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Who’s out from 2011: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Josh Outman, Guillermo Moscoso, Rich Harden
Who’s in: Bartolo Colon
Starting pitching has been the Oakland Athletics’ bread and butter—along with their main course and dessert—for the past several years. Since 2000, the A’s have finished outside of the top five in the American League in team ERA just once, 2007, when they ranked sixth. In that span, Oakland has led the AL on three separate occasions, and finished in the top three eight times.
Last year, A’s pitchers kept trending in the right direction, posting a 3.71 ERA, good for third in the league, while their starters logged a similar 3.70 ERA. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal—after all, the A’s have always had solid pitching, and 2011 should have been no different.
But that could all change this season.
Gone are five—yes, five—starters from last year’s squad: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Josh Outman, Guillermo Moscoso and Rich Harden. That’s an entire starting rotation—and a pretty good one at that. Cahill, Gonzalez, Outman and Moscoso were each traded away during Oakland’s winter sale; while Harden is sitting out the season with a shoulder injury.
Replacing that much artillery is daunting enough for any team, let alone a young squad like the Athletics, who’ll additionally begin the season with Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden on the disabled list, as both are still recovering from injuries suffered last year.
To provide a veteran presence in the rotation, Oakland went out and signed right-hander Bartolo Colon. This pitching overhaul creates an entirely different makeup behind ace Brandon McCarthy.
Manager Bob Melvin has his work cut out for him in devising a starting rotation for the interim. Candidates who made cameo starts last season include Tyson Ross and Graham Godfrey—also in the mix are Jordan Norberto and Tommy Milone. Though each has shown significant promise, it’s truly hard to determine how they’ll fare as full-time starters.
For sure, however, Melvin will benefit from having so many starters to evaluate and use throughout the season. Should any of them produce substandard performances, someone else is capable of sliding in to start some games.
For now, it’s not quite certain who’ll form the rotation and what order they’ll be in—they don't really need to determine that as of yet, because of the unorthodox Opening Day schedule.
But one thing’s for certain—Ross, Godfrey, Milone and Norberto have all had very brief exposure to the major leagues. They don’t scare opposing teams like A's starters of yore used to. And a lot of subliminal pressure will be on each of them to secure their spots in the rotation once Anderson and Braden return to the team—particularly Milone, who is the lone lefty among the available starters.
2012 Forecast: A little foggy. It’s going to be difficult to really know how the rotation will perform. Ross, Godfrey and Milone have 17 MLB starts combined; meanwhile, old man Colon almost has too many (351)—how much does he have left in the tank, and can he really be expected to contribute a lot for this team?
As an entire five-to-10-man rotation this season (other potential starting pitchers include Brad Peacock and Jarrod Parker), the A’s will indeed struggle to continue their pitching prowess.
There may be some surprising performances but nowhere near the number of gems that the team was accustomed to seeing from Cahill and Gonzalez. Even McCarthy’s stats from last season could drop, as 2011 was the first significant success of his career.
Look for Oakland's starters to struggle, unable to provide significant quality starts. This young rotation will get peppered more often than not. It could get ugly.