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3 Possible Oakland A’s rotations without Sonny Gray

Eric Surkamp, v2.0?
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s lost Sonny Gray on Thursday to a lat strain, and they’ll be without their top starter for at least some of April. That leads us to an obvious question: What does the rotation look like now, without its presumed ace?

There isn’t one definite answer to that. The rotation was the tightest position battle in Oakland A’s camp this spring, with several promising arms competing for the final spot. Fortunately, that means there are several options to cover for Sonny’s (hopefully brief) absence, which hasn’t always been the case in recent years when they lost starters to injury during the Cactus League.

Here are three possibilities for how the rotation could turn out in April without Sonny. Of course, it’s only March 9, and the A’s have already lost two starters (Daniel Mengden as well), so things could change even more between now and Opening Day. But for now, it might look like ...

(Note: I’m putting Graveman in the top spot for now, as per Susan Slusser’s guess. The focus here is the Nos. 4 and 5 spots, so they all start with Graveman, Manaea, Cotton.)

Option 1: Play your hand now

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

This one doesn’t require much explanation.

Susan Slusser currently calls this scenario likely, and indeed it makes the most sense in the present day. Triggs and Hahn are easily the two most compelling options, between Hahn’s tantalizing upside and Triggs’ excellent 2016 audition. These were the two guys realistically competing for that fifth spot anyway, and this is probably the arrangement that would help Oakland win the most games in April. Both of these pitchers deserve a shot, so why not get it right out the gate?

Option 2: Take the chance for rookie audition

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

This is supposed to be a rebuilding year, though. Oakland never truly punts a season, but theoretically they’re keeping at least one eye toward the future. So when they get a chance to audition a rookie, they should take it.

Alcantara isn’t a top starting prospect anymore, but he’s still worth a look if the opportunity falls in your lap. The 24-year-old is out of minor league options, so if he doesn’t make the team out of spring then he’ll surely be lost on waivers. That doesn’t mean he has to start — in the above scenario with Hahn/Triggs starting, Alcantara would have been pushed to the bullpen.

But if there’s suddenly room, then why not give him the nod? Sure, his 2016 audition was atrocious — 5 starts, 7.25 ERA, 8.21 FIP. But he was pretty clearly suffering from some jitters, as the control artist uncorked wild pitches and handed out HBPs like he was Wild Thing Vaughn taking the head off a cardboard cutout. I wasn’t suggesting the A’s move mountains to get Alcantara a second chance, but now they don’t have to.

And if he flames out again and costs them a few games, and heads back to the bullpen? I’m not expecting that one or two wins will be the difference between Oakland making the postseason, so, whatever. Let the kids play.

(I went with Hahn in this scenario, because I figure it would make sense to swap Triggs into Alcantara’s vacated bullpen spot as a long/swingman. However, all things equal I would give Triggs the first shot over Hahn, and you could also make an argument to keep everyone stretched out in a rotation rather than a bullpen in the interest of maintaining emergency depth. Either way — the point of this scenario is that Alcantara is starting.)

Option 3: Hold onto your depth

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

No wait hear me out.

The A’s have a ton of pitching depth throughout their system, but only a certain amount of it is MLB-ready right now. Sure, Frankie Montas and Daniel Gossett and even Paul Blackburn might show up in Oakland this year, but we shouldn’t be counting on them in the first half. Chris Bassitt and Felix Doubront should be back from TJS this summer, but not in April. They’ve already lost Mengden, and now Sonny, and we’re still nearly a month away from Opening Day. The list is getting shorter than we might like to admit, and we’re not that far from Zach Neal territory.

When your depth is tested, the worst thing you can do is throw away what little you have left. Detwiler is in A’s camp right now, but Jane Lee of reports that he plans to use his March 26 opt-out clause if he doesn’t make the team out of spring.

That makes him similar to Alcantara in a “use him or lose him” sense, and suddenly there might actually be reason to use him. He’s not as good a bet as Triggs or Hahn, but they can be stashed in the minors while he cannot. That’s the kind of thing that can become a much bigger deal two weeks into the season when two more starters go down. The A’s called up Eric Surkamp four different times last season, and he combined with Detwiler to make 16 starts for Oakland. The need for depth doesn’t go away on Opening Day, and prospects don’t always arrive when you think they will.

Yesterday I wouldn’t have suggested holding onto Detwiler because there wasn’t room, but apparently the tipping point for me was losing one more MLB arm. Now we have to at least have the conversation. Of course, you might prefer to look at the remaining free agent field instead (including 2016 stats):

  • Doug Fister (R): 4.75 FIP, 0.0 bWAR
  • Colby Lewis (R): 4.81 FIP, 2.4 bWAR
  • Jake Peavy (R): 4.36 FIP, -0.9 bWAR
  • Tim Lincecum (R): 7.16 FIP, -1.6 bWAR

For comparison, Detwiler’s Oakland numbers: 4.37 FIP, -0.2 bWAR.

Slim pickins. Fister cracked 180 innings, and Lewis managed a sub-4.00 ERA, but you could easily make an argument to go with Detwiler out of that group simply because he’s a lefty and the organization is severely short on southpaws. Either way, any difference is marginal.

I’m not necessarily advocating this option, but we can’t ignore it. (In this case, Alcantara would be in the bullpen, while Hahn or Triggs would be in Triple-A.)


If the season started tomorrow, which of these options would you go with? Or do you prefer something different? The realistically MLB-ready arms to choose from: Graveman, Manaea, Cotton, Triggs, Hahn, Alcantara, Detwiler, Neal ... maybe Chris Smith or Cesar Valdez?

Just remember that this is currently only a problem for the first half, because there are as many as four built-in midseason replacements (Sonny, Mengden, Bassitt, Doubront) plus the aforementioned Triple-A prospects (Gossett, Montas, Blackburn). Just gotta get through these first couple months.