Athletics

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

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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.

Three A's prospects named to Baseball America's top 100 for 2020 season

Three A's prospects named to Baseball America's top 100 for 2020 season

The A's have one of MLB's best young cores in third baseman Matt Chapman, shortstop Marcus Semien and first baseman Matt Olson. Add in pitchers Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas and it's clear why this team keeps knocking on the door as contenders. 

The future of Oakland already is here, too. That sentiment was reinforced Wednesday when Baseball America released its latest list of their top 100 prospects before the 2020 season. 

Pitchers Jesus Luzardo (9) and A.J. Puk (21), and catcher Sean Murphy (41) all made the list. They also all made their major league debuts last season. 

Luzardo is Baseball America's No. 2 left-handed pitching prospect behind only MacKenzie Gore (6) of the San Diego Padres. Puk is the website's fourth-best lefty, three spots higher than MLB Pipeline ranked him. 

Murphy comes in as the third-highest ranked catcher, behind Giants prospect Joey Bart. As someone whose defense stands out, he will be a key factor in Luzardo and Puk's development on a big league mound. 

Luzardo, 22, might wind up being the A's ace as soon as this upcoming season. Puk, who will turn 25 in April, isn't too far behind. Both pitchers are hard-throwing southpaws who have dirty offspeed pitches. 

[RELATED: Former Cal pitcher rises up A's top 10 prospect rankings]

Murphy, who hit four homers in just 20 games for the A's last year, likely will be Oakland's Opening Day catcher this year. He has Gold Glove potential behind the plate and is continuing to improve as a hitter. 

The A's already have their Big Three on offense in Chapman, Olson and Semien. The next trio already arrived, and they're here to stay.

Pedro Martinez lazily rips Mike Fiers for his role in Astros' scandal

Pedro Martinez lazily rips Mike Fiers for his role in Astros' scandal

Pedro Martinez has joined Jessica Mendoza on the wrong side of history

The Hall of Fame pitcher recently spoke out on A's pitcher Mike Fiers, putting his name next to accusations of the Houston Astros electronically stealing signs in the 2017 season. 

“If he was to do it when he was playing for the Houston Astros, I would say Mike Fiers has guts,” Martinez told WEEI on Saturday. “But to go and do it after you leave the Houston Astros because they don’t have you anymore, that doesn’t show me anything. You’re just a bad teammate.”

A reminder to all: Blaming the whistleblower is the opposite of bold. It's the essence of weakness. 

In a November report from The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drelich, Fiers -- who joined the A's halfway through the 2018 season -- was the first player to confirm the Astros used technology to steal signs. 

“I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing,” Fiers said

Four people with the Astros told The Athletic the team stole signs during home games in real-time with the aid of a camera positioned in the outfield. Fiers was the only one to put his name next to his words. That's bold. That's courage. 

Martinez's issue is with Fiers publicly telling what went on behind the scenes and waiting two years to do so. This isn't a new take, but one which many are now using against Fiers, especially those who played baseball. 

“Whatever happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse, and Fiers broke the rules,” Martinez said. “I agree with cleaning up the game. I agree that the fact that the Commissioner is taking a hard hand on this, but at the same time players should not be the ones dropping the whistleblower.

“If you have integrity, you find ways to tell everybody in the clubhouse, ‘Hey, we might get in trouble for this. I don’t want to be part of this.’ You call your GM. You tell him. Or you call anybody you can or MLB or someone and say, ‘I don’t want to be part of this.’ Or you tell the team, ‘Get me out of here, I don’t want to be part of this.’ Then you show me something.

"But if you leave Houston, and most likely you didn’t agree with Houston when you left, and then you go and drop the entire team under the bus, I don’t trust you. I won’t trust you because we did have that rule.”

It's not that simple, though. Fiers said many within the Astros believed other teams already were electronically stealing signs, which made them feel less guilty about doing so. He then told his new teams -- the Detroit Tigers and A's -- in 2018 about what was going on. Fiers never says in The Athletic article if he went to the front office or coaches about the scandal. 

[RELATED: Red Sox star understands why Fiers spoke up about Astros]

Another piece to the puzzle is Fiers struggled in 2017. He went 8-10 with a 5.22 ERA in 29 appearances and was left off the postseason roster. How would it have looked if a struggling player made complaints about his own team and brought forth such serious allegations? Probably not very good. 

Whether it be a scandal like the one the Astros constructed -- and received historic punishments for -- or wrongdoing in general, guilt weighs on you. Just because a person doesn't come forward right away, it doesn't mean they didn't understand the situation was wrong. The gravity of it all can be more understood over time, as well. 

This is a lazy argument that we're sure to hear again. It needs to be put to rest, but don't expect that to happen.