With the dust still settling on the World Series, the baseball universe is already turning in earnest to the off-season. Teams are kicking their preparations for 2013 into high gear, with the imminent start of free agency.
The Oakland A’s are unlikely to be one of the teams making a huge splash in free agency. All eyes will be on players like Josh Hamilton, Zack Greinke and a handful of other big names. Oakland will not be in the discussion to land any of those marquee players, but the team will still try to sign a few guys who could play key roles in 2013.
Many have speculated that the A’s will target veteran free agent pitchers in the off-season, pointing to the presence of seasoned vets Brandon McCarthy and Bartolo Colon in the rotation during 2012.
While the front office may well venture down that path again, it seems unnecessary. After all, pitching was Oakland’s greatest strength all year. The team finished with an ERA of 3.48 and allowed opposing teams to hit only .245. Both those marks were good enough for second best in the American League.
Certainly, one of the primary reasons for Oakland’s success was the depth of the pitching staff, particularly in the minors. The team weathered injuries to McCarthy and Brett Anderson, as well as the suspension of Colon, mainly by plucking pitchers from its incredibly deep farm system. Rookies such as Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone proved to be anchors of the rotation, while A.J. Griffin, Travis Blackley and Dan Straily all pitched admirably as well.
The A’s would love to be able to enjoy that sort of depth again in 2013, and that is why on some levels it would seem logical to add starting pitching in free agency.
However, there is little need for the A’s to do much more than keep the rotation in place, especially when there are spots in the infield that are much more desperate for an infusion of free agent talent.
Take a look at Oakland’s projected rotation. Parker and Milone have guaranteed spots, as does Anderson, unless the A’s unexpectedly trade him. As well as McCarthy pitched, the club would undoubtedly love to have him back, although he might command too high of a price in free agency.
I would argue that A.J. Griffin unequivocally deserves a spot as well. In 15 starts, Griffin went 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA, the lowest of any A’s pitcher with double-digit starts. He will be 25 when next season begins and there is really no sense in sending him back to the minors at this point.
Not only has Griffin proven that he is ready for the majors, but he will not develop any further by staying at Triple-A. Furthermore, what veteran can the A’s possibly hope to acquire in free agency who will be better than Griffin? At their budget, probably no one.
Instead of focusing on bringing in new veteran starters, the A’s should primarily try to secure a new deal with McCarthy. That would set up a rotation of Parker, Milone, Anderson, McCarthy and Griffin. Every single one of them had a sub-4.00 ERA last season, and that would make for one of the best all-around rotations in the AL.
Injuries will undoubtedly occur, but the team could then call up Straily, who led the minors in strikeouts last year and turned in a few quality games in the big leagues as well. If needed, Blackley could easily move from the bullpen to the rotation as he did last year. If the team can manage to retain Dallas Braden, he would add even more depth when he returns from injury halfway through the season.
The A’s also have another pair of up-and-coming starters in the minors, Brad Peacock and Sonny Gray. As both guys are top prospects in the organization, the team will not want to rush their development by calling them up too soon. However, if Oakland suffers a rash of injuries that leads to a desperate need for starters, they could theoretically bring up either one, especially if they both get a few more months at Triple-A under their belts.
Ultimately, the notion that the A’s will spend money on more than one free agent starter seems silly. The team is returning four talented starters already, plus they have a couple of more than capable replacements in Blackley and Straily. A lot of teams would love to have one of those guys as the number five starter, let alone a backup.
Oakland’s rotation worked last season. True, the team cannot afford to stagnate. But by virtue of experience, the young talents should improve, while the depth will remain solid as long as the team retains McCarthy. That should once again make for one of baseball’s best rotations.