MLB's Winter Meetings have come and gone without a bang. The world is still waiting on Shohei Ohtani to sign, and the rumors swirling around him are eating up most of the bandwidth in the free agent market.
Despite the Athletics' lackadaisical approach to the Winter Meetings, there are still some unanswered questions left regarding the state of the roster. GM David Forst has been explicit about keeping RHP Paul Blackburn and outfielder Seth Brown on the team in 2024. That mindset may change at the trade deadline next July, but for now those two seem to have their spots locked up for the spring.
The news of Ken Waldichuk going down with a flexor tendon injury in his throwing elbow was a big blow for the A's rotation. Waldichuk threw 141 innings for the A's in 2023 and was expected to have a secure spot in the rotation on Opening Day.
Waldichuk underwent surgery to address the injury last week and his timetable to return is unknown. Similar successful surgeries have had recovery times of anywhere from 3-6 months, but if the elbow problem persists, Waldichuk could be in for Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2024.
Amidst that uncertainty, here's how the Athletics rotation looks heading into 2024
As it stands, the A's have Blackburn, lefty JP Sears, and righty Luis Medina penciled into the rotation. Hovering around the conversation are guys including Joe Boyle, Osvaldo Bido, Kyle Mueller, Freddy Tarnok, Hogan Harris, and Adrian Martinez. Forst told reporters earlier this week that top prospect Mason Miller will be tabbed for a bullpen role in 2024, likely removing him from consideration.
One of the biggest positive moves the A's can make this offseason is adding a veteran starting pitcher. With so much uncertainty and such a small amount of top-end prospect talent in the immediate pipeline, adding a veteran innings-eater would go a long way to protecting some of the young arms and give the A's a bit of a fallback in the event of further injury or a worst-case scenario with Waldichuk.
The A's aren't going to sign one of the big names left on the board, like Yoshinobu Yamamoto or Blake Snell. Despite reports that the A's are having difficulty locking players into multi-year contracts due to the nature of their ballpark situation beyond 2024, there are still options that might make sense for them, even on a one-year deal.
Forst has mentioned that the A's have a little bit of wiggle room with their payroll right now, as well. That may or may not be true, but here's the thing: the A's payroll for Collective Bargaining Tax purposes was just shy of $80 million in 2023.
As it stands today, that number is a bit less than $60 million. The A's could theoretically spend an additional $10-$15 million on a player or two and still have a decrease in payroll year over year. So it seems fair to think Forst has at least some resources to use this offseason.
Whether that help comes from a younger free agent like Tyler Mahle or Eric Lauer, or an older veteran like Jake Odorizzi or Rich Hill, the A's have the means to sign a player in that tier of free agency and make their 2024 season a bit easier to bear.