The season is almost underway and the roster is set, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still questions about this team. In fact, now that we have games that count coming up a lot of these guys are playing for their job and there are real statistics that the club can use to gauge them. Everyone is glad spring training is over and the season is ready to begin, but April is going to be an interesting month to say the least, and it comes with its own questions. Such as …
Who gets bumped from the rotation first?
The A’s have a number of starting pitchers who are viable options for them right now. It’s a young group, but most of them have been big pieces of the recent fire sale and the organization is hoping they can develop and emerge over the next year. That being said, a couple of them have made the starting five by default. When the injured Paul Blackburn, who was an All-Star last year, and offseason addition Drew Rucinski get healthy and are able to return, two guys are going to get bumped from the rotation. We can safely say that Shintaro Fujinami won’t lose his spot. And it would be a surprise to see James Kaprielian lose his. So now we’re down to three candidates, all young guys acquired in trades over the past year: Ken Waldichuk, Kyle Muller, and JP Sears. These pitchers, who are all more or less rookies, are going to be directly competing with each other for the chance to remain in the starting five when Blackburn and Rucinski return. And since the injuries don’t sound too serious, they’ll have to make an impression fast or get demoted to Triple-A, waiting for another injury for a chance at returning to Oakland.
Will a closer emerge?
Last week manager Mark Kotsay said that there wasn’t one specific arm he was planning on using in the closer’s role; it’s going to be a three-headed monster of Trevor May, Dany Jimenez, and Jeurys Familia. May is the highest-paid player on the team this year ($7MM) but only has 12 career saves over 8 seasons. Familia is the most experienced of the group and even led the league in saves all the way back in 2016, but that was a long time ago and he hasn’t reached those heights in years. And then there’s the youngest of the bunch in Jimenez. He briefly took over the closer role for the A’s last year and racked up 11 saves before an August shoulder injury ended his season, and he’s had velocity issues this spring. If one of them emerges as the best of the trio, will Kotsay install him as the official closer? Or will he do what a lot of teams are doing nowadays and save that guy for the most important time of the game, regardless of the inning? Based on how Kotsay has used the bullpen before, you’d think he’d prefer some role stability in the ‘pen and have one set closer but who knows but the manager?
Will someone take control of shortstop?
Another announced platoon on a team planning to have a lot of them, the setup right now is to have Nick Allen start against left-handed pitchers while offseason signee Aledmys Diaz handles the right-handed side of the platoon at shortstop. It’s definitely not the situation the team was hoping for after trading Elvis Andrus last year and giving Allen the reins to the position the rest of the way. They were definitely anticipating that Allen could at least hit some, to go along with his stellar defense, but he doesn’t have power, doesn’t have speed, and generally can’t hit at the big-league level yet. On the flip side, Diaz is a veteran and can handle major-league pitching (at least better than Allen) and can actually hit the ball out of the ballpark. This configuration might help the A’s win a few more games this year, but it doesn’t do much in terms of determining Allen’s role with the club in the future, much less helping his growth as a ballplayer. One has to wonder if Diaz’s defense isn’t as bad as they say, would the club just elect to send Allen to Vegas to get everyday at-bats and continue to hone his bat down there? Allen was once thought of as the eventual everyday shortstop, but the A’s have other options coming up the pipeline if he doesn’t start hitting.
What are some other things A’s fans should be focusing on during the first few weeks? Comment below!