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.
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.