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Oakland A’s spring training 2017: Starting rotation appears set, for now

Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s starting rotation was arguably the biggest unknown entering spring training, but it appears the puzzle was solved on Sunday — for now, at least. The A’s sent Jesse Hahn back to Triple-A, leaving the following five beginning Opening Day (via Susan Slusser, S.F. Chronicle):

  1. Kendall Graveman, RHP
  2. Sean Manaea, LHP
  3. Jharel Cotton, RHP
  4. Andrew Triggs, RHP
  5. Raul Alcantara, RHP

That’s a rebuilding rotation if there ever was one — a relative innings-eater at the top, then a couple impact youngsters, then a reliever experimenting in a starting role, and then finally a fringe prospect whose chief trait is that he’s out of minor league options. The A’s have some playing time available to try out a couple lotto tickets, and they’re making the most of it.

Of course, that arrangement is more of a snapshot than a finished product. Sonny Gray could be back in April, and there are more reinforcements on the way after that. Underneath the surface, the rest of the iceberg looks something like this:

  • Jesse Hahn, RHP
  • DL (mid-April): Sonny Gray, RHP
  • Daniel Gossett, RHP
  • Paul Blackburn, RHP
  • DL (midseason): Daniel Mengden, RHP
  • DL (midseason): Chris Bassitt, RHP
  • DL (midseason): Felix Doubront, LHP

If something happens in the next week and the A’s need another replacement, then you’d have to imagine Hahn would get that call. Otherwise, Sonny isn’t expected to be out long, and his return should restore some breathing room on the depth chart.

The rest of the list will require slight patience, but all are feasible possibilities in the first half of the season. Gossett and Blackburn have combined for two career starts in Triple-A so they still have some development to do, though Gossett in particular might be close to getting his chance. Mengden will spend another few weeks in extended spring training, rehabbing his foot injury, and Bassitt and Doubront are about 11-12 months removed from Tommy John surgery.

That long depth list could come in handy even if everyone is pitching well, though, considering that Sonny is the only one on the list who has ever thrown 200 innings in a season. When your rotation is half rookies and converted relievers, it’s nice to know there are fresh arms scheduled to arrive midyear.

* * *

This rotation isn’t necessarily good or bad, but rather exactly what it should be: Unproven, interesting, and worthwhile. Graveman is miscast as an Opening Day starter, but no one is expecting him to be the ace — he’s simply the one with the most experience right now, filling in for Sonny in a pinch. Let’s not judge the group based on his emergency placement at the top.

Manaea and Cotton are the anchors here. The former showed top-of-the-rotation ability as a rookie last year, backing up the high-ceiling profile he’d arrived with. The latter had a briefer audition last summer but still an electric one, good enough to garner some national attention on Top 100 prospect lists over the winter. If the rotation is a strength this year, there’s a good chance the resurgence is being led by one or both of these guys.

Meanwhile, Triggs and Alcantara are exactly the types of players the A’s should be trying out in April. They each bring promise in their own way — Triggs because of his successful audition last summer, and Alcantara because of his solid prospect status. But neither is a critical part of the rotation’s future, making it a bonus if one pans out and merely a write-off if they both bust. Oakland gets a free look at them until Sonny is ready to tap back in for whoever emerges as the weakest link, at which point the odd man out becomes as a quality bullpen option.

All five starters in the season-opening rotation are pitchers with upside whom I’m interested in following. There is no Eric Surkamp or Ross Detwiler in here, merely filling space and biding time. That doesn’t mean they’ll all turn out well, but at least they’re here for good reasons. And then, with each passing month, more and more reinforcements will become available, both from the prospect list and the DL.