Oakland A’s Crystal Moneyball: Part 2

A.J. Puk, Oakland Athletics, Futures Game, Marlins Park, July 9, 2017 - photo credit Scott Greene, @Scotty_Ballgame

In Part 1 of this two part series we began looking at the current Oakland position players in terms of who might be traded or allowed to walk in free agency in the near future and which prospects might be next in line for playing time. In light of recent comments made by the organization about not raising payroll without a stadium deal and their propensity for making cost cutting trades, let’s continue with a look at the current pitching staff.

SP – Mike Fiers
Status: Journeyman / Whistleblower
Contract: Signed thru 2020; Free Agent – 2021
Age: 34

Until this past offseason, Fiers was a journeyman starter with a respectable career and not much fanfare. After outing his former teammates in Houston and unleashing the biggest scandal in baseball since the Mitchell Report, he’s now a household name. Unfortunately for A’s fans, the added attention doesn’t come with added performance on the field. Fiers isn’t much more than a solid number 4 starter, which is why seeing his name at the top of the rotation is concerning for a team with championship aspirations. Given his age, salary and pending free agency; this would figure to be his final season in Oakland.

SP – Sean Manaea
Status: Comeback Candidate
Contract: Arbitration Eligible – 2020 / Free Agent – 2023
Age: 28

Manaea showed real promise as a middle of the rotation starter in 2018, but he lost most of 2019 to shoulder surgery. He’s yet to throw more than 160 innings in a season and a low K rate suggests that the middle of the rotation is his ceiling. The opportunity to settle into the rotation and become a major contributor is there, but health and consistency are question marks. If Manaea does settle in, he is just the kind of player that the A’s might look to sign to a cheap extension.

SP – Frankie Montas
Status: Risk/Reward Flamethrower
Contract: Arbitration Eligible – 2021 / Free Agent – 2024
Age: 27

I’m cautiously optimistic about the possibility of a Montas breakout in 2020. He was on his way to a fantastic 2019 season when he was derailed by an 80 game suspension for a performance enhancing substance. Montas has already been traded twice and missed significant time to injury during his young career. Given his previous struggles, a PED suspension is particularly worrisome. Still, he has electric stuff and the A’s will give him every chance to establish himself in the top half of their rotation.

SP – Jesus Luzardo
Status: Top Prospect / Ace Potential
Contract: Rookie Status Intact
Age: 22

Jesus Luzardo occupies the top spot in our A’s Top 50 Prospects for good reason. He has legitimate Ace potential and it showed in his brief 2019 debut. Luzardo had Tommy John surgery in high school and has had some injury concerns since becoming a professional, but when a pitcher can make their way to the big leagues by 22 they are on a good track. Look for Luzardo to establish himself as the #1 atop the A’s rotation for years to come.

SP – A.J. Puk
Status: Top Prospect / Randy Johnson Look-alike
Contract: Rookie Status Intact
Age: 25

There’s something about a really tall lefty pitcher with long hair that takes me back to my childhood. It was great to see the legendary Big Unit himself spending time with Puk during Spring Training. After Tommy John surgery cost him the 2018 season he was able to work his way back and made a short debut with the A’s at the end of last year. A shoulder strain in spring training likely would have meant starting the season at AAA, but with the season being delayed, look for Puk to push for a spot in the rotation out of the gate.

CL – Liam Hendriks
Status: Stop-Gap Closer
Contract: Signed thru 2020 / Free Agent – 2021
Age: 31

There is no arguing that Hendriks had anything less than a terrific 2019 season. He threw 85 of the best innings of his entire career while racking up 25 saves and 124 strikeouts. His ERA in 2019 was down over 2 runs per 9 from the previous two seasons and his K/9 rate was up almost 3 per 9 over the same period. After watching the dominance and then regression of Blake Treinen, it’s difficult to put too much stock into Hendriks going forward. Relief pitchers, outside of the very small pool of all-time greats, are a volatile bunch. Even if Hendriks has another terrific season, I don’t see the A’s giving him a big payday in the offseason.

Prospects to Watch:
Daulton Jefferies, RHP (#6) – Turns 25 in August, potential #4 or 5 starter
James Kaprielian, RHP (#9) – 26-year-old with only 27 appearances since 2015 due to injuries, looked good in 2019
Grant Holmes, RHP (#16) – 24-year-old coming off solid 2019, could debut in the Oakland bullpen this year
Tyler Baum, RFP (#20) – 2019 2nd Round pick out of UNC, could move quickly through the minors

If all three of the young gun starters pan out without any injury or performance setbacks, the A’s will likely have the #4 and #5 starter spots open going into 2021. Manaea slotting into the #4 spot on an inexpensive extension would probably be the best case scenario. Depending on what the A’s do with some of their other free agents, perhaps Fiers gets a one year deal for 2021. Chris Bassitt, who doesn’t hit free agency until 2023, is another veteran who could fill in at the back of the rotation. The A’s also have the chips available in the minors to be able to trade for a starter if it means making a deep playoff run.

The A’s have the offense to make a run at a World Series title in the short term. The question is going to be whether or not they have the pitching; and that puts the pressure squarely on the shoulders of three young flamethrowers. I’m excited to see how they respond to the challenge.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. You can also follow me on Twitter at @ChappyisClutch.

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