a highly valuable asset.
With a fastball that touches triple digits in shorter stints and a slider that also profiles as a plus pitch, Montas has the stuff to be a dominant reliever right now. His ability to last as a starter hinges on the development of his offspeed pitch, likely his changeup, something that would probably require time in the minor leagues. He’s not guaranteed to dominate out of the pen right now, but he’s not far off either. The stuff is there, it’s just a matter of harnessing it and living in the zone.
There’s little doubt that a starter is more valuable than a reliever, but that doesn’t mean all pitchers should be used as starters until it’s clear they’re relievers. In Montas’s case, health is a concern and getting him to the bigs faster would mitigate that risk. Montas has missed time during his young career due to injuries that aren’t necessarily predictive, but are worrisome. After all, injuries beget injuries. If the injury prone Montas is to have further injuries, it’d make sense to expedite his arrival at the big league level in order to extract value while he’s healthy.
Finally, there’s the Trevor Plouffe argument. Plouffe was added by the A’s on a cheap deal in an effort to find bounceback value, but also as a means to get Ryon Healy into his correct role. While the A’s might have been better off right now with Healy at third, the long term answer is Healy at first and moving him there give him the chance to acclimate and grow.
So if Montas is most likely bound to end up in the pen, and plenty of scouts think he is, moving him there now is better for his future.
The argument to start
There are a plethora of reasons Montas in the pen could make sense, but the argument to keep him a starter is obvious. Starters are worth more than relievers, and Montas has the means to pitch near the front of a rotation.
That’s of course no sure thing, but neither is his ability to dominate in the pen. His control still isn’t where it needs to be, and while you can feel comfortable with him in the pen right away, he needs to develop to hit his peak. If he’s not quite ready for the big show and needs to develop anyway, why not develop him for the role that can provide the most long term value?
With a full big league pen, Montas is probably better suited for the minor leagues even though he’s mostly ready as a reliever. If he’s in the minors no matter what, it might be worth more effort to stretch out his arm. Especially when the A’s are projected to blargh.
Trying Montas in the bigs as a starter sooner than later
Daniel Mengden’s departure probably doesn’t change the A’s opening rotation a whole heck of a lot, but it does make Andrew Triggs all the more likely to start the year as a starter.
Triggs is perfectly capable to round out the rotation, and if he has the chance, he’s presumably earned it. He isn’t, however, likely to make it through a whole season as a starter. His career high in innings pitched came just last year at 75 innings. The A’s haven’t been shy about pushing inning limits, and it’s conceivable that Triggs could get to the 125 inning mark. Where should the A’s go for the rest of their innings?
Excellent guess, person who read the title. Montas also lacks the ability to hit a full season of innings, and pairing him with Triggs to man the final spot in the rotation would give him a chance to use his bullets at the big league level with a lower risk of injury. It could also give the A’s a very good fifth starter.
That scenario would look something like starting the season with Montas in the pen and Triggs in the rotation, switching places when Triggs starts to wear and after Montas has stretched his arm. Together, they could make an excellent #5 while expediting Montas’s arrival.
This option might work for a few reasons. Montas would use his possibly precious bullets at the big league level but his innings would be less frequent, and easier on his arm. It’d give him a chance to ease into the bigs some, all while keeping his inning count down after what was effectively a lost season. Again, there’s no telling if he’s ready as of yet, but if he is, giving him part time duty as a starter would maximize his value while preserving his health.
At the end of the day, there’s no clear answer as to where Montas should start 2017. We don’t know how ready Montas is, he missed the vast majority of last season with an injured rib and he’s bound to have some rust. He’s also very nearly big league ready with some notable question marks and obvious upside. Where should the A’s put Montas to start 2017?