Now that the pieces making up the 2015 A’s have been assembled, the focus shifts to Arizona and figuring out how those pieces fit – particularly in the starting rotation, where the A’s could have three spots open for competition.
Sonny Gray and Scott Kazmir head the rotation, but the picture gets murkier from there. With Jon Lester and Jason Hammel gone in free agency and Jeff Samardzija traded to the Chicago White Sox, the A’s intend to fill out the starting staff from a somewhat lesser-known jumble of returning players and new, young pitchers acquired through trades.
“I do love the fact that we’re going to have some competition,” manager Bob Melvin said at Sunday’s FanFest, “and competition amongst a lot of good, young arms.”
The returning candidates are left-hander Drew Pomeranz and right-hander Jesse Chavez, both of whom started for stretches in 2014. Pomeranz had a 2.58 ERA in 10 starts, while Chavez began the year in the rotation and went 8-7 with a 3.44 ERA as a starter before returning to long-relief duty when his numbers dipped in the second half.
Chavez set career highs in innings and pitches thrown last season, and A’s pitching coach Curt Young said Monday it was “very understandable that he did hit a wall a little bit late in the year. Now he’s at a stage where he’s ready to go beyond what he did last year, and I’m sure he’s excited about that.”
The challengers include newcomers Kendall Graveman, Sean Nolin, Chris Bassitt and Jesse Hahn, acquired in trades this offseason. Graveman and Nolin arrived from the Toronto Blue Jays in the trade for Josh Donaldson, Bassitt came from Chicago in the Samardzija deal and Hahn arrived via the trade that sent catcher Derek Norris to the San Diego Padres.
“It’s an opportunity; it’s something that I look forward to,” Graveman said. “We can’t ask for anything else in this game but opportunity.”
Of that quartet, Hahn has the most major-league experience: 14 appearances, including 12 starts, all with the Padres last season. Bassitt made five starts for Chicago – including one against the A’s last September, when he allowed one run in six innings – while Graveman made five appearances for Toronto in 2014, and Nolin, the lone left-hander of the group, has two career big-league outings.
“This is the first time we’ve met each other and already we’re hanging out, going out to dinner, getting to know each other,” Hahn said. “It’s all going to be friendly competition. … We have a lot of young arms, a lot of depth in the rotation, and the baseball season is long, so we can always use that depth. I’m sure all these guys are going to get a chance to start somewhere along the season.”
Rotation depth was a priority this offseason after the A’s lost multiple starters to injuries in 2014, including right-handers Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin to Tommy John surgery. Both are expected back at some point this season, though the A’s have not speculated on return dates for either.
Melvin said the A’s will be more careful with Parker, who is returning from his second Tommy John procedure. Griffin said he is scheduled to begin throwing off of a mound this week, and Melvin said Griffin is “champing at the bit to get back.”
Of both pitchers’ timetable, Melvin said, “If we’re looking at June or somewhere – and I’m probably getting ahead of myself, but probably around there.”
More immediately, though, the A’s must determine how their rotation will look for the first week of April, in what is perhaps the most wide-open position battle heading into spring training.
“The whole mindset going into it is, just make it as hard as you can for the coaches to say no to you,” Bassitt said. “Be the best teammate you can be, compete as much as you can, and may the best guy win.”
Vogt healing – Catcher Stephen Vogt, who had surgery on his right foot after the 2014 season, said he expects to be 100 percent by Opening Day. Vogt spent 101/2 weeks in a walking boot after the surgery but has been cleared for a month and said he’s been “running pain-free for the first time since June, and it feels great.”
The foot kept Vogt from catching toward the end of last season, and Melvin said the A’s will ease Vogt back into catching this spring. Vogt is the lone holdover from the three-catcher system the A’s used the past two seasons, after Norris and John Jaso were traded this offseason. He projects to platoon with newly acquired Josh Phegley.
“I’ll be built up and ready to catch every day by April 6,” Vogt said.