With the 2016 regular-season approaching, the Oakland Athletics have a solid roster with few question marks as they attempt to regain playoff stature after a terrible 2015 campaign. As we’ve noted here before, the A’s starting rotation has a lot of question marks. “Gray and Pray” isn’t an Oakland advertising campaign this year, but it might become one soon.
To recap, this is the A’s projected rotation as of today: No one else but Sonny Gray can be legitimately be counted on to pitch 200 innings in 2016. Oakland has six-plus potential SPs on its depth chart right now, starting with ace Gray. But after that, it’s a lot of question marks. To wit, No. 2 Jesse Hahn has yet to pitch 100 MLB innings in one season, and No. 3 Rich Hill hasn’t tossed more than 60 IP in a single MLB season since 2007. No. 4 Kendall Graveman is a soft-tossing righty who gave up 9.7 hits per nine innings last year while striking out only six batters per nine. His career 4.04 ERA isn’t that inspiring.
Projected No. 5 Chris Bassitt posted a 1-8 mark and a 3.56 ERA last year for Oakland, and he will need to improve vastly as he is 27 this season; it’s now or never for Bassitt. After that, No. 6 Henderson Alvarez once had a lot of promise, but he missed most of 2015 with injuries, and he won’t be available until late May at the soonest. Yes, it’s Gray and pray for the A’s in 2016. We’re not counting on Felix Doubront or Jarrod Parker at this point, although the latter was once a stalwart of the Oakland rotation (2012-13)—but Parker has missed the last two MLB seasons recovering from his second Tommy John surgery and other resulting complications.
If all goes right, the A’s could find themselves in a situation like they did in 2012 where all potential success is maximized. But counting on that isn’t wise, especially considering all of the above. Since Oakland needs more options, the A’s really should look at signing former San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum. When you stop laughing out loud at the suggestion, consider the follow realities:
- Lincecum is still unsigned: Only the San Diego Padres really have shown any interest in The Freak, which plays to the A’s advantage here. Long gone are the days when Lincecum is going to get paid $35 million for two seasons of work (like he did in his last two years in San Francisco). Minimal interest means no bidding wars, and that plays into Oakland’s strategy.
- The risk is low: Since Lincecum is coming off injury and truly hasn’t been effective for a full season since 2011, the A’s can sign him to an incentive-laden deal. Remember how that worked out with Frank Thomas back in 2006? Yes, that’s the dream scenario, but signing Lincecum to a low-base salary isn’t going to cost Oakland much.
- The potential payoff is high: We wouldn’t expect The Freak to return to his 2008-09 Cy Young levels, but even something like his 2010 numbers would be awesome (16-10 and 3.43 ERA) for Oakland right now. At worst, Lincecum made at least 24 starts for eight straight seasons (2007-14), so if his hip is repaired, at least you know he’s going to be able to pitch every fifth day—unlike some of the other injury-prone guys currently on the A’s starting-pitcher depth chart.
- Used judiciously, Lincecum can still pitch effectively: Using him as the fifth starter makes the most sense, so Manager Bob Melvin can pick his starts carefully (i.e., against weaker teams in spacious ballparks, for example). Lincecum threw a no-hit, complete game in both 2013 and 2014, so you know he still has the stuff to work with under the right situations. Melvin excels at putting his players in position to succeed.
The Giants have won three World Series since 2010, and they’ve done it with A’s castoffs like Barry Zito, Marco Scutaro and Tim Hudson. Wouldn’t it be fun to see Oakland turn the tables on San Francisco by signing one of its former stars and riding that horse to success? We think so. After all, there’s little downside here, as explained above.