This time last season was really a pivotal moment in the Oakland Athletics franchise.
Pitching wasn’t an issue. General manager Billy Beane bolstered the rotation by signing Scott Kazmir. Sonny Gray was ready to step up following a tremendous rookie season. A.J. Griffin, Jarrod Parker, and Tommy Milone – veterans of the previous two playoff runs – were poised to help defend the AL West crown. It was a rotation so stocked and deep that there weren’t places for Dan Straily or recent addition – and former elite prospect – Drew Pomeranz.
Then everything changed. In a matter of weeks Parker and Griffin both succumbed to forearm injuries requiring Tommy John surgery. They were done for the year. Even with an optimistic timetable they were looking at being out until June of 2015.
This blow to the pitching staff set the groundwork for some franchise altering trades that occurred later in the season, dividing the fan-base in two, and perhaps dooming the team for years to come. But I digress.
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We’re now getting closer to that time and Griffin and Parker are progressing. Both pitchers have been throwing bullpen sessions, mixing in different types of pitches. Parker will even face live hitters tomorrow.
For Parker this is not a new experience – he is a two-time Tommy-John survivor – which gives hope that he will turn out fine. There also is a fear that he will never be close to the same. New York Yankees starting pitcher Chris Capuano owns a career 4.28 ERA and is the poster child for two-time TJ recipients. That isn’t exactly something to aim for.
That is why it would be in the best interest of the Oakland Athletics to let Griffin and Parker sit out the entire 2015 season.
How many times have teams fallen victim to players re-injuring themselves? The A’s have just this past week with Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp. The Cincinnati Reds’ Joey Votto missed most of last season simply because he couldn’t stay healthy, and former Reds starter Mat Latos felt the team’s medical staff rushed him back, resulting in further injury.
Think of how great Rich Harden would have been had he not gotten injured and re-injured so often.
Last season Beane made moves to bring in extra starters for what was expected to be a deep playoff run. This offseason he made more moves, selling off star players to bring in more pitching depth. Joining Gray, Kazmir, Pomeranz, and Jesse Chavez are Jesse Hahn, Chris Bassitt, Sean Nolin, Kendall Graveman, Brad Mills, and Barry Zito. That is enough for two full major-league caliber starting rotations.
Apr 2, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher A.J. Griffin (64) looks on during the eighth inning in game one of a double header at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Cleveland Indians 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
In the best-case scenario the three that make the rotation following Gray and Kazmir each have excellent seasons, stay healthy, and the A’s compete. That would eliminate the need for Parker and Griffin to return as rotation reinforcements in June and allow them to continue rehabbing, gaining strength, and building stamina in the minor leagues.
In the worst-case scenario The rotation flops, none of the new acquisitions meet expectations, and Zito leads the team in innings pitched. In that case, Parker and Griffin would not provide value to a team going nowhere, giving them more reason to hold out in the minors and continue to look forward to 2016. Tommy John survivors tend to pitch better in their second year after surgery anyway.
Holding Parker and Griffin back from the major leagues for a year makes sense for two reasons:
- The way I see it Beane targeted Graveman, Nolin, Hahn, and Bassitt because he sees huge potential and the ability to contribute immediately and long-term. Would Griffin and Parker really be that much better even if they are ready in June? No, because it is highly unlikely they will recapture their form as starters in their first year back, and using them as relievers would be a waste and very risky.
- Parker, who will be 27 in 2016, and Griffin who will be 28, can still be a big part of the team’s future. But they must be healthy for them to even matter. Why risk them further injuring themselves by rushing back to the mound?
Think about it Billy, and get back to me.