Fact is, time is running out for the A’s to assess what they have in Frankie Montas. Prior to this off-season Oakland knew two things about the hard-throwing right-hander: one was that he had trouble staying on the field, but with injuries that did not relate to his pitching arm, and the other was that he had options. Options mean time, and Montas is now out of both.
So the A’s ability to hem and haw around whether Montas was best suited to the rotation or the bullpen, whether he should emphasize an electric-but-strangely-hittable 4-seam fastball or the pitch-to-contact 2-seam fastball, and how serviceable his changeup could be? Now the ‘options’ are ‘big league rotation,’ ‘big league bullpen,’ or ‘buh-bye, Frankie’.
As a result, it would be helpful if there were some clarity as to who, exactly, Frankie Montas is as a pitcher. Last season did not really shed more light so much as it raised yet more questions.
The most confounding issue, to me, is that of the 2-seam fastball that seemingly transformed Montas from a “strikeout pitcher who didn’t miss enough bats” to a ground ball pitcher who breezed through innings on 12 pitches. And then suddenly, we were seeing 98MPH again from Montas and worse results. Why did he abandon the approach that was working for him?
Perhaps the A’s were nervous that the low strikeout totals signaled an unsustainable run of success. In Montas’ second start, June 1st at Kansas City, he stifled the Royals for 8 shutout innings allowing 7 hits with 0 BBs, but he also struck out just 2. In his biggest start of the season, 6 shutout innings at Houston on just 3 hits, Montas again struck out just 2 batters. Still, overall he was most successful when he was pounding the strike zone and getting ground balls, in a stretch that most suggested he could thrive as a starting pitcher.
Also promising was that for the season Montas allowed just 5 HR in 65, quite a departure from the launchfests that were his bullpen stints for the A’s in 2017 (32 IP, 10 HR, which gave me whiplash just to type).
Certainly the A’s need starting pitching at the outset of the 2019 season, and they could throw Montas into the mix early to see what happens. If they do this, though, they also have to decide whether he will lead with high octane fastballs or low-90s sinkers and also how much he will feature a changeup that has perennially been a ‘work-in-progress’.
They could also stash Montas in the bullpen, harnessing his fastball-slider combination and ability to throw multiple innings, inserting him into the rotation as a swingman if (ok fine, when) injuries occur.
Or they could leverage whatever trade value Montas still has left — which might be more than a pittance — and move him to a team that is not contending and can better afford to futz around with his role or let him pitch badly.
The decision would be clearer if Montas’ arsenal, approach, role, and ability were easier to parse, but at the moment all are muddy. In terms of health, one can certainly take solace in the fact that while elbows and shoulders were falling all around him Montas continued to be the picture of right-handed health. Just don’t order the ribs or the knees. (Has anyone ever approached the window at a place like KFC and tried to order a knee?)
Complicating matters, Montas is just one of 3 Oakland pitchers who can no longer be optioned to the minors, the other two being Chris Bassitt and Daniel Mengden. Mengden most likely has a rotation spot sewn up (because he saves puppies!!!!!!), while Bassitt’s status is very much up in air.
I could be swayed to take advantage of Montas’ trade value and move him or to utilize him as a “6th man” long reliever/spot starter, but I think if I had to choose I would slightly favor handing him a rotation spot to open the season. Why? Because not only do the A’s need starting pitchers with some upside, but if he goes back to emphasizing his 2-seamer Montas will be pitching to a strong infield defense built to help ground ball pitchers thrive.
One thing we saw with Montas in 2018, to our pleasant surprise, was that with this approach he was able to get pretty deep into games, limiting walks and economizing pitches. The chance that Montas could emerge as a 6-7 IP ground ball machine — essentially filling the role Kendall Graveman served — is tempting to see through.
It’s not an easy call, though, largely because after all this time Montas has still not revealed who he really is as a pitcher. And the A’s no longer have the luxury of time to find out.
What should the A’s do with Frankie Montas this off-season?
This poll is closed
Leverage his trade value and move him in order to solidify a spot elsewhere on the field
Hand him a job in the rotation to start the season and see how it goes
Put him in the bullpen to start the season and see how it goes