1. Who fills out the rotation?
After ace Sonny Gray, the A’s rotation is murky. Left-hander Rich Hill was acquired to be a veteran No. 2 starter behind Gray but hasn’t started regularly in the majors since 2009. The prime candidates to round out the rotation are Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt, all young and talented and all of whom experienced injuries at some point last season. One wild card is Jarrod Parker, who last pitched for the A’s in 2013 but has worked his way back from injuries, including a second Tommy John surgery. And might there be a window for left-hander Sean Manaea, the prize of last year’s Ben Zobrist deal with Kansas City?
2. What does Coco Crisp have left?
The once-dynamic outfielder was reduced to a bench role at the end of last season by chronic injuries, including a nagging neck issue. While the A’s hope Crisp will return healthy and productive in the final year of his contract, they acknowledge it’s impossible to know what to expect from the 36-year-old. There’s also the question of where he’ll play now that the A’s have a starting outfield of, from left to right, Khris Davis, Billy Burns and Josh Reddick. Crisp can be valuable as a savvy pinch hitter and late-game replacement, but if healthy, he can offer a lot more.
3. Is there a role for Jarrod Parker?
As mentioned above, Parker has had a trying past two seasons. He underwent his second Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2014, then suffered a horrific elbow injury last year while rehabbing his way back to the majors. But the right-hander has continued to work and is expected to be ready to pitch when games begin in spring training. Is he still a starter or now a reliever? The A’s are leaning toward the former, though they could ask him to change if a starter’s workload is too much. Either way, he must prove he can still get hitters out to challenge for a roster spot.
4. Where does Mark Canha fit in?
Canha toggled between first base and left field last season while hitting 16 homers with 70 RBIs as a rookie. Manager Bob Melvin said Canha showed “the ability to play 150 games” and that “what he did last year suggests he can up his game to another level.” Melvin may have to get creative, though, to ensure Canha gets those at-bats. Canha should play first base against left-handed pitching, but Yonder Alonso is there to start against right-handers, and the A’s just acquired Khris Davis, who hit 27 homers last year, to play left field.
5. Will clubhouse chemistry improve?
Poor clubhouse chemistry contributed to last year’s last-place finish. Josh Reddick said the dynamic made it “tough to come to the ballpark” on some days, while Billy Butler told reporters at FanFest, “To say we had a bad clubhouse was accurate.” That team had been overhauled before the season; this year’s A’s enter the spring with a more balanced mix of returning players and new faces. Whether that leads to a better clubhouse vibe in 2016 should begin to reveal itself in Mesa, Ariz.