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Is this the A’s starting rotation to open the 2022 season?

There appear to be exactly five candidates remaining

MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Angels
Paul Blackburn back in the mix?
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Opening Day is less than a week away, and the Oakland A’s roster is gradually beginning to take shape. There was an especially long list of questions to answer this spring as the club enters a rebuild, and an abbreviated preseason in which to sort it all out thanks to the lockout, but some answers are forming in the tea leaves.

In particular, the starting rotation looks like it’s set, even though it’s not official yet. There are exactly five healthy candidates remaining in camp, so unless another transaction is made, we might be looking at the final list for April 8.

In no particular order:

  • RHP Frankie Montas
  • LHP Sean Manaea
  • LHP Cole Irvin
  • RHP Paul Blackburn
  • RHP Daulton Jefferies

Several other candidates have been eliminated over the past several days.

There’s nobody else left, unless another move is coming. Maybe there could be a departure, if they finally find a deal they like for Manaea or Montas, in which case they might also acquire an immediate replacement in the return package. Or there could be a last-minute addition, if they see a name they like on the open market. Let’s have a quick look at who’s still available:

  • Brett Anderson
  • do it you cowards
  • stop wasting time we all know it’s happening

But until or unless another arm comes aboard, it sure looks like they’ll open with Montas, Manaea, Irvin, Blackburn, and Jefferies in some order. And that wouldn’t be such a surprise, since it’s more or less the rotation from the end of last year. All-Star Chris Bassitt is gone, and Kaprielian is hurt, but everybody else except Jefferies was making regular starts down the stretch, and Jefferies was in Triple-A most of the summer on the cusp of joining them.

If this is indeed the final five, then there are still a few questions to answer. First up is who gets the Opening Day nod, between Montas and Manaea, and the team isn’t giving any hints.

Next up is what to expect from Irvin. Last year his league-average results were a boon from a cheap under-the-radar gem, and if he keeps reliably eating innings every five days then that would continue being helpful. But he has his sights set higher this season, with a new aggressive approach, a new cutter, and plans to miss more bats.

And finally, can Blackburn and Jefferies hold down the final two spots? Blackburn did admirable work last year as an emergency fill-in, but his 5.87 ERA was pretty close to his career mark, and his absolute max appeared to be around five innings per game. Jefferies struggled in Las Vegas last summer and was passed over multiple times for MLB opportunities, and his results this spring were shaky, but on the encouraging side he did post 13 strikeouts with no walks during the Cactus League.

Between the two of them, Blackburn was always the safer bet to make the team in some capacity, since he’s out of minor league options. Jefferies could still be sent back to Triple-A if the A’s decide he’s not quite ready for his next chance in the majors, or if they finally get around to signing Anderson.

Of course, none of this needs to be any kind of permanent plan, and it could change quickly even after just a couple turns through the rotation. Kaprielian is making progress toward his return, and perhaps Oller could force his way into the picture with a hot start out of the bullpen, or there are still a few other options waiting in Triple-A for their turn. Or, y’know, Anderson.

But for now there are five candidates left for five spots, and that’s easy math to figure out.