By the end of the 2018 season, injuries had forced the A's to use a franchise-record 15 different starting pitchers. Heading into 2019, Oakland will have some difficult decisions to make as they try to piece together their five-man starting rotation.
The A's should be bolstered by the return of some of their injured pitchers and the continued development of their young arms. However, LHP Sean Manaea is expected to miss most, if not all of 2019 as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
Top prospects A.J. Puk and Jesus Luzardo will likely push for starting jobs at some point next season. However, Puk is coming off Tommy John surgery and will miss the first part of the season, and Luzardo is just 21 years old, with limited Triple-A experience.
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RHP Jharel Cotton will also be coming off TJ surgery but should be a part of the starting rotation whenever he is able to return. 25-year-olds Frankie Montas and Daniel Mengden both showed flashes of excellence in 2018 and will certainly be in the running for starting jobs. Paul Blackburn could provide additional depth if he is able to return from his elbow injury.
That brings us to the veterans. Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill, and Brett Anderson are all free agents and Mike Fiers is eligible for arbitration. So who will the A's decide to bring back?
Mike Fiers – Arbitration Year 3
Fiers earned $6 million in 2018 and figures to get a raise in arbitration. The 33-year-old had the best season of his career, going 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA and 1.18 WHIP between Detroit and Oakland. In 10 games with the A's, Fiers was 5-2 with a 3.74 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.
It would make sense for the A's to bring Fiers back, as he has proven to be a reliable veteran starter, and as we learned this year, you can never have too many of those. While Fiers will likely command more than the $6 million he earned in 2018, his salary should still be a bargain for what he can provide. He can be a middle to top of the rotation pitcher for a playoff team.
Edwin Jackson – Unrestricted Free Agent
Jackson earned $1.5 million this season and was one of the most pleasant surprises in all of baseball. Any team in the league could have had the 35-year-old, but the A's were the only squad to show interest, signing him to a minor league deal in June. Jackson rewarded them with a 6-3 record and 3.33 ERA in 17 starts.
Jackson seems like another solid bet to return to Oakland, mainly because he loves playing there and it's hard to imagine much of a market for his services. Jackson said many times during the season that the A's clubhouse was one of the most cohesive groups he had ever been a part of. The two sides seem to be a perfect fit, especially with Jackson's reasonable price tag.
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Trevor Cahill – Unrestricted Free Agent
Cahill also earned $1.5 million in 2018 but had an up-and-down season in his second stint with the A's. The 30-year-old went 7-4 with a 3.76 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 21 outings, dealing with injuries for parts of the year and struggling with his performance down the stretch.
As with Jackson, it's hard to imagine much of a market for Cahill, which could make a return to Oakland a possibility if he is willing to accept another small contract. If Cahill did re-sign, there is no guarantee he would be in the starting rotation. But again, you can never have too much starting pitching depth, especially in this era of numerous arm injuries.
Brett Anderson – Unrestricted Free Agent
Anderson made $4 million this past season. The southpaw had his moments during the year, but mostly struggled, finishing 4-5 with a 4.48 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 17 starts. Anderson also made a couple of trips to the disabled list.
It's unlikely Anderson would start 2019 in Oakland's starting rotation, but the A's might be open to bringing him back for depth purposes, if he was willing to take a pay cut. Oakland could also use another left-hander in the bullpen, though Anderson may have no interest in that type of role.