It seems somewhat crazy to consider the notion that the Athletics are in need of more depth, Billy Beane has spent the entire offseason building depth throughout the entire roster. But there still remains one aspect of this team that has been overlooked, and there are still opportunities for the A’s to improve themselves there. I had been crying for the A’s to sign a veteran starting pitcher to create something of a safety net for the Athletics young starting rotation, but no such signing ever materialized. I asked Assistant GM David Forst himself at the BlogFest event during FanFest about it, and he shot the notion down because they couldn’t guarantee a spot in the rotation for a veteran, so they wouldn’t be interested.
The strength of the team is widely accepted to be that starting rotation, but just because it’s the strength doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement still. At this moment there still are two viable candidates who would represent upgrades to the starting rotation, and both of them can likely be had for a very reasonable price.
The first pitcher is someone who miraculously is still sitting on the free agent market. Kyle Lohse was thought to be among the top free agent pitchers going into the offseason, and figured to get a lucrative multi-year contract. That contract simply hasn’t materialized, for what reason I do not know. Perhaps he priced himself out of many team’s range. His agent is Scott Boras after all, and if Ken Rosenthal’s report from a few days ago is to be believed Lohse is seeking a three year deal with a large annual salary. If Lohse’s camp still realistically expects to get that kind of contract going into the second week of March, they’re setting themselves up for a bitter disappointment.
Unless Lohse is willing to sit out the season and possibly exit the game altogether a la Jermaine Dye because he doesn’t get the free agent contract he desires, he’ll eventually find a one year deal or something much more short term. This would be the point that the A’s should make a call to Mr. Boras. Adding a pitcher like Lohse into the middle of the rotation could turn one of the better rotations in the American League into the best. Lohse won 16 games last year, and posted a very nice 2.86 ERA with a FIP of 3.51. His .262 BABIP lends itself to the notion that he did benefit from some luck in 2012, but even without that luck he was an above league average pitcher. He is 34 years old, which undoubtedly accounts for a portion of the hesitation teams have about signing the right hander. If he could be had for one year, or a year with an option at a salary in the $6-8 million range, Billy Beane should pounce. Chances are Kyle Lohse would outperform the likes of A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, or even Tommy Milone and Bartolo Colon and would improve the A’s chances of repeating as AL West Champions in 2013.
The other possibility for the Athletics is Los Angeles Dodgers starter Chris Capuano, who appears to be on the outside looking in of the Dodgers starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke are the clear aces of the staff, and Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Aaron Harang appear to be the men in the mix to fill out the rotation. If I were running the Dodgers I would put Capuano behind Greinke in that depth chart, but obviously they see things differently than I do. The Dodgers potential mistake could be the Athletics potential steal. There’s no telling what exactly the cost of acquiring Capuano would be, but if someone like Michael Taylor would get the job done it would make a lot of sense. Capuano doesn’t represent nearly as much of an upgrade as Lohse does, but he’s posted FIP numbers of 4.04 and 3.95 each of the last two seasons (2011 with the New York Mets). He does come with some risk though, as he missed much of the 2009 and 2010 seasons due to injury. But Billy Beane is no stranger to reclamation projects and those with extensive injury history, so if he placed a call to Ned Colletti it wouldn’t be a shock.
The Athletics are in the position of being the hunted as defending AL West Champions. It was extremely important to not rest on the laurels of the past season’s accomplishments and fall into a pit of complacency. The active offseason has shown that complacent the Athletics are not. But they shouldn’t consider themselves satisfied with what they’ve done when there is a prime opportunity to do even more. The window for tremendous success has been opened, and the A’s must do whatever they can to keep it open, and come charging through it.