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Can the Oakland Athletics Survive as 2014 Contenders Without Jarrod Parker?

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Can the Oakland Athletics Survive as 2014 Contenders Without Jarrod Parker?
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When it comes to roster building, depth is only good until a team is forced to use it. For the Oakland Athletics, injuries to starting pitchers may dismantle a team that was ticketed for October baseball and championship aspirations.

According to John Hickey of Bay Area News Group, the Athletics could start the season with 60 percent of their projected starting rotation—Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Scott Kazmir—on the disabled list. 

When it comes to Parker, he won't be there for the entire 2014 season. According to Jane Lee of MLB.com, the 25-year-old right-hander will undergo Tommy John surgery next Tuesday. This will be the second major arm surgery of Parker's young career, leaving his future in doubt.

For his team, the immediate future is just as cloudy. Coming off back-to-back AL West titles, the Athletics had a busy offseason in preparation for a meaningful 2014 campaign and trip back to the postseason.

Now, those plans are on hold.

In the loaded AL West, the Athletics can't afford to lose projected starting pitchers and still win the 90-95 games necessary to put themselves in true contention. Texas is too talented and teams like Los Angeles, Seattle and Houston all improved during the winter. On a day-to-day basis, wins will be harder than ever to achieve for this A's team.
 

Furthermore, the American League is loaded. Outside of Houston, Minnesota and Chicago, a case can be made for any team in the league competing for a postseason berth. In order to qualify for the AL postseason in 2014, luck is almost as important as talent.

With less than two full weeks until Opening Day, luck is alluding the Athletics.

Unlike the Braves recent acquisition of Ervin Santana, don't expect Oakland general manager Billy Beane to scour the open market for a veteran to save his young, injured staff. Even if Santana was still available, this franchise would be more apt to solve problems internally.
 

 

Yet, despite pitching depth in the organization—Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Chavez, Michael Ynoa, Phil Humber—it's too much to ask manager Bob Melvin to replicate the production and talent of Jarrod Parker.  

When Bartolo Colon was allowed to bolt to New York in free agency, the message to Parker was loud and clear: It's your rotation now.

That message came with good merit. Over the last two years—comprising Parker's first two big league seasons—the young righty has been among the most consistent and effective starters in the entire sport. 

Over the span, only 25 starters have thrown at least 375 innings, pitched to an ERA of 3.75 or better and allowed less than 1.0 HR/9. The combination of durability, run-suppressing pitching and the ability to keep the ball in the ballpark is rare, even among high-quality arms.

In fact, the list of names below Parker is almost as impressive as the names above him, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required). Lance Lynn, Justin Masterson, Ricky Nolasco and Jon Lester all have put up ERA marks higher than Parker's 3.73 over the last two seasons.
 

To be fair, it's easy to overreact in light of major spring training injuries to projected aces. The narrative in March often is flipped and reversed by the All-Star break. With time to reassess the roster, it's possible, if not likely, that the A's could overcome Parker's injury.

Can the Athletics compete after this rash of injuries?

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Three years ago, the St. Louis Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright to Tommy John surgery. That October—with Wainwright rooting on an upstart wild card team from the dugout—the Cardinals won it all in Tony La Russa's final season.

Of course, Parker's the biggest name, but not the only name. 

With Griffin and Kazmir also banged up, the Athletics will need to find bulk innings from their pitching depth. Organizational depth is built for times like these, but losing three potential 200-inning arms is rare and costly.

In fact, when you consider that Kazmir was signed to effectively replace Colon's production, the Athletics are about to enter a season with the tall task of re-allocating 587.1 innings from last year's staff.
 

Missing Innings: 2013 Starters Lost
Pitcher Innings Games Started ERA
Jarrod Parker 197.0 32 3.97
A.J. Griffin 200.0 32 3.83
Bartolo Colon 190.1 30 2.65

Baseball-Reference

Even with a deep bullpen—designed in part to ease the burden of innings from young, unproven arms—the A's will be challenged to survive over the long haul.

In a perfect world, Oakland's offense will soar to the top of league rankings in runs scored, pitchers like Jesse Chavez and Drew Pomeranz will surprise and Sonny Gray will take a leap from potential AL All-Star to Cy Young contender.

The blueprint for overcoming this type of setback was illustrated by the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, but even that took a miraculous September run to capture a spot in the postseason tournament. 

With the American League poised to be a daily grind and as competitive as any year in recent memory, the A's can't survive 60 percent of their rotation being out for an extended period. It would be a fool's errand to call a Billy Beane team hopeless, but the difference between watching the postseason at home and competing for a World Series is slim.

Jarrod Parker's injury is likely a sign that it's just not the year in Oakland.

 

Agree? Disagree?

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Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster projections courtesy of MLB Depth Charts.

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