4 questions facing the A's in the new year

December 28th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos' A's Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The onset of a new year means Spring Training is just a couple of months away. For the A's, more moves are likely to be made to address roster needs before reporting to Mesa, Ariz., for Cactus League action. As the club currently stands, here are some questions that will need to be answered before reaching that point.

1. Which pitchers are truly staying in the rotation mix?
We know Cole Irvin and Paul Blackburn should fill the first two slots of Oakland’s starting rotation. James Kaprielian’s status for Spring Training is unknown after he underwent shoulder surgery this offseason, and A.J. Puk is going to be stretched out to a starter’s workload this spring.

The list of candidates who could be vying for rotation spots includes Ken Waldichuk, JP Sears, Kyle Muller, Adrián Martínez, Adam Oller and Freddy Tarnok. Even Hogan Harris (whom the A’s protected from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason) and Brent Honeywell (who had a 0.96 ERA across 28 innings pitched for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League) could be part of that rotation picture.

There are only so many opportunities to get all of these pitchers some work in the Cactus League, so Oakland is going to have to determine early on in camp which pitchers are legitimate contenders to crack the Opening Day starting rotation, which ones could move to the bullpen at some point and which ones are best served to start out the season providing Minor League depth at Triple-A Las Vegas.

2. Is there a spot on this roster for Pache?
It’s been a rough fall for  over the past year. Originally acquired from the Braves as one of the headlining prospects in the Matt Olson trade -- along with Shea Langeliers -- Pache has continuously struggled to produce even average offensive numbers at the Major League level, and the A’s appear set to deploy new addition Esteury Ruiz as their everyday center fielder for 2023.

With Pache now out of Minor League options and the offensive struggles continuing in the Dominican Winter League, Oakland faces a tough decision. Does the club move on from its once highly touted prospect and perhaps look to find a trade partner who could use his elite 80-grade defense, or does it see some sign of improvement with his bat that's enough to carve out a role for him at the Major League level?

3. How will they go about filling the closer role?
The A’s were encouraged by a few inexperienced relievers who stepped up to fill late-inning roles out of the bullpen in 2022, but no pitcher ever really grabbed the closer job and ran with it. Dany Jiménez’s 11 saves were second-most among Major League rookies, but he battled injuries and was inconsistent over the second half.

One new option for 2023 could exist in Trevor May, whom the A’s signed to a one-year deal this offseason, though he has only recorded 12 saves over his eight big league seasons. Before the offseason is over, expect the team to bring in at least one veteran reliever with some experience closing out games.

4. Who backs Langeliers?
Langeliers is ready to assume the everyday catching job, but which catcher accompanies him on the roster is still unknown.

The A’s did receive a veteran backstop in Manny Piña from the Braves as part of the return for Sean Murphy earlier this month. They also brought in 25-year-old catcher Yohel Pozo, who has Major League experience and slashed .320/.352/.474 in 65 games at Triple-A Round Rock last season, on a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training. With Oakland likely to carry only two catchers on the Opening Day roster, it’ll come down to whether the club prefers Piña’s nine years of big league experience or a higher offensive upside with Pozo.