Oakland A’s hoping A.J. Puk can fill that final spot in rotation

The Oakland A’s plans this offseason will hinge upon whether or not A.J. Puk is healthy, and if he can return to the starting rotation.

In theory, the Oakland A’s starting rotation is set for the 2021 season. A.J. Puk is penciled in as their fifth starter, provided that his troublesome shoulder is healthy. Of course, the same could have been said at the start of the 2020 season, as Puk had been expected to pair with fellow prospect Jesus Luzardo to fill out the A’s rotation.

As it stands, Puk is in the midst of rehab once again, having undergone shoulder surgery in September. He is expected to be fully healthy and ready to participate at the start of spring training barring any setbacks.

Puk’s health will be one of the key stories for the A’s during the offseason. They have several holes to fill on their pitching staff, as they need an arm for the rotation and several relievers. Puk, if healthy, would provide an electric arm for the rotation, his potential far greater than any arm Oakland could realistically afford to bring in.

Likewise, if the A’s decide to change course and slot Puk into the bullpen, their job there becomes easier. His incredible stuff gives him the potential to be another Josh Hader type of weapon, either as a dominant closer or a true fireman, slotted in wherever Bob Melvin would need to protect the lead.

This is a decision that will have major ramifications for the A’s in 2021. Should they continue to regard Puk as a starter, then they may simply look for a depth piece for the rotation to stash in the upper minors. This would hypothetically free up more resources to fill out the lineup, potentially leading to reunions with Tommy La Stella and Marcus Semien.

But this all comes down to Puk and his troublesome injury history. After all, he has totaled just 36.2 innings since the end of the 2017 season. He needs to prove that he can be healthy and ready to contribute. Otherwise, the A’s plans will be based on a tissue-thin foundation of hope.

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The Oakland A’s have a lot of work to do during the offseason. A.J. Puk’s health, and future role, will go a long way to determining what those moves will be.