It’s no secret that the A’s were light on starting pitching in 2018, and it’s not secret they’re light on starting pitching going into 2019. That’s fine and well due to an offseason that’s only just beginning, a strong bullpen full of arms, and stars on the other side of the ball. As we saw in 2018, the A’s don’t need to dominate with starting pitching to succeed.
Things are a little more complicated than they were a year ago though, and not just because Sean Manaea will pitch a half season at best. The A’s have an option problem.
In 2018, 15 different pitchers started games for the A’s with 13 of those starting at least five. Balancing 13 starting arms isn’t easy even if it isn’t intentional, and the A’s had a secret weapon in doing so: options. All of Frankie Montas, Daniel Mengden, and Chris Bassitt used their last option in 2018 while shuffling up and down between Oakland and Nashville, filling in on an ad hoc basis to start needed games at the big league level.
What is an option?
A reminder, straight from the source at MLB.com.
Players on a 40-man roster are given three Minor League “options.” An option allows that player to be sent to the Minor Leagues (“optioned”) without first being subjected to waivers. When a player is optioned to the Minors for a span of more than 20 days, he loses an option.
Upon being optioned to the Minor Leagues, a player must remain there for a minimum of 10 days before he is eligible to be recalled to the Major League roster. The exception to that 10-day minimum is if the player is recalled as the corresponding move made when his club places an injured player on the Major League disabled list. In this exception, there is no minimum number of days in which the optioned player must remain in the Minors.
The TL;DR version is that none of Bassitt, Mengden, or Montas have options remaining and therefore can’t be sent directly to the minor leagues. Instead, they would have to clear waivers and with all three having obvious potential value, it’s possible none of the three would go unclaimed. A non-contending team could easily snag and stash any of the three on their roster in hopes they turn into a trade chip.
Mengden is probably a lock to start the season in the rotation barring a disastrous spring, so really we’re talking about Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas here. Both players are talented but inconsistent, making the prospect of staying on the roster a question mark.
How likely are the three to make the roster?
At the present moment, quite likely as the A’s rotation is Mike Fiers, Daniel Menden, Jesus Luzardo, Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt, and Aaron Brooks (who is also out of options but probably not an actual threat to make the team). There are other potential players and a lot of offseason left, but at the moment those are the five best bets. Fiers is an obvious lock after a strong 2018 and Mengden seems a lock too, though again: long offseason.
If a player without options doesn’t break Spring with the big league squad, he’ll be exposed to waivers. That gives each a bump in odds of making the rotation, though the option question really comes in to play if the A’s sign more starters.
Is the bullpen a possibility?
Anything is possible, but the pen already looks like it’s bursting at its seems. There are eight players looking like locks with the Ryan Dull and Andrew Triggs of the world ready and capable of filling in should there be injuries or disappointments.
Of course, the bullpen will need extra arms after Yusmeiro Petit pitches four extra innings or Lou Trivino goes three as an opener in a double header. Unfortunately, slotting Bassitt or Montas into that slot like they did a year back isn’t simple without options and pending an injury filled spring, Bassitt or Montas to the pen is untenable.
Who will fill in for the A’s?
The A’s are going to need spot starters (or regular ones) who can fill in in a pinch and can be sent back to AAA after their start.
-Andrew Triggs has two options and probably shouldn’t be in the starting rotation full time anyway. He’s a great option for the occasional 5 inning spot start.
-It’s unclear how effective Paul Blackburn will be after a rough 2018, but he can certainly eat innings.
-One of Parker Dunshee or Brian Howard or another minor league starter can step in and play a major role in a playoff push.
You’re the GM: What’s the plan with Chris Bassitt and Frankie Montas?
Do you go into Spring with the assumption that both make the rotation? What do you do with each if the A’s sign or trade for another starter?