A's hoping to answer 3 big questions this spring

February 20th, 2016

OAKLAND -- The A's are reformed and rejuvenated, ready to put a last-place, 94-loss season behind them when pitchers and catchers gather for their first official workout of the spring on Sunday.

They used the winter months to morph a bad bullpen into a good one, at least on paper, and ignite an up-and-down offense with proven performers. Most of the club's injury concerns are also in the past, and there's a strong belief that the clubhouse chemistry will be better for this go-around.

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There are still several storylines to follow over the course of the next six weeks and beyond. Here are three key questions facing the A's this spring:

1. What to do about Coco Crisp and Billy Butler?

Crisp and Butler are Oakland's highest-paid players, set to reel in nearly $23 million combined this season. Yet, the A's can't guarantee production from either, and Crisp is injured far too often. The outfielder has a chronic neck issue that can only be helped by career-ending surgery, but he's proven to be a valuable asset when healthy, so the A's plan to use him carefully in a limited role. Still, Crisp must prove this spring he's capable of playing several times a week to enhance his worth on the roster. Butler, meanwhile, needs to make good on a bounce-back bid to help the A's feel better about the three-year, $30 million deal they handed him last year. The designated hitter could also still be had in a trade, should the A's find interested suitors.

2. Who fills out the starting rotation, and is Jarrod Parker an option?

The A's have no shortage of options when it comes to starters, but few come without questions related to health and performance. Right-handers Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt are seemingly favored to start behind ace Sonny Gray and veteran Rich Hill, but all three were injured at some point last season. They enter camp healthy, but can they hold up past spring and pitch in consistent fashion? Even Hill -- signed to a one-year, $6 million deal this winter after making just four big league starts in 2015 -- has to prove he can do those things. Parker, a significant piece of the A's rotation from 2012-13 before undergoing two surgeries, is finally healthy again and expected to be stretched out as a starter, though there's thought he has a better chance of prolonging his career as a reliever.

3. Which young players can make their mark?

Oakland's current roster construction won't allow for much competition among position players this spring, but it will still be an important time to evaluate a handful of the club's top prospects and decipher just how close they might be to helping the big league club. A slew of them will be in Major League camp, including power-hitting first baseman Matt Olson, second baseman Joey Wendle and shortstop Franklin Barreto. Then, there's lefty Sean Manaea, acquired in the Ben Zobrist trade. With a strong spring showing, Manaea could work his way into Oakland's rotation during the first half of the regular season.