3 questions the Athletics have yet to answer during spring training

The Oakland Athletics have several unanswered questions with less than a week to go before Opening Day.

Oakland Athletics Spring Training
Oakland Athletics Spring Training / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages
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Who will be the Athletics' fifth starter?

As of right now it's down to either Kyle Muller or Joe Boyle, thanks to injury problems for Luis Medina, Ken Waldichuk, and Freddy Tarnok.

When Medina comes back, he will probably get the chance to earn the spot back. Until then, Muller and Boyle are sparring for the chance to open the year in the A's rotation.

Last week, Boyle seemed like a strong candidate. He'd always dealt with control issues in the minor leagues but after the A's acquired him from the Reds halfway through 2023, he seemed to have gotten them under control.

During his stint in the A's minor league system and during his cup of coffee in September, he cut his previous walk rates in half. An 8.3% walk rate in the major leagues isn't good, but for Boyle it was a major step forward.

He looked sharp in his first three spring training starts but his last two appearances have not gone as well. Boyle has 9 walks in his last 7 innings pitched and he now has a 4.12 FIP and a 19.4% walk rate.

Similar to Boyle, Muller's first three spring starts were strong. And likewise, his most recent start was not. Muller gave up 6 runs on 9 hits in his last outing, going just 3 innings against the troubled Rockies offense.

His spring ERA now sits at 4.91, and his 4.46 FIP doesn't encourage a ton of excitement. Muller struggled mightily in Oakland last year, pitching to a 7.60 ERA and losing his rotation gig midway through the year. He wasn't much better out of the bullpen, posting a 5.82 ERA in 17 innings.

It's unclear whether Muller has a future in the major leagues but the one advantage he has in this specific competition is that he doesn't have any minor league options left, while Boyle has all three of his.

The A's can send Boyle back to Triple-A without penalty if they have specific areas they want him to work on. Muller will either be in the majors or be designated for assignment. It's not clear that the front office wants to risk losing Muller just yet but if he pitches poorly to start the year, he's going to quickly run out of leash.

PREDICTION: Muller earns the nod in the Opening Day rotation and Boyle starts the year in Triple-A. When Medina returns, Muller shifts back to the bullpen.