Oakland Athletics: Who Will Win the Remaining Bullpen Job?

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Left-Hander Felix Doubront

Felix Doubront is not a name that typically would top a list like this, but there’s one logical reason that he’s the most likely candidate to be with the big league club on Opening Day:

Doubront is out of options.

In addition, this is another instance where being a left-hander gives him a leg up on the other candidates. That’s not necessarily a knock on Doubront, as he’s had a pretty outstanding Spring Training. In eight innings, he’s posted a 3.38 ERA with nine strikeouts. He’s also allowed just eight hits, a walk and a hit batsman in those three games, although one of those outings was against primarily minor leaguers. And yet, the honest analysis says the Dull is the superior pitcher of the two.

However, Doubront can be something that Dull cannot: a left-handed option that works in either the bullpen or the rotation.

The Athletics have little depth at the starting pitching position, as mentioned earlier. Doubront is likely the first choice to fill the void this season if Jesse Hahn‘s injury issues flare up again, or if fellow-lefty Rich Hill continues to be a mess on the mound.

But because he has no options left, there’s no way for the Athletics to stash Doubront in the minors and call him up if they need him. The other names on this list either have options or, in Surkamp’s case, are on a minor league deal. In the eyes of an organization, that factor alone can make the decision, even if the team were stocked to the brim with pitching prospects. It’s not worth losing a reliable veteran arm to keep an unproven rookie on the roster.

Doubront is versatile and dependable, which makes him a good veteran option – but he also has a track record of very mediocre results.

With the A’s in 2015, he went 2-2 between eight starts and three relief appearances, finishing with a 5.81 ERA in 52.2 innings. He fared only slightly better in Toronto. This will be Doubront’s seventh major league season, and if he’s going to turn his career around, he needs to do it now. At 28 years old, Doubront is in his prime. If he can pitch in the regular season like he’s pitched in Spring Training, he can absolutely help the Athletics this year.

There are two caveats to the thought that Doubront will win the last reliever spot:

One is that he could always be traded, even if only for cash considerations. It seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened to the Athletics’ roster. If it did happen, that would be an unwise move. The A’s wouldn’t get much for him, and they are in need of a swing-man in the bullpen after the trade of Drew Pomeranz last winter.

The other caveat is that Doubront could slide into the rotation if the Athletics decide that one of their five projected starters is not ready, or if someone suffers a last-minute injury. That would give either of the other three candidates the opportunity to make the bullpen, with the edge going to Ryan Dull.

The idea that Doubront might beat out one of the other starters for an Opening Day rotation spot is pretty unlikely, though. Sonny Gray isn’t going anywhere, obviously, and the Athletics have promised the struggling Rich Hill a roster spot. Jesse Hahn appears healthy, although he’s struggled with the long ball in his first two starts. Chris Bassitt has yet to allow a run, and even though Kendall Graveman has had a rough spring, it seems unlikely that the A’s would knock him out of the rotation for Doubront. An injury is always a looming possibility, but there’s no way to predict if or when that might happen.

That means that Doubront is likely to start the season with the Athletics, while the other three names on this list will spend their Opening Day on the Triple-A roster. With six strong arms in the Athletics’ bullpen, that’s okay – Doubront’s ability to slide into the rotation is valuable enough to warrant keeping him on the roster.

Next: 2016 Preview: Sean Doolittle, The Closer

Will the Athletics go with the logical step of keeping Doubront on the roster, or will they take a gamble on one of the other young arms? Voice your thoughts and theories in the comments below.

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