All offseason long, we heard about the A's desire to improve their starting pitching. While it remains to be seen if Oakland truly upgraded the rotation from last year, manager Bob Melvin at least has some options to fill out his five slots.
A's general manager David Forst said in January, he expects veteran right-handers Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada to be the top two starters. That leaves a handful of pitchers competing for the final three spots in the rotation.
Brett Anderson will almost certainly earn one of those spots to start the season. The 31-year-old left-hander signed a one-year Major League contract with Oakland last month. Anderson went 4-5 with a 4.48 ERA last year and has a career ERA of 4.09 in 10 seasons.
Right-handers Daniel Mengden and Frankie Montas would seem to be the frontrunners for the other two slots in the rotation, if for no other reason than they are both out of minor league options. That means the A's would risk losing them on waivers if they didn't make the 25-man roster.
Mengden and Montas have both shown flashes of their ability at the big league level, but each has struggled with consistency. Mengden, 26, went 7-6 with a 4.05 ERA last season, while Montas, 25, was 5-4 with a 3.88 ERA. This will be a critical season for both, and likely their last chance with the A's.
Paul Blackburn and Chris Bassitt also have a chance to make the rotation, but unlike Mengden and Montas, they have options remaining. That allows Oakland to start them in Triple-A and bring them up later in the season.
Aaron Brooks is an interesting case. The 28-year-old is out of options but would likely go unclaimed on waivers. Even if he were claimed, the A's would be far more willing to part with him than Mengden or Montas.
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And then there's Jesús Luzardo. The 21-year-old left-hander is one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He might already be Oakland's best starting pitcher, but the A's will proceed with extreme caution. They want to make certain Luzardo is absolutely ready for the big leagues to avoid damaging his confidence in any way.
At this point, the safe bet for the rotation is Fiers, Estrada, Anderson, Mengden, and Montas. Blackburn and Bassitt will certainly be in the mix as the season progresses, and it's only a matter of time until Luzardo takes Oakland by storm.