A's starting rotation is still a concern as spring training begins


A's starting rotation is still a concern as spring training begins

At the very beginning of the offseason, A's executive vice president Billy Beane made it clear the team needed to improve its starting pitching.

"We need to create a starting pitching group that Bob (Melvin) can rely on every day," he said in October. 

But with pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training this weekend, Oakland has yet to achieve that goal.

So far, the A's have signed only one new Major League starter in free agency -- 35-year-old Marco Estrada, who is coming off two straight disappointing seasons with the Blue Jays. Oakland did re-sign veteran right-hander Mike Fiers, but they have not brought back Edwin Jackson or Brett Anderson, and Trevor Cahill signed with the Angels.

That leaves the A's with a likely starting rotation of Fiers, Estrada, Daniel Mengden, Paul Blackburn, and Frankie Montas, with Chris Bassitt and Aaron Brooks also battling for spots. Is that really any better than last year's rotation? If anything, it might be worse.

Oakland has essentially replaced Jackson, Cahill, and Anderson with Estrada and Blackburn. Sure, the team might get some reinforcements toward the middle of the season in the form of Jharel Cotton and Sean Manaea, with rookies A.J. Puk and Jesús Luzardo also possibly contributing. But on the eve of spring training, the A's starting rotation remains a significant concern.

The good news is there are still several starting pitchers available in free agency. Oakland has been linked to Gio Gonzalez and Clay Buchholz this offseason as well as Jackson and Anderson. Other affordable options could include James Shields, Ervin Santana, and yes, even 45-year-old Bartolo Colón.

[RELATED: Jharel Cotton shares progress after Tommy John surgery]

Gonzalez, Buchholz, and Santana may end up being out of the A's price range, though that could change if they remain unsigned much longer. Jackson proved to be a great fit in Oakland last season, both on the mound and in the clubhouse. There was mutual interest in a reunion earlier this offseason but the two sides never really got close on salary. Perhaps now that we're into February, Jackson's asking price will come down.

Shields and Colón struggled last season, as did Anderson, which could make them available on a minor-league contract. One way or another, the A's must still upgrade their starting pitching if they want to make good on their promise from October.

A's Mark Canha ahead of the game when it comes to playing with a mask

A's Mark Canha ahead of the game when it comes to playing with a mask

Mark Canha came to Oakland Coliseum on Wednesday and found a new face mask in his locker. Most everyone was given one, but it certainly wasn’t a standard issue. Not with its design.

Someone made masks that looked like Mike Fiers’ face when he had rocked that swirling facial hair design on Sept. 14, 2019 against the Texas Rangers.

Canha suspects Fiers himself.

The A’s outfielder tried it on, fully intent on wearing it for a workout. He ultimately, however, went against joining Bob Melvin and Sean Manaea in a Fiers facemask.

“I was excited about them, but the comfort level wasn’t there for me,” Canha said Wednesday afternoon in a conference call. “It was ill-fitting, so I didn’t wear it out there, but I wanted to.”

It’s not like Canha is anti-mask. Quite the opposite in fact. He wears them when he should in public and in communal areas of Oakland Coliseum now that baseball’s getting back to work during the coronavirus pandemic.

He wore one well before it was required for anything but warmth. Canha has worn a type of ski mask on colder nights, even in the East Bay when it’s not completely frigid. He even wrote a poem about it last year. 

“You know how cold it gets at night here, so now nobody will make fun of me on social media for wearing it when it’s 65 degrees out,” Canha said. “I have a good excuse.”

It sounds like Canha could often wear a mask while playing defense this season, though it might not be as consistent at the plate.

“When I do wear the mask at night, I typically wear it at the plate,” Canha said. “On hot day games, that’s a different situation. It will be a feel thing. If it’s super-hot, it’s hard to wear a mask, especially if we’re in L.A. or something. You want to be able to breathe and you get sweaty, so it can be uncomfortable.”

[RELATED: Semien doing his part to keep A's safe during pandemic]

Canha definitely understands the importance of MLB’s health and safety protocols. It’s something the A’s discussed on Tuesday, and they all seem to be in lockstep about following the letter of the law.

“We had a meeting yesterday and talked about having a high-risk guy on our team in Jake Diekman and we have guys with families,” Canha said. “We talk about how we have to keep it in mind that there’s a bigger picture beyond playing baseball. At the same time, on the baseball side of it, we have to make sure we stay healthy so we have all of our players in the lineup. … When you talk about kids and families and the bigger picture of what’s going on, I think everyone is respectful of that.”

A's players hilariously sport Mike Fiers' unique facial hair with masks

A's players hilariously sport Mike Fiers' unique facial hair with masks

We all know what Mike Fiers is known for -- his facial hair. Other things too, sure, but that’s not what this blog is about. 

This particular beard -- or mustache, whatever it was -- that Fiers sported during a game last season was such a hit, they sported it at A’s workouts on Wednesday in the form of a face covering:

During A’s media day in January, I asked him about this "unique" facial hair he briefly sported against the Texas Rangers back on Sept. 14. Was it a cinnamon roll? The letter “G?” Well, he ultimately told NBC Sports California it was a cattail. 

And why did he do it? Well the answer was simple: It’s a long season and he wanted to make his teammates laugh. That’s it. 

“It just helps the guys in the clubhouse, just keeps it light,” he told us. And a quick Google search later, there it was, in all its glory. 

Nevertheless, the beard obviously made its mark known.

[RELATED: How Fiers rewarded Profar, Laureano for saving no-hitter]

Pitchers Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas joined manager Bob Melvin during Wednesday’s workouts in sporting the face covering, complete with the infamous cattail. Montas posted a photo of him rocking it on his Instagram story on Wednesday much to Fiers’ delight. Plus, Manaea said he wanted to spruce up the face masks to wear this season which should do the trick in this case.

Having fun while maintaining MLB’s safety protocols -- you love to see it.