The biggest concern the A’s have going into the season is the starting rotation. How it shakes down at the end of March is only a sliver of the overall puzzle — the 5 who break camp with Oakland will not be the 5 who finish the season, or even the 5 you will see in June. But the only rotation the A’s can plan for right now is for the first 5 days of the season.
In theory there are a dozen starting pitchers in the overall conversation, but that number quickly dwindles to 6. A.J. Puk, with all of 157.2 professional innings under his belt and too valuable to lose a year of service time, is heading to AAA even if he is currently the only pitcher getting actual outs. Chris Bassitt is not being stretched out to be ready for the April rotation, while Frankie Montas (starting today against the Padres) has a ways to go just to show that he is worthy of consideration as a starting pitcher — both will potentially be options for early call-ups but not for a late March or early April appointment. Daniel Gossett is depth, but finds himself squarely on the outside looking in. Slowed by shoulder soreness (say that fast 5 times), Grant Holmes has yet to throw a pitch and was never in the initial mix anyway. Raul Alcantara’s only avenue to Oakland appears to be in the bullpen as a long man.
And then there were 6. Kendall Graveman and Sean Manaea are locks, leaving Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, Andrew Triggs, and Jharel Cotton fighting for 3 spots. Obviously any injury could solve the logjam for Oakland, but if all are healthy I see two outcomes as being most likely:
Despite his talent, I could see Cotton being “odd man out for now,” sent to AAA waiting for the first shoe to drop. Remember that if you’re a healthy #6 SP you are poised to make about as many starts as most members of the rotation by the time the season is done. You just don’t make them in early April. Cotton has plenty to work on at AAA, from mastering the high fastball to consistent feel of the changeup to sharpening the cutter and curve.
Graveman-Manaea-Mengden-Triggs-Blackburn seems highly plausible, and in this scenario there could be a spot for Alcantara as the A’s ideally should have a long reliever in the mix. In turn, this increases the odds of an 8-man bullpen and could impact the chances for Brandon Moss or Jake Smolinski to earn a roster spot.
Another logical outcome is that Triggs is sent to the bullpen to start the season, acting as a swing-man who will move into the rotation when there is first a need. No one really expects Triggs to make 30 starts anyway, given that he threw only 65.1 IP last season, 56.1 IP the season before — 74.2 IP when you add in a handful of minor league innings, and that is the most he has ever thrown in a professional season. Letting Triggs serve as a long man in April, and the #6 SP, just makes a whole lot of sense and creates room for the other 5 to comprise the initial rotation.
Graveman-Manaea-Mengden-Blackburn-Cotton also seems highly plausible, and in this scenario Alcantara is probably DFA, likely you roll with a 7-man bullpen (e.g., Treinen, Pagan, Petit, Buchter, Hatcher, Triggs, and one of Casilla/Hendriks), and with a 4-man bench you might see the likes of Moss and/or Smolinski along side Chad Pinder and Josh Phegley.
As for Mengden and Blackburn, I gather it is their spots to lose and most likely only injury would slow down their chances of making the final cut. The competition is probably between Cotton and Triggs and what is perhaps the most interesting aspect of this competition is how the decision could create dominos that fall to impact not just other pitchers (Alcantara, Hendriks, Casilla) but even position players (Moss, Smolinski).
Which initial rotation do you favor?
This poll is closed
Cotton to AAA
Triggs to the bullpen
Mengden to AAA
Blackburn to AAA
Puk it: A.J. in the rotation, Triggs bullpen, Cotton AAA