Last winter the A’s acted early and struck gold in their search for a veteran starting pitcher.
Rich Hill developed into one of the American League’s best starters (when healthy) despite a limited track record in that role. The A’s fell out of contention but Hill still proved valuable as he was packaged, along with outfielder Josh Reddick, in a trade that landed three highly touted pitching prospects from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A year later, Oakland once again could use a veteran addition for a rotation that will be short on experience outside of Sonny Gray and Kendall Graveman. But netting the 2017 version of Rich Hill — who took a one-year $6 million deal from the A’s — will prove challenging.
This year’s free agent crop of starters is notably weak, lacking in both quality depth and top-shelf stars. That means lots of pitching-hungry teams will have to delve deeper into the available options. Even the hidden gems might get bid on aggressively.
“I don’t know if that combination is out there and affordable,” A’s general manager David Forst said, in reference to last year’s Hill signing.
But keeping in mind a very accurate baseball cliche — teams simply can’t have too much pitching — here’s a look at the A’s current crop of starters and what options are available on the open market.
RHP Sonny Gray : age 27
2016 stats:5-11, 5.69 ERA, 117.0 IP, 1.496 WHIP
RHP Kendall Graveman : age 25
Stats:10-11, 4.11, 186.0 IP, 1.306 WHIP
LHP Sean Manaea : age 24
Stats: 7-9, 3.86, 144.2 IP, 1.189 WHIP
RHP Raul Alcantara : age 23
Stats:1-3, 7.25, 22.1 IP, 1.567 WHIP
RHP Jharel Cotton : age 24
Stats:2-0, 2.15, 29.1 IP, 0.818 WHIP
RHP Jesse Hahn: age 27
Stats:2-4, 6.02, 46.1 IP, 1.640 WHIP
RHP Daniel Mengden: age 23
Stats:2-9, 6.50, 72.0 IP, 1.611 WHIP
RHP Andrew Triggs: age 27
Stats:1-1, 4.31, 56.1 IP, 1.225 WHIP
Thoughts: The above group may very well produce five worthy starting candidates coming out of spring. But with the exception of Gray and Graveman, it’s an inexperienced bunch with plenty of question marks. And even Gray has something to prove after a bumpy and injury-plagued 2016.
BIG TICKET ITEMS
RHP Jason Hammel: age 34
Stats:15-10, 3.83, 166.2 IP, 1.206 WHIP
LHP Rich Hill: age 36
Stats:12-5, 2.12, 110.1 IP, 0.997 WHIP
RHP Ivan Nova: age 29
Stats:12-8, 4.17, 162.0, 1.253 WHIP
Thoughts: This already thin class of “elite” free agents took a hit Monday when Jeremy Hellickson accepted his one-year $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Philadelphia Phillies. Figure all three starters will score multi-year deals that exceed what the A’s are willing to spend.
BEST OF THE REST
RHP Andrew Cashner: age 30
Stats: 5-11, 5.25, 132.0 IP, 1.530 WHIP
A good fit?:The stock has dropped big-time over the last two years, as Cashner's walk rate and hits allowed have shot upward. Perhaps that makes him a buy-low candidate for the A’s, but they’d have to look past a very shaky second half of ’16, when he posted a 5.98 ERA after his trade from the Padres to the Marlins.
LHP Derek Holland: age 30
Stats: 7-9, 4.95, 107.1 IP, 1.407 WHIP
A good fit?: The lefty once looked like a foundation piece in Texas’ rotation, but knee and shoulder injuries took their toll in recent seasons. The A’s at least are familiar with him as his entire eight-year career has been spent in the AL West. There are question marks for sure, but an experienced left-handed starter has nine lives no matter how shaky his history.
RHP Edinson Volquez: age 33
Stats: 10-11, 5.37, 189.1 IP, 1.548 WHIP
A good fit?: A workhorse for the Royals during their World Series campaign of 2015, Volquez’s numbers dipped significantly last season. But he’s made at least 31 starts each of the last three years. In this pitching market, it wouldn’t be a shock if Volquez lands a multi-year deal. But something tells us it won’t come from Oakland.
Others: Joe Blanton, Jhoulys Chacin
LHP Brett Anderson:: age 28
Stats: 1-2, 11.91, 11.1 IP, 2.559 WHIP
A good fit?: Perhaps he’s not a perfect fit as a ‘value pick’, because if Anderson proves he’s healthy after back surgery limited him to four appearances in 2016, he may still get some aggressive offers. Considering his multitude of past ailments, and the injuries that decimated Oakland’s staff in ’16, the A’s may not be willing to roll the dice on a reunion with the lefty.
LHP Tommy Milone:: age 29
Stats: 3-5, 5.71, 69.1 IP, 1.529 WHIP
A good fit?: This seems like a possible match. Milone could likely be signed on a modest deal, and he was a steady contributor and clubhouse favorite during his prior stint with the A’s (2012-14). Things turned sour after he was demoted to Triple-A midseason in ’14 — following Oakland’s trade to acquire Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel — but the A’s did grant Milone’s request for a trade by sending him to Minnesota for Sam Fuld. A reunion wouldn’t be a shock.
RHP Charlie Morton:: age 33
Stats: 1-1, 4.15, 17.1 IP, 1.327 WHIP
A good fit?: His 2016 season ended in April with a torn left hamstring, but if he proves he’s recovered, the A’s could do worse than considering Morton as a back-of-the-rotation option.
Others: Doug Fister, Colby Lewis, Mat Latos, Jake Peavy